Online designer clothing retail behemoth Net-a-Porter, not content with 6 million unique visits a month to its desktop site, yesterday launched its new app, the Net Set. Having been impressed with their content strategy in the past year, which included the expansion of its online magazine and the creation of a dedicated print magazine, I decided to take a look at this new platform, dubbed in the invitational email, The social shopping network we have all been waiting for.
Fortune Magazine this week called it Net-a-Porter’s ‘new weapon in [the] luxury eCommerce battle’ setting the tone for a new era of mobile device targeted platforms.
The focus of my blog post in September last year was the way in which online retailers were utilising magazine-style and ‘curated’ or editorial content in order to improve the customer experience and blur boundaries between content and commerce. In many ways, the Net Set app, launched this past week, is simply an extension of this vision, which seeks to interfere with the traditional retail model, further creating an interactive, inspirational experience; the ultimate commerce/content hybrid.
Knowing from the start that Net-a-Porter as a brand could not be seen to be devaluing its designers wares by offering discounts and offers, Net-a-Porter has focused on the customer experience. Reaching-out, addressing and hugging those consumers who have become advocates of the brand over the years has been an important focus of Net-a-Porter’s strategy.
The fact that Net-a-Porter would bring out an app is not surprising given its standing as the go-to online retailer of designer brands. That it would seek to create its own social platform is a novel idea and little tested in the fashion, let alone the eCommerce world. The likes of Grabble and The Edit (not related to N-a-P) apps have trended in the past year, addressing the growing demand for aspirational fashion content in app form.
Knowing that the likes of ASOS still have separate apps for their magazine content and shopping function, the Net Set may be a venture into a new platform, but knowing their content approach works as well as it has done, Net-a-Porter must be confident that this strategy is the right one. Natalie Massenet, founder of the Net-a-Porter group seemed confident upon launch that the app will be a success; “A lot of people are trying to create social shopping destinations, but they’re missing some of the ingredients. Either they don’t have the scale and reach and audience already, they don’t have the relationship with the brands, or they don’t have the logistics or in-house tech team we have,” she told Fortune.
Essentially the app creates a further touch-point for consumers who already browse on retail website, read the online magazine the Edit, and purchase the offline publication Porter.
Research from Crowdtap and Ipsos found that user-generated content is 20% more influential than any other type of media when it comes to purchasing, and 50% more trusted. So lets look at how Net-a-Porter have utilised this kind of content in their new offering.
The Net Set user journey asks users to complete their profile with 6 quick steps. These choices inform the content that users will receive in the app, through joining different ‘style tribes’, choosing favourite designers, and selecting specific Style Council members (such as the likes of Laura Bailey and Poppy Delevigne, but strangely, no Paul Weller) to follow.
Once registered, users are treated to a platform that is a mixture of Vogue-like features, trendy Instagram accounts and an eCommerce platform. What is most astonishing is that this app seems to blend the three seamlessly.
The look of the app will be familiar to Net-a-Porter’s following, especially anyone who has read their online magazine, The Edit. The interface is decidedly trendy and echoes the feeling you get in those really designer stores with plenty of shiny white walls and a few rails of stock. Simplicity and clean lines are key features here.
The user interface is slick, with gorgeous imagery, and set out rather intuitively into 5 main navigation options: Browse, Find, Upload, Alerts and Profile. Most importantly, that little shopping bag icon reminds you that you can purchase so easily from inside the app.
The idea of curated content that Net-a-Porter introduced in The Edit flows seamlessly into the app. The main content feed (Browse) is a mixture of popular products (measured in ‘loves’), instagram-style posts by Style Council members (which utilise hashtags, emoticons and the ability to tag other users) and new products from favoured designers or Style Tribes. According to one media report, the app has built-in visual recognition technology (presumably to recognise products and tag them to their designer/brand), however, I haven’t used this yet so I can’t comment on how effective it is.
UPDATE 18/5/2015: According to Marie Claire, even if a product isn’t available on Net-a-Porter, the app will use image recognition technology to find a visually similar item which may interest you.
Find is essentially a beautiful search feature. It includes 350 designer collections, and you can search products, people, brands, photos and Style Tribes within the same feature and most importantly, it displays instant search results, a function which seem to work well even on a 3G connection.
This is the section where you can create a post/image to upload and share. It’s pretty self explanatory and is kept simple and clean to encourage frequent posting and sharing.
I’m not quite sure what this feature does at the moment – I hope to find out soon – it may be related to a ‘let me know when its back in stock’ type idea.
In this section you can edit your vital statistics and find all of the products and images you have ‘loved’.
Product pages on the app not only let users view a lovely carousel of images of each item from different angles, but also let users:
The converting appeal of the product pages would always be the money-making aim of the app and thus creating product pages which blend the checkout process with the browsing and wish-list function was imperative. The NetSet seems to have done this rather well, ensuring that the purchase journey is clear, reinforces expectations and guides the user to purchase with as few steps as possible.
Whilst no purchase for £1,600 will be taken lightly (or maybe it will by the uber-wealthy), the checkout journey is reasonably slick and conveys simply an extension of normal app use. The checkout is a guided four step affair, which, in my opinion, could be improved a little bit in terms of the layout and, in particular, the payment screen where buttons are quite small to tap and rather too close together. I think the app should make greater play of the facility to pay by Paypal as this method does ultimately decrease the time it takes to make a purchase on-the-go, and ultimately, is less likely to lead to purchase drop-outs at this stage.
I would remark that the summary information on the payment page should be condensed so that the payment form is not pushed below the fold of the average smartphone as the current look of this step of the payment process looks more time consuming than it really is simply due to the amount of words and boxes on the screen.
Net-a-Porter already has 4.1 million fans across its existing social channels and thus knows there is an audience for this app. They have set the bar high in entering the social media app world and I can see this becoming the app to flick through and drool over for followers of fashion and those that enjoy beautiful design.
The Net Set has been created with Net-a-Porter regular shoppers and loyal brand advocates in mind, allowing a seamless registration that pulls in information from their existing online account to populate their feed. Net-a-Porter could have just designed a sleek looking shopping app, but it obviously believes this way of shopping, the softly softly approach outlined in my previous blog post, will reap dividends for them in the long term.
I believe this app will put pressure on other retailers who have fallen behind in the eCommerce game. What is clear, is that marketing spend on eCommerce will grow immeasurably over the next few years as retailers strive to compete against one another in an increasingly innovative multi-touchpoint landscape. James Whatley, Digital Director at Ogilvy and Mather, seems to agree. He wrote in the Guardian on 14th May: ‘as soon as Net-a-Porter can prove the return on investment of having a profile in The Net Set, it won’t be long before the burden of yet another social profile to manage fades away and we’ll be drowning in amazing case studies.’
Don’t just take my view of it. Here’s what our own Social Media Specialist Kasia Piekut has to say on the topic: