A new breed of fashion obsessed "supercustomer" is challenging retailers' assumptions about the maximum sums that can be spent at the click of a mouse.
Luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter.com is preparing to sell its most expensive ever item – a dress with a pricetag of £32,000. Six of the embellished red dresses by Italian label Dolce & Gabanna have been ordered by Net-a-Porter's buyers – and the online boutique is confident that all will sell.
"If we have women in mind for a particular piece then we will go for it and with conviction too. This Dolce & Gabbana dress has been produced in limited quantities and we have bought half of the world's stock," says Ben Matthews, Net-a-Porter's buying manager.
Net-a-Porter isn't the only luxury brand seeing its customers increasingly willing to spend large sums on online purchases. Matchesfashion.com regularly sells vintage Hermes handbags in excess of £25,000 as soon as they come on to the site, while online jeweller AstleyClarke.com admits that it sends out fine jewellery orders of £10,000 "fairly consistently."
"We have experimented with what women will pay," says Ruth Chapman, joint CEO of Matches boutique, which operates both an online and a bricks and mortar business. She identifies a price bracket of items between £2,000 and £10,000 which sell out especially quickly. "Embellished jackets from brands such as Isabel Marant will sell out immediately. A fringed Saint Laurent jacket costing nearly £5,000 sold out within the week." According to Chapman these pieces sell to women who know exactly when they will wear their expensive purchases: "Event dressing is incredibly important to that client's lifestyle."
This trend for searingly expensive online goods compares with this week's news from the high street. Sales figures at Primark have jumped 24%, rising to £2bn in the six months to the beginning of March, with operating profits increasing 56% to £238m. The bargain retail chain deliberately eschews online sales, instead focusing on maximising its high street square footage.
Meanwhile, the luxury end of the fashion industry is engaged in pushing the boundaries of online price resistance. When online fashion shopping was in its infancy, there was an assumption that customers would only buy cheaper items without trying them on; but now, there is both a confidence in and demand for jaw-droppingly expensive online purchases across the high-end market.
Bec Astley Clarke, founder of AstleyClarke.com, says the company is "continually pushing the boundaries of what the online price threshold might be". She partially attributes the changes to international customers, admitting that the company's average order from outside the UK is double that of the home market. Chapman agrees that "online we think about an international customer".
The £32,000 dress in question is somewhat less racy than its pricetag. The Dolce & Gabbana piece has a heavily embellished surface decoration which contrasts with its discreet silhouette. The round necked, knee-length shift dress with three-quarter length sleeves has a timeless "first lady" feel about it. But shoppers hoping that by spending a five-figure amount on a dress they are at least assured exclusivity will be disappointed. With six of the ruby dresses available to buy from Net-a-Porter in September, the fashion lesson appears to be that if you move in the super exclusive circles that the pricetag dictates, you could come a cropper in a high rolling game of fashion snap.
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