Case study: Inconvenience and secrecy – Vente-privee

French ‘flash’ sale website Vente-privee launched a decade ago, and has since become a €1.1bn (£920m) brand. It helps upmarket brands sell their remaining stock without degrading their luxury positioning through excessive discounting.

Vente

From the beginning, the site has used the strategy of inconvenience for the benefit of shoppers and the brands it sells. Its sales are hard to find as they are behind a registration wall that gives few clues about what lies behind. Sales last only a few days.

Vente-privee co-founder Xavier Court says: “When we [designed the homepage that way] 10 years ago, it was to avoid being listed by price comparison websites. By doing that, consumers could not find the price, so for us it was a more discreet way to sell the product.”

The online members-only service gives users access to private sales averaging 65% off retail prices on clothing, accessories and homewares. But with an advertising budget of zero, members only find out about the site through word of mouth or articles in the media.

Court refers to Vente-privee as a ‘business-to-business-to-consumer’ operation, providing a service both to consumers and to the fashion trade. Discounts are deep, giving shoppers an opportunity to buy premium items at a low price, but in order to maintain exclusivity of its own brand and those of its sellers, prior information about the sales is scarce.

It remains more secretive than many of the competitors that have surfaced in its wake, such as UK-based Brand Alley. Vente-privee’s members get only 24 hours’ advance notice that a sale is about to start, and are told only the name of the brand.

Consumers must work hard to get to products: there is not even a search function on the site to navigate the sales in any way other than by brand.

Nothing of the products or prices is mentioned until the shopper clicks through to the brand’s sale. These last for only a couple of days, and might only come round every six months for a particular designer. Stock, once sold, is not replenished.

“If you want to buy a [discounted] Longchamp product, you can go to a factory outlet in France or there is maybe one in England. Otherwise [the sales are] twice a year on Vente-privee, or you pay full price in a Longchamp store,” says Court.

He argues, too, that the kind of shopping behaviour incited by flash sales benefits the brands. Its customers, and even those who do not buy, will often return to a brand’s own website later and purchase at full price, Court claims. Time-limited discounts also trigger people to buy when they otherwise would not.

“They come very early, at 7am or even 6am in the UK. We have an average of 500,000 people in every store every day. We bring new buyers to brands who would not usually buy, either because they don’t have a store near them or because they hadn’t heard of the brand.”

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