Despite reports to the contrary, Net-a-Porter has not launched a new social network. Nor is it trying to recreate Instagram exclusively for fashion.
What it has done, however, is announce a new and advanced way for its consumers to buy more clothes.
How? By introducing The Net Set, a new service that allows users to create a profile, fill it with the [Net-a-Porter] clothes they like, follow friends, brands, celebrities, etc, and ultimately upload photos that Net-a-Porter will match to its nearest product.
Very exciting. But in it for the engagement, Net-a-Porter is not.
At Ogilvy Mather Advertising, the mantra is “we sell, or else”. When we commit to a project, we do it with a clear and cut-throat business goal. By comparison, Net-a-Porter’s mantra (when it comes to its publishing strategy at least) is “anytime, anywhere, any platform” – it is not talking about likes and shares.
Translated: if it moves, and you can consume on it (the new service has apps for mobile, tablet, and Apple Watch), we’ll try and sell to you through it – and why not?
Net-a-Porter is a hugely successful business. One of the first successful e-tailers (launched way back at the turn of the millennium) the business has been through a number of changes in its 15-year history. From its early days shipping stock out of a bathtub, to the introduction of image recognition software in 2014, the Net-a-Porter of 2000 is barely recognisable. Now, with its proposed merger with discount designer site Yoox, it is set to become another beast entirely. Again.
If that merger is successful, it’ll put Net-a-Porter’s combined net revenue per annum at a staggering €1.3bn. It’s clear that when it comes to business ambition, Net-a-Porter is not one for flailing around in the dark and just seeing what works. So when it made the decision to launch it’s latest social commerce off-shoot, The Net Set, you can imagine the amount of analysis and research that went it into it.
But will it actually work? That’s a tough question.
Rewind six or seven years, when Facebook was on the rise and MySpace was beginning to dwindle, you couldn’t move for brands wanting to start their own social network platform. The late noughties were scattered with the bones of these failed (and expensive) attempts – and I’m sure many marketers still carry the scars.
The lesson then is the strategy of today: you go where your audience goes, not the other way around. But times change, data improves, and consumers have become idiosyncratic, individualistic and autonomous.
To wit: Net-a-Porter is thinking differently.
With 6 million (pre-Yoox) unique visitors every month and more than 4 million fans and followers over nine social media channels, Net-a-Porter believes it can mobilise that online army and convert it into highly “engaged” (read: returning) customers who, every day, share their items and purchases with the online set and inspire others to purchase too.
Remember: where the audience go, brands will follow. While many fashion labels are still trying to work out whether they should be on Periscope or Meerkat (it’s the former, in case you were wondering), as soon as Net-a-Porter can prove the return on investment of having a profile in The Net Set, it won’t be long before the burden of yet another social profile to manage fades away and we’ll be drowning in amazing case studies. Maybe.
With its world-class image-recognition technology (think Shazam, but for fashion – seen something you like? Snap it and Net-a-Porter will match it for you), the Yoox merger on the horizon, and an ambition to create “one common global technology and logistics platform, connecting all storefronts and distribution centres” – you can see how this new venture could be very successful.
And for those brands burnt by the demise of Facebook’s organic reach, a new platform to not only speak but to sell to highly engaged consumers is an attractive proposition.
On paper, this idea works. In practice, who knows?
The Net Set is no social network. It’s a data-driven and well-orchestrated attempt at creating a genuine social commerce platform – the holy grail of fashion and the digital revolution.
Many have failed before – but maybe this time aroundthe conditions are just right for this one to succeed.
James Whatley is the digital director at Ogilvy Mather
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• This article was amended on 14 May 2015 to correct the description for Yoox, which is a discount designer site. The article previously stated it was an “off season discounter”