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The Drapers Interview: Yoox Net-a-Porter Group's master of mobility

With the “mobile first” relaunch of Yoox under his belt, Luca Martines is turning his attention to the other element of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group’s off-season business

Luca Martines

Luca Martines

Luca Martines

The plush, open-plan office of Yoox Net-a-Porter Group (YNAP) in Westfield London shopping centre in White City, west London, is a vision of monochrome minimalism. The receptionists sit behind shiny black desks, visitors perch on a creamy white leather sofa and, further on, a sea of white desks carries row upon row of matching anglepoise lamps. It embodies everything YNAP is known for: a sophisticated, luxury experience.

Luca Martines, president of YNAP’s off-season division, comprised of Yoox and The Outnet, looks at home in the modern space. Well groomed and wearing a smart midnight blue military-style jacket, he is every inch the YNAP man. We are here to talk about the relaunch of Yoox, the off-season luxury ecommerce site he joined in 2005, and his vision for British site The Outnet, for which he assumed responsibility in February.

Live wire

The new-look Yoox website and app went live in mid-September.

“What we tried to do with this new release is be consistent with our DNA, but make it more modern, adapt it to the way people use websites today,” explains Martines. “We have restructured the way you surf and navigate the site, so it is strongly customised and user-centric. This is the first time we have designed a site thinking of mobile first.”

New YOOX Native APP Home page

New YOOX Native APP Home page

Yoox now uses geo-location, previous buying histories and real-time browsing behaviour to customise the shopping experience. When I click on to the site, a weather widget tells me it is 15°C and clear outside, and suggests I may like to browse some dresses and court shoes. A streamlined navigation bar and clearer style advice make the shopping experience even easier.

The relaunch marks a leap forward for YNAP, which is investing heavily in mobile optimisation and personalisation as part of its plan to grow annual net revenues by 17% to 20% at constant exchange rates between now and 2020.

The merger of Net-a-Porter Group – which includes Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, The Outnet and Porter magazine – and its Italian rival, Yoox Group – made up of Yoox, Shoescribe and The Corner – was completed in October 2015. YNAP later closed Shoescribe and The Corner and, earlier this year, reorganised its structure into three divisions: in-season, off-season and online flagship stores. Martines, who was at the time president of Yoox, became president of the group’s off-season business, comprising Yoox and The Outnet. Combined, they accounted for 35.8% of YNAP’s net revenues for the year to 31 December 2015.

Gender agnostic

Martines says the merger put the off-season division in “quite a privileged position”, as it aligned two complementary businesses. Rather than calling them rivals, he points out that they have different geo-political penetration – Yoox is more embedded in continental Europe and Asia, while The Outnet is stronger in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Australia – and different commercial strategies. Yoox is aimed at both sexes — the name Yoox is composed of the male (Y) and female (X) chromosome letters linked by “oo”, representing the infinity sign or the zero from binary code — while The Outnet targets women.

Fashion’s market share was really small, but I knew that would not last

“Yoox is a lifestyle department store for fashion, design and art. The Outnet is a luxury fashion outlet,” says Martines. “The skills of the teams are different, but there is a common point, so they fit well together. The offer to the final consumer is really well shaped.”

However, he admits it was a challenge at first to manage their combined might: “It’s a big team and a diverse business. The range of things we’re managing is quite large, from pricing to marketing campaigns, to the pricing strategy in South Korea, to launching a capsule collection with an emerging designer or hosting an event in Paris. And we’ve had the Brexit vote, currency fluctuations, a new president in China: it’s dynamic – you need to be quick at making decisions.”

Italian jobs

Martines has honed his decision-making abilities over the past decade at Yoox. But he was not always destined for a career in ecommerce. He graduated in political science from La Sapienza University of Rome in the late 1990s, and then set up and ran “arts laboratory” Art Lab Zone. In 2002, he began to work as a press officer and diplomatic attaché for a training school based on Italian naval ship Amerigo Vespucci.

New YOOX Splash page

New YOOX Splash page

His ambition was to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but to do that he was required to speak a minimum of four languages fluently. At the time, as well as his native Italian, he spoke English and Spanish – so he moved to Paris to learn French.

After four months he started to apply for job openings. One of the companies he reached out to was French etailer Pixmania, which was at the time owned by Dixons Group.

The CEO was looking for someone who was proficient in four languages to manage start-up Mypix, an online photo-printing service. Martines joined Pixmania in August 2003 as business development manager for southern Europe.

Over the next two years, he gained experience in web marketing and customer relationship management. By 2005, he was looking for new opportunities and Yoox was on his radar. Federico Marchetti – now CEO of YNAP – had launched Yoox five years earlier, and it was on the cusp of expansion.

Martines could see the opportunities: “At that time, ecommerce was dominated by travel, books, CDs and electronics. Fashion’s market share was really small, but I knew that would not last.”

In fashion ecommerce, you need to use data to improve the digital experience

In June 2005, he joined Yoox as marketing and CRM director, responsible for managing all web marketing activities worldwide and reporting to Marchetti. It was steep learning curve, he says: “Selling a camera online is much easier.”

Yoox grew, and began to develop its international presence. In 2012, Martines moved to Hong Kong to become director of Yoox in the Asia-Pacific region, and lead its launch into China. Yoox had no joint venture partner, and Martines had to build a team from scratch.

YOOX ADV Campaign  1

YOOX ADV Campaign 1

His role was no longer confined to marketing: “I had to manage commercial partners, buying and merchandising, pricing strategies. I was able to deep dive into something that I had always looked at, but from the outside.” Yoox now employs 100 people in Asia, across three offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

When Marchetti asked him to come back and head Yoox from Italy, it was tough to leave: “I’d had the chance to run a start-up inside an established company, with less of the risk and all the know-how and tech resources of a big group. I felt like we were pioneers. I also had a nice life: Hong Kong is a beautiful, sub-tropical island.”

But he could not pass up the opportunity. He moved back to Italy and became president of Yoox in August 2015 – five months after the deal to merge Yoox Group with Net-a-Porter Group was announced. Six months later, he inherited The Outnet.

Platform project

Now that Yoox has relaunched, his attention will turn to the migration of Yoox and The Outnet to IBM, alongside all YNAP platforms, including Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and the 40 ecommerce sites the group operates for third-party brands such as Alexander Wang, Stone Island and Valentino.

“This will be an important project in terms of resources, economy, efficiency in back and front end, and flexibility in managing international expansion,” explains Martines. “It’s easier working with an external partner. They can allow you to keep up to date with the evolution of technology: smart watches, wearable technologies – whatever may come out in the future.”

The group is also looking at how to better use big data: “If you have been visiting this, buying this, you are located there, you’re a woman, man, your age, if you have paid by credit card – all of this can be used to offer a more tailor-made shopping experience. In fashion ecommerce, you don’t have the physical experience of the product as you would in a store, so you need to use data to improve the digital experience.”

People want a balance between quality and price. We are in a good position for that

Yoox will be expanded into the Middle East and The Outnet’s presence will grow in Japan, China and Russia over the next year. The UK is an important market for Yoox, says Martines, and is one of the countries it focused on for the relaunch.

YOOX ADV Campaign  2

YOOX ADV Campaign 2

The Brexit vote has had little impact so far, he adds: “We still plan to invest in the UK. Nothing has changed. We have thousands of years of common history – a shared background. Borders and boundaries change. I’m not scared if I will need my passport to travel here.”

Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, warns high-end brands are increasingly wary of the off-price channel: “When online off-price was a niche, this was not a worry,” he points out. “As digital luxury becomes mainstream, the convenience of finding off-price product on the internet could produce higher and higher interference with the full-price channel. This could potentially be a limiting factor for future growth.”

But Martines is optimistic about the opportunities for his division: “Habits are changing, especially among the younger generations,” he argues. “People want a balance between quality and price. We are in a good position for that.”

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