Vente-privee.com is a private sales website which offers designer and luxury brands at a discount to its members. The company has been growing rapidly, reaching  turnover of £610m in 2009. 

We've been speaking to Bunty Stokes, the UK Director of Vente-privee, about the company's development...

Bunty Stokes

When did Vente-privee launch?  

Vente-privee was launched in France in 2001, and we were the pioneers of the online private sales concept. 

Our CEO Jacques-Antoine set it up and the French business started to take off very quickly, helped by the fact that there was not that much activity in this area at the time. 

The concept was about bringing brands at attractive prices to a captive audience. By 2006, we were running 460 sales a year, and sold 12m items. 

We then looked to expand into other European markets, starting with Spanish and German sites in Sep 2006, and followed by an Italian website in 2008. 

When did you launch in the UK? 

It was clear to us that the UK was an important market, and we knew of a number of players that were looking to launch in the UK. 

The Vente-privee approach is to investigate markets thoroughly before deciding on our approach. We decided we needed a local office in the UK to work with the plethora of local brands in the UK. 

It is also a market that was competitive in terms of off-price, with a number of offline and online retailers offering brands at bargain prices. It’s a very lucrative market, worth £60bn last year, but it was always going to be important to pay attention to local differences. 

Has Vente-privee taken any funding?

In July 2007, we partnered with Summit Partners, who took a 20% stake in the business. 

Can you provide some details on Vente-privee's turnover?  

Our turnover in 2008 was £457m, and this rose to £610m last year, with a total of 2,500 private sales run on our sites. 

While our focus has been fashion, shoes and lingerie, we have sold other items. For example, we sold 93 cars in less than an hour last year, 100,000 bottles of wine, and 100 apartments in 72 hours. 

Are you planning to expand beyond Europe? 

We have explored other continents internally, but our main focus at the moment is to be the masters of Europe. We are assessing other European countries, the size and maturity of the e-commerce markets, potential logistical constraints, and so on. 

How important is creating a sense of urgency and exclusivity to the success of Vente-privee? 

To have access to the best brands at a discount is seen as a privilege for customers and should be treated as such. 

The membership based model has allowed us to enhance this sense of privilege, enhance the confidence of the brands working with us, and instill a sense of urgency for customers to buy products. 

We have 10m members across Europe, and demand outweighs supply, so items are offered on a first come, first served basis. This means that customers have to act quickly to secure the items they want.

How do you convince brands to sell their excess stock through Vente-privee? 

We view ourselves as a B2B business first, and B2C second. Our focus is on having a good relationship with the nest brands, and we currently work with more than 1,000 brands. 

Our offering has to be in keeping with brand values, and we work closely with them to provide a service. 

Our primary focus in the UK to work with brands and offer them a discreet and high quality vehicle for their extra stock. There is a lot of off-price saturation in the UK, and our offer is designed to appeal to brands, while avoiding the risk of cannibalising their full price propositions. 

So, we have a closed membership and a homepage which doesn’t give much information on the brands listed on the website. Thanks to this approach, we’re becoming a favoured choice for brands in the UK, as we work hard not to damage brand values. 

In fact, a study we did in 2007 found that many of the customers who engaged with brands on our website have since gone on to buy products from the brands at full-price. 

How important is email in delivering calls to action to customers? 

We are online only, so email is important for us to communicate with customers and keep them up to date. 

We send customers advance notice of private sales, and they can register for them then, and we try to paint a picture of the sales that sell them to customers to encourage them to register. 

Interestingly, our UK customers tend not to register in advance, and instead react to emails which tell them that sales are actually in progress. In the UK, we’re looking at how to adapt what we do and perhaps streamline the email strategy. UK consumers receive a lot of email and we have to be careful not to overdo it. 

How have you marketed the UK website?

We didn’t opt for a big launch, and have instead relied on search marketing, as well as referrals from existing customers.  

Because the UK is a mature e-commerce market, we have to widen awareness and reach of our brand. In addition, there is some work to do in customer education. Whenever private sales are mentioned in the press, it is often referred to as a new concept, so we need to make customers aware of the concept and how it works. 

Who are your typical customers? 

We know that the majority of our customers are women, and that they are looking for premium and luxury brands. In fact, the average UK customer is spending more than those from the rest of Europe. 

How important is mobile for Vente-privee? 

On top of our recently released iPhone App, I can confirm that we are currently working on projects with a number of major platforms which we are aiming to bring out before the end of the year. Mobile is a space we are taking very seriously. 

Since launching the app on June 17 we have had 360,000  downloads, 2m visits, 24m page views and 10,000 orders placed. 

Graham Charlton

Published 13 July, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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