The news of the closing of Style.com, Condé Nast’s venture into online fashion retail, while sudden, is not totally surprising. There were many challenges ranging from delayed launches to lack of participation from major brands. As an e-commerce expert in the fashion industry, I watched with interest the journey of Style.com. As an outsider, I can’t help but believe there were operational challenges that ultimately led to its failure. In an article with the New York times, Matt Starker,the general manager of digital strategy at Condé Nast, sums this notion up well with his commentary that while editorial content drives revenue, the skills needed to make great content are not the same as running a site.
With Style.com’s history and leadership ingrained in fashion publishing, where an elevated brand experience is intrinsic to its DNA, the site weighed heavily on editorial content. Editorial content is not only costly to produce, but is operationally labor-intensive to monetize as it requires much set up and constant response to stock levels. There is a not-so-sexy side of running a successful website that focuses on aspects such as usability, site speed, algorithm-based optimization and operational efficiency that, perhaps, was overlooked in lieu of the front-end visual experience.
Yet, the complete shutdown of this highly recognizable site seems like a premature move. Nine months is hardly enough time to prove the feasibility of any new business, let alone an online business, which often takes years to show profitability. Perhaps the financial reality was too dismal to show any hope of recovery, but certainly there must have been some glimmers of optimism that could have been cultivated to develop Style.com into a leading luxury apparel site.
A positive factor that Style.com had was brand recognition and site traffic. That traffic is now being routed to Farfetch. This seems like a logical approach to recover what they can of their most valuable asset, yet the experience fails miserably. Customers are not getting an explanation of why they are being re-routed, leading them to believe they have reached the page in error and likely exiting the experience altogether. Even a simple banner on top of the Farfetch page for users coming through Style.com with an explanation could help drive these lucrative customers to convert on Farfetch. Sadly, for this iconic brand, they missed the boat.