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WWD CEO Summit: Asos.com's Nick Robertson Looks to the Future

The site's ceo told the audience that Asos has more than one million unique visits a day, with more than 30 percent of those visits from a mobile device.

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What one buys shouldn’t be dictated by where one lives.


That is the laser-like focus that has fueled the growth of global online retailer Asos.com, according to Nick Robertson, its chief executive officer and cofounder.


Robertson told the audience that his site has more than 20 million unique visits a day, with more than 30 percent of those visits from a mobile device. The company, which also does Twitter campaigns, boasts 260,000 social media contacts and has fielded 4.2 million customer service e-mails since launching in June 2000.


The company is primarily aimed at the twentysomething consumer, both men and women. Why twentysomethings? That age group is part of the structural shift where they are spending their money online. And whether male or female, they are both spending the same amount of time online, whether reading, sharing, buying or talking. As for shopping, about 40 percent of their fashion budget is spent online, Robertson said.


Most purchases are by women.


“She has 10 to 20 brands in her closet. If she is online, is she going to go to 10 to 20 Web sites?” asked Robertson. His point was that when the consumer wants one brand, the individual shouldn’t have to be dictated by the brands that are available based on where the person lives.


While Asos sells its own brand, it also has partnered with other retailers to sell their products, such as River Island and Whistles of the U.K. Robertson’s point was that Asos is a “platform” that can serve as a one-stop shop for twentysomethings to find all the brands they desire. It gives retailers a global reach they otherwise would not have unless they launched their own brick-and-mortar stores or introduced their own local language Web sites. Asos buys all the product from them and owns the inventory.


That attitude and focus has pushed Asos to become the fastest-growing online fashion retailer, with language-specific Web sites in France, Germany, Russia, Australia, the U.S., Spain, U.K. and Italy. The company in May launched a Russian language site and is on target to launch a Chinese site shortly. Mobile sites have been launched in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Australia, the U.S. and Russia. Asos has seven million active customers worldwide. Its distribution center in Barnsley, England, employs 3,500 people.

Robertson also spoke about the rise of fashion democracy, and how the high street is no longer the sole arbiter of fashion where choice is limited.


“The high street’s presence is being democratized. Twentysomethings have better things to do than go to the high street. The world’s largest brand is in their pocket [via a mobile device],” said Robertson.


While he said somewhat tongue-in-cheek that he can visualize the day when younger consumers reminisce about their parents going to the high street as a destination place to shop, his key point was really about the fundamental shift taking place due to digital.


“Digital is highly complex. Few have cracked it. Fewer have even made a profit,” Robertson said, a nod to his firm’s profitability in a channel where many e-commerce players are thinking more of profitability as something down the road. The company broke even back in the 2003-04 time period.


He also noted that he’s seeing a huge shift in the way men shop for fashion, and that’s in part due to mobile as the “gateway to the world.” According to Robertson, “The Internet is enabling guys to catch up with women.”


The other reason is that there’s not much choice for men, and they are definitely as interested in fashion as their female counterpart. While most of the sales are currently by women, Robertson sees the possibility of the Asos business as being evenly split between men’s and women’s down the road.