Inspired by Le Bon Marché, new etailer 24 Sèvres aims to recreate the Parisian department store experience online. Drapers examines its offer and asks whether the competition should be worried.
Le Bon Marché is one of the world’s oldest department stores. It was established on Paris’s Left Bank in 1852 by local merchant Aristide Boucicaut and his wife Marguerite, who wanted to create a “new kind of store that would thrill all the senses”. It succeeded, offering a selection of opulent fashion and homeware from around the world to suit the particular taste of the Parisian consumer.
Earlier this month, French luxury conglomerate LVMH, which acquired Le Bon Marché in 1984, launched a new multi-brand ecommerce site inspired by the department store. Named after Le Bon Marché’s address, 24 rue Sèvres, the site is designed to capitalise on a growing appetite for luxury fashion online. It claims to offer “a pioneering spirit, a personalised service, a Parisian identity and exceptional product selection”, which it argues will fill a gap in the market. The department store’s existing ecommerce site, lebonmarche.com, will eventually disappear.
24 Sèvres benefits from a number of advantages – not least Le Bon Marché’s history and good name, along with its existing database of customers. But it is not easy to launch a new luxury multi-brand fashion website. An early example, My-Wardrobe, set up in 2006, ended up being bought by Net-a-Porter in 2014; US luxury etailer Orchard Mile, which debuted in 2015 and has a tie-up with Saks Fifth Avenue, has yet to prove a financial success; and Condé Nast shuttered its own multi-brand ecommerce offer, Style.com, this month after less than a year of trading.
Meanwhile, the competition from existing players is hotting up. Farfetch is on course for an IPO that could value it at up to $5bn (£3.9bn) and, following the closure of Style.com, has inked a deal to combine its global ecommerce platform with content from Condé Nast’s portfolio of consumer magazines. Net-a-Porter is investing in new technologies such as chatbots and trialling a “you try, we wait” delivery service.
Yet Eric Goguey, chief executive of 24 Sèvres, shrugs this off: “We are complementary to the competition,” he tells Drapers. “What is key is the curation – we display a Parisian vision of fashion.”
24 Sèvres targets a specific luxury shopper – women in their late twnties to early forties, who are drawn to the idea of effortless Parisian chic. The site offers more than 150 brands across fashion, beauty and luxury goods. There is a good mix of less established brands (such as Maison Labiche), contemporary brands (J Brand and Kenzo), and big-name luxury designers, some of whom have been plucked from the LVMH portfolio (Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Dior).
What is key is the curation – we display a Parisian vision of fashion
Eric Goguey, chief executive of 24 Sèvres
The site features slick imagery and the sparsity of product gives the feel of a high-end shopping experience. The homepage is conceived as a series of digital “vitrines” to complement Le Bon Marché’s window displays. At the time of writing, the main image is of a woman peering through a window. Online her eyes are animated, her eyebrows rising at what she sees inside – a small but quirky, pleasing detail.
To celebrate its launch on 6 June, 24 Sèvres commissioned a capsule collection of 77 limited-edition pieces, which are available exclusively via 24sevres.com and Le Bon Marché. The collection has been designed by 68 local and international designers, many of whom chose to collaborate with a figure of the Parisian arts, cinema or music scene (pictured is a jacket created by Parisian fashion house Courrèges in collaboration with artist Chloe Wise).
The collection helps to bring the Parisian feel of the site to life, and offers customers a reason to choose 24 Sèvres over its rivals. Prices range from £45 for a Majestic Filatures cotton T-shirt to £13,410 for an Yves Salomon mink bomber.
The rest of the site is relatively minimalist, focusing on key statement pieces from designers. For some brands there is only one product available to buy, although the site is expected to be more fully stocked in the autumn. Goguey defends the limited selection: “Our goal is not to have all the brands and products. It is an assortment of products, [which represents] exactly our vision of Parisian fashion.”
24 Sèvres has used technology to recreate the luxury Le Bon Marché shopping experience online. Customers can video chat one to one with a stylist based in Paris via the iOS app, or get personal shopping advice from a “style bot” on Facebook Messenger.
“We want to bring back the human dimension, even if it’s part of an online relationship,” says Goguey. “We have a lot of international customers, who don’t have the chance of physical contact with Le Bon Marché. Some of our customers want contact with an expert, some prefer to be left alone. We offer the choice.”
24 sèvres app white background
Unlike many of its competitors, 24 Sèvres has chosen to focus on commerce rather than content. The “explore” section of the site contains some editorial content, such as a “behind the scenes” video, but there is no obvious connection with the product selection beneath – an opportunity for development in the future.
Load times could be faster, but overall the navigation of 24 Sèvres is fairly intuitive. It ticks the boxes when it comes to delivery, offering express services in more than 70 countries worldwide, as well as click-and-collect in Le Bon Marché. Another advantage of being part of a multichannel package is that 24 Sèvres shares a loyalty programme with the store and in its adjacent food hall, La Grande Epicerie – again, giving a reason to shop there over competitors.
Goguey says he has “many plans” for the future, which could include international expansion and/or adding more categories: “What is great is we’re agile,” he says proudly.
Simon Burstein, former chief executive of designer boutique Browns and founder of womenswear store and designer studio The Place London, points out that in targeting fans of the arty style of Paris’s Left Bank of Paris, 24 Sèvres has carved itself out a niche that sets it apart even from its counterparts in the city, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
However, he questions whether it will be able to rival Net-a-Porter and Farfetch in the short term, at least: “They’re starting from scratch, albeit with the Le Bon Marché database. They’ve got to work hard to convert those existing customers and make sure they have the same advantages online as they already get in store,” he says. “Farfetch and Net-a-Porter are worldwide websites, they have a very far reach. The end consumer is being solicited every day by very good sites.”
Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at investment company Exane BNP Paribas, argues that it is “rational” for department stores with a recognised brand name, such as Le Bon Marché, to expand digitally. “All the more so in this case because they can start with a bang, having all of the LVMH brands in their assortment. The likes of Harrods and Selfridges would need to negotiate this with all of the brands in their store that operate concessions, rather than on wholesale contracts.”
But like Burstein, he doesn’t think it will worry the likes of Net-a-Porter: “For them, this is just another competitor – the nth in a long list, I expect.”
The Drapers verdict
The link to Le Bon Marché, exclusive capsule collection and focus on Parisian style will no doubt lure shoppers to 24 Sèvres in the early stages. The site is beautiful and the use of flash animations and illustrated icons are playful, which make it more accessible. By offering video one-to-ones with Parisian personal stylists, 24 Sèvres begins to capture that feeling of service that high-end department stores are known for. The brand mix is impressive, although if an LVMH-backed site didn’t excel here serious questions would be raised.
As we saw with Style.com, maintaining sales momentum is not always easy and there’s no doubt that 24 Sèvres faces stiff competition. It will have to increase the amount of product available on the site – working with brands on creating more exclusives and capsule collections – to keep its customers coming back. It is also missing a trick with its unfocused editorial content.
So, there is some work to be done, but the opportunity is there. The combined weight of the Le Bon Marché name and access to brands in the LVMH stable, some of which are not available on other multi-brand sites, means 24 Sèvres could quickly pack a punch in the luxury ecommerce market.