Gilt mastered the flash sales model on the internet. But they also mastered selling clothing online. I think the second has as much to do with their success as the first.
No one in online clothing retail has a better user experience: Gorgeous, high resolution photos that show even a shirt’s weave. Descriptive, objective-sounding reviews. Awesome visual design with beautiful fonts, buttons, and interface imagery. Killer zooming. Fit advice — “This style fits true to size” — with the pictured model’s size and measurements. Free, fast shipping, free returns.
Items are actually more appealing than they are in stores. The company takes full advantage of the web’s powers, with convenience, scale, efficiency, information, and interactivity galore.
It’s a really fantastic experience overall, and it’s expanded into all of their properties - Gilt Man, Jetsetter, and now Gilt City. And taken further, the Gilt experience on the iPad is even better: drag to add to cart, zoom into photos with a pinch, etc. It’s the future of shopping.
I think it’s a competitive advantage. With online retailers, the focus hasn’t been on interface, as it is been with other web 2.0 startups. But Gilt realizes that a slick design can change consumer behavior. The combination of low prices and a really thought-out experience made shopping diehards buy exclusively online.
The shopping experience is a major focus at Gilt. Yesterday, I was at July’s NY Tech Meetup. It was a great show. Joshua Schwadron from the startup I worked at last summer, Betterfly, demoed, as did the founders of Jetsetter.
Jetsetter was “incubated” at Gilt. It looks and feels the same. But it’s not a flash sales site. The founders made it clear that the true value proposition that Jetsetter provides to customers is a way to browse travel destinations in a photo-centric, “seductive” way. It’s Gilt for travel, minus the timed-sale hoopla. Hotels and destinations are willing to cut prices because their product isn’t cheapened (in fact, it looks better than ever) and because they’re reaching new customers. Jetsetter’s not meant to be a Hotels.com replacement. It’s meant to be a place to get good travel ideas, to pick from an immersive, interactive catalog of sorts.
It makes so much sense. Web design is completely scalable. It’s totally a fixed cost, and a relatively small one. Gilt is able to simulate the upscale feel of Barney’s — the interior design, the product framing, shelving, and display — on the internet, for a fraction of the cost, while offering prices up to 30% less. Brilliant.
Key to this is a fundamental shift in shopping online. The current leaders of e-commerce are companies like Amazon and Staples (surprisingly the web’s second largest retailer by sales dollars). They focus on search-driven sales. People type in what they’re looking for and checkout. Customers are looking for convenience, free shipping, and low costs.
Slow to pickup, however, have been browse-driven sales. These are the items people don’t know they want. They’re the items that people go to Bloomingdales for. These customers leaf through items and make irrational decisions on a whim. Gilt has been able to replicate that experience. They solved the internet’s browse problem.
More fundamentally, they figured out how to sell non-attribute items online. An attribute item is one that’s easily characterized on paper; in other words, cameras, books, computers, office supplies. Non-attribute items are the physical things that people like to feel before they purchase: apparel, accessories, sunglasses. Gilt realized that to sell non-attribute things there needs to be an initial lure (the prices) combined with an awesome browsing experience.
The result is gold. Gilt’s exploding. It’s branching into new products everyday. They just went into local attractions with Gilt City, which I think is leagues ahead of Groupon’s site.
Gilt wants to be the place for all indulgence purchases. I could see them going into jewelry, handbags, cosmetics, furniture, watches, and other web-neglected verticals.
For some reason, no one’s knocking them off. Do they not see the secret sauce?