Designer Sample-Sale Site Gilt.com Expands to CanadaNovember 28, 2011
by Leanne Delap
A crew of New York fashion gals recently jetted into town to touch down at Nyood restaurant on Queen St. W. for the Canadian launch of Gilt.com, the biggest of the invitation-only online sample-sale sites. No matter how chic this city gets, you can still spot the Manhattan transfers by the minuscule circumference of their upper arms.
Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, the sleek chief merchandising officer for Gilt Groupe (and one of the five named founders of the site, which debuted in 2007), was on hand for the festivities. A veteran of Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Merrill Lynch, Wilkis Wilson explained that Canada was the first, and biggest, rollout of the 91 countries included in their expansion.
“We were the first flash-sale site,” she says of the concept, which is invite-only. Each day new designer merchandise is posted at 9 a.m. EST at savings of up to 60 per cent off retail. “About 20 brands are on sale each day, with current season product in the men’s, women’s, kids and home category.” Most of the limited-edition stock sells out in the first hour.
“We started with the rush of a New York City sample sale, where the thrill of the chase turns normal people into animals,” says Wilkis Wilson. “We wanted to re-create the excitement without the hassles.”
The site has some 5 million members. Though Gilt Groupe did not actually invent the model (the first was Vente Privée out of Europe; the U.S. version in partnership with American Express, launched just last week), the site is reputed to be the go-to for such major designers as Missoni, Vera Wang, Rick Owens, Alexander McQueen and Proenza Schouler. Gilt.com gained big buzz in 2009 when a bunch of Louboutin shoes went up for sale and the site got bogged down to a trickle.
“Designers view us as a marketing platform,” says Wilkis Wilson. “We have solid brand relationships. Items are all brand new, shipped directly from the designer warehouses. Sometime they are previous season, but everything is clearly marked.”
Gilt Groupe expanded into a men’s retail luxury site — Park & Bond, which will be available in Canada within the month. In the U.S. only, there is also a concierge travel service called Jetsetter, where a Caribbean villa was recently rented for $200,000 a week. Jet-set indeed.
The Gilt Groupe angle is to shoot their own “look books,” which are magazine-style product shots. “We have eight photo studios in Brooklyn shooting 24 hours a day, everything from Oscar de la Renta gowns to sizzling steaks,” the latter for Gilt Groupe’s Gilt Taste, still U.S. only, a site for artisanal food and wine goodies (a full-priced concept).
“We are thrilled to have Gilt.com in Canada, don’t get me wrong,” says Erin Green, the director of marketing for Dealuxe, a Canadian site for international brands which launched this past May. “The more online shopping the better for all of us.”
The point is changing habits of consumers. Dealuxe is more a hybrid of the designer sample sale model and online retailers such as Shopbop and Net-a-Porter, which both ship to Canada.
“We provide personal shopping, and produce an online magazine,” says Green, about the service that has stylists interview customers to help weed through the merchandise, which includes international brands, from luxe Pink Tartan and Smythe to trendier Nine West. “We are about the mix,” says Green.
Another Canadian site called Peacock Parade launched this year, with a model more similar to the Gilt.com flash sale.
About 4 per cent to 5 per cent of Gilt Groupe’s sales were already international, with crafty, mainly Canadian shoppers figuring a way to have their goods shipped to a location south of the border. The international launch makes it easier: customers go to the main site and it is only at checkout they are redirected to a screen that calculates Canadian duties and shipping.
Oh yes, shipping. That is free on Gilt.com for the next few weeks of the launch period, then will return to the base price of $19 per order (no matter how many pieces).
And there is nothing the magic sale fairies, no matter how chic and Manhattan, can do about the reality of Canadian sales taxes and duties. But 60 per cent off is a good balm for that pain.