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February 23, 2010 7:38 PM

Fashion, Retail

The Online Equation: J. Crew and Net-a-porter's Partnership

When I first learned that J. Crew would be listed on Net-a-porter.com, which specializes in designer and contemporary fashions and distributes to 170 countries, I wondered how much business could J. Crew actually generate off the London-based Web site, considering...

When I first learned that J. Crew would be listed on Net-a-porter.com, which specializes in designer and contemporary fashions and distributes to 170 countries, I wondered how much business could J. Crew actually generate off the London-based Web site, considering it's packed with more than 300 labels and posted a volume close to $150 million a year ago.

Executives from both parties couldn't project J. Crew's potential volume, but they gave assurances the U.S. retailer would be very visible and marketed aggressively on the site. They said the plan was more about "fun and fashion."

There's a bigger picture. J. Crew, through Net-a-porter, could gauge the brand's international appeal in cities around the world as well as its saleability via a channel outside its own selling network. Such insights could lead to other growth maneuvers. What about overseas stores? What about tie-ups with other sites that don't directly compete with Net-a-porter? Or could J. Crew one day promote Net-a-porter on its own site? The permutations, the mix and matching up online, seem plentiful.

Just the day before, eBay disclosed it is developing new formats for selling fashion, including "a flash" sales site and an online outlet mall, opening up greater possibilities for mixing it up on the Internet. And fashion brands are clearly eager to tap into the medium: Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Rodarte and Perry Ellis all live-streamed their fashion shows a week ago, while other designers used Facebook, Twitter and their own Web sites to give fashion folks an online taste of what showed under the Bryant Park tents.

Perhaps fashion's fascination with the Web will make eBay's job a little easier. For sure, eBay wants to elevate its fashion appeal, and is investing significantly in new technology for enhanced, more stylish visuals and easier navigation of its Web pages. The goal is not only to attract additional shoppers and get them to browse and outfit more, but also designers, brands and retailers who could list their products directly on eBay rather just witnessing their merchandise get listed on the site through third-party, smaller sellers. So far, eBay has Norma Kamali and Narciso Rodriguez creating exclusive capsule collections. It's seeking additional collaborations.

EBay also has lined up Lord & Taylor and Brooks Brothers for its online outlet mall and see vast potential to make its marketplace more dynamic.

Who knows, someday J. Crew and eBay could partner up?
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