The Outnet’s Andres Sosa talks women’s online fashion

Andres Sosa, EVP THE OUTNET 5

With the ever-increasing number of fashion stores and outlets in Hong Kong, traipsing up and down the hilly roads looking for the perfect outfit can turn into a hike. For women who prefer not to break a sweat when looking for new clothes, online retailer The Outnet makes shopping a little bit easier.

Established in 2009 by the same people who founded Net-a-Porter, The Outnet stocks over 350 previous-season fashion brands for women and is available on mobiles, tablets and desktops.

Andres Sosa, the executive vice president of the sales, marketing and creative department for The Outnet, was in Hong Kong recently. Sosa has more than 20 years of experience working in luxury fashion and he is responsible for developing globally integrated strategy and retail marketing for The Outnet’s global sales, marketing, creative and e-commerce teams.

We spoke to Sosa about who The Outnet customer is, the company’s global strategy and selling to the Asian market.

Who is The Outnet customer?

When we launched in 2009, we originally thought that The Outnet customer would sit in a younger demographic and be someone who might not initially be able to purchase luxury brands at full price – but we were soon proved wrong.

We know that our customer is savvy but she isn’t necessarily motivated by price as she shops for both current and previous-season fashion. She has a great lifestyle and travels on average six to nine times a year for leisure and is around 35-38 years of age.

For our customer, The Outnet is a reliable source of unique finds from her go-to designers. As a retailer, it is key for us to influence and help our customer without dictating to her, as we are aware she knows what she wants and is a confident shopper.

How do you build a relationship with a market when you have so many different markets? A customer in Asia is not necessarily going to be the same as in the Middle East.

Being able to understand the customer is so important for us. We have an incredible customer insights panel of over 10,000 people globally, who we reach out to regularly. This means we can create an overarching global strategy, which can then be easily adopted to each of the eight key markets we operate in.

Having this knowledge means that we know our customer so well. We have the ability to tell when and how she shops, what brands she loves the most and what she wants to see on site. For example, we know that brands such as Marni, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and our in-house brand Iris & Ink all resonate highly with our Hong Kong customer.

Having access to this information means we are able to tailor our approach for different markets. We can react to the obvious factors such as the weather between the two hemispheres, but we can also employ geo-targeting for the region which enables us to personalise content and target specific designers and promotions for our customer. This also extends to the site as we are able to create home pages with different designer offerings in relation to the preference our customers have in different markets.

For example, Hong Kong customers will see designers in the dropdown menu which perform best in the region. We can also cater for key calendar moments, such as Chinese New Year and Singles Day. Having the opportunity to visit in-market also allows us to talk to customers first hand – we have a very hands-on approach. The customer is at the foundation of everything we do.

How has The Outnet been received by the Asian market?

Asia in general is a really interesting market for us and we were very lucky that our business grew quite organically, allowing us to garner a loyal and devoted customer base. Our challenge now is to continue to gather new customers whilst still ensuring that we speak to our original base, without trying to grow too fast.

It’s also important for us to drill down deeper in Asia and not to generalise – we know that our customers are very different across the Asian markets that we operate in.  It’s really important for us to ensure we provide a strong selection of choice and variety. Offering high-end luxury brands that we know perform well locally alongside the contemporary brands provides a curated edit that really is the best in the marketplace. This combined with our discounts of up to 70 percent off makes us a compelling and exciting shopping prospect.

What exactly is the VIP Front Row initiative and is it available in Hong Kong?

We wanted to create a dedicated programme to reward and engage our high-spending and loyal customers, hence the birth of Front Row which is now in its second year of operation. We see great engagement from our Front Row members in Hong Kong. As a part of the initiative, we offer key functions and treats including private and preview sales, giving customers the opportunity to shop for coveted designers such as Balmain, Emilio Pucci and Valentino before they are uploaded to the site.

We also offer a Personal Assistant function which is our instant messaging service, giving our customer easy access to our dedicated customer service team who are on hand 24/7 to offer styling tips and to assist with any queries. They are also able to reserve products for VIPs wherever they are based in the world. Alongside this we offer invitations to in-market events such as our recent tours in Hong Kong at Art Basel and our intimate dinner with Para Site. (Click here to view the story)

What do you make of the retail landscape in Hong Kong?

It’s interesting for us as a brand and has huge potential as the shopper is so engaged and has a wealth of choice. Brick-and-mortar stores are still key, which you can see especially when you walk through Central – the wealth and breadth of stores is incredible, it’s a real consumers market. We know the trend of online retailing across APAC is at an all-time high and this is definitely the case in Hong Kong. It’s a really switched on and aware market, especially when it comes to technology, so it’s important for us to continue to drive forward and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and shopping trends.

Are you optimised to sell via smartphones?

Very! We know that over 50 percent of our customers shop from mobile devices as she can do this whenever and wherever it suits her. We added the Android app to our digital offering late last year and we are excited to see the growth from the APAC market, especially as we know that within the region mobile use now over-indexes desktop, accounting for over 50 percent of sales in the region.

As a brand, the ongoing development of mobile-first technology is a key focus. We are continually updating our site, ensuring that we provide a seamless shopping experience across multiple platforms that resonates locally whilst continuing to speak to a worldwide audience.

What part of your job inspires you the most?

Can I say everything! I’m very lucky – being EVP of such a global brand allows me to travel regularly. Being in-market and seeing the current retail landscape and meeting customers first-hand is one part of my job that I find really inspiring – and then having the ability to translate this actionable strategy is the exciting part. Hearing our customers say such positive things about The Outnet really cements why we all come to work each day – it’s great to hear.

Who do you admire in fashion?

I think it would be hard to pinpoint just one person. I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to work with some really inspirational people throughout my career. You can admire people for so many things, for their vision and entrepreneurial skill through to their innate and amazing sense of style. That’s one of the best things about fashion and the creative industries, it’s such a fantastic melting point of so many different people – it can inspire every day.

Text: Andrew Scott

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