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In an increasingly digitized world, where new methods are king, José Neves has never forgotten about the power of old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retailing in the fashion arena.
The founder and chief executive officer of Farfetch.com, a full-service e-commerce platform for small, independent boutiques worldwide, has been fusing the old with the new in the name of creative diversity and customer service.
“With most designer labels — even the big, big ones — almost invariably we can trace their beginnings to a few independent fashion boutiques who have really taken the risk and put their money where their mouth was,” said Neves, a self-proclaimed computer geek who began programming at age 8, when he was growing up in north Portugal.
He describes his retail network as “a fashion community of some of the world’s top curators” from 18 countries across the whole of the European Union, the U.S. and Brazil.
Farfetch “does everything for them, we offer a 360-degree e-commerce service…and we provide them with real-time integration of their inventory systems, so what is sold in a store in Milan we know it in real time.…We also take care of the customer experience, the online marketing. We provide them with amplitude and global reach. We are very passionate about supporting independence in fashion,” he said.
Neves pointed out that some of the boutiques on the site have been around for decades, including Al Duca D’Aosta in Venice, which is more than 110 years old, and Wunderl in Sollenau, Austria, which was founded in 1856. “I don’t know what they sold in those days. I’m sure it was an Aladdin’s Cave of artisanal stuff,” he said, referring to the latter.
Neves added that the site also seeks to promote diversity, not only among retailers but among designers and brands as well.
“Boutiques [unlike big Web sites and department stores] will see a collection and take risks….They survive by being different…at the product level. For a designer, the whole vision gets much better represented, it’s not just the department stores and big Web sites stocking their collections.”
Neves also talked about the Millennial shopper, who sees no boundaries between online and offline, and his future plans to further leverage Farfetch’s network of boutiques worldwide.
“We can do fun things, like if someone parks their yacht in Porto Cervo [Italy],” they can have their order from a store in Los Angeles delivered to one in Porto Cervo.
He also wants stores in the network to be able to share stock.
“The biggest disadvantage of a small boutique is the lack of range….But if [stores] can tap into the inventory of all their peers across their network they will never miss a size or product. So that is our next big step for next year and we really want to leverage the unique feature of having physical locations.”