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A steady spring rain served as little deterrence for the hardy attendants of the New York American Marketing Association’s Monday night event featuring Gilt Groupe cofounder Alexis Maybank.

Currently serving as chief strategy officer, Maybank discussed Gilt's four year maturation into the big-data-weilding, five-million-member established player that it is today. 

Gilt has thrived, Maybank emphasized, by prioritizing flexibility. When the company hosted it's first invitation-only sale for Zac Posen in 2007, only ten days had passed since the initial customer contact, and the returns section of the website had yet to be built. During the rapid growth that followed, more people were hired in some quarters than had been working at the company.

The first big change of direction occured when the company realized that their partnering brands weren't just looking at them for inventory liquidation, but instead saw Gilt as a marketing channel. The latest pivot, occuring now, is towards mobile.

Gilt had potential to become a marketing channel because brands were finding that younger customers no longer went into stores, given that they are "behind monitors eighty hours a week."

These same younger people are the ones on the leading edge of mobile adaption.

75% of the company's transactions occur within two hours during the day, and mobile currently accounts for 40% of traffic.

For all work the company now does, mobile is developed first. This is not simply a process of technological optimization: different devices change everything about how and what offerings are purchased. iPhone users are on the go, and want immediacy; transactions can occur in as little as thirty seconds. The iPad, by contrast, is being used in moments of leisure.

This usage pattern caused some soul-searching within the company for products and services that can be showcased on the iPad to the lounging browser. Subsequently, Gilt has expanded its offerings in home decor, travel experiences, and other purchases that are decided upon in in the home environment. Gilt is particularly keen on products that reward a shared browsing experience between couples. 

Notably, Maybanks only mentioned Apple products during this portion of her talk.

When asked about male buyers during the Q&A, Maybanks admitted that the breakdown is 70-30% women to men, but said that mobile sales between the genders are split 50-50%, with men are driving mobile faster than women. 

"In less than twelve months time," Maybanks said, "We’ve watched mobile become a very important element of our business. Not just traffic, but people coming in from mobile becoming nearly 20% of weekly revenue, or 30-40% on weekend or holiday. Given how quickly that shift happened, we’re bracing for another shift in the next 12 months."


Published 22 May, 2012 by Sam Dwyer

Sam Dwyer is an Analyst based in Econsultancy's New York office. He can be followed on Twitter @sammydwyer.

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