Unless you're a die-hard devotee of fashion retailers from abroad, you probably haven't heard of ASOS (pronounced A-sauce), London's largest independent e-tailer of all things apparel and accessories. But that's about to change with the launch of a U.S. site, thanks to the savvy leadership of CEO Nick Robertson and a visionary merchandise management team.
Robertson started ASOS a decade ago as a product placement service to sell "as seen on TV" goods. From there, he made the leap to looking at the business as "the Amazon of fashion," and grew it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. ASOS is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange (Robertson kept a 12 percent stake), and posted total sales of over $330 million at current exchange in the first quarter of 2010, up 35 percent from 2009.
It's not hard to see why it's become a go-to for the global fashionista. The ASOS site not only features a mind-bending assortment (35,000 branded and proprietary label products, and over 1500 new lines added each week!) but a shopping experience perfectly tailored to its intended 16-35 year old demographic -- shoppers well-versed in the online environment.
Additionally, the clothes are photographed beautifully, in an array of different views. Browsers who want to see how a garment moves simply click "catwalk" and watch a model dressed in that item walk down a runway. It's a simple, but elegant, solution to the difficulty of purchasing based on a small, static photograph.
The current ASOS site is also well stocked with video dispatches from Fashion Weeks in New York, London and now, Milan. Rather than go the "editorial expert commentary" route that other fashion e-tailers have adopted (I'm looking at you, eBay), these clips show ASOS merchandisers and buyers waxing poetic about trends and the new designers they've signed to sell come Spring '11. It's rather rarefied glimpse into the process, and fashion forward shoppers can get tantalizing looks at the threads they'll be clicking to buy come February.
With approximately 30 percent of sales coming from markets abroad -- the U.S. represents the biggest take at about 7 percent -- Robertson's move to expand stateside is a smart one. But between the aforementioned utilities, a constantly updated assortment, and free shipping and free returns, ASOS is not only going to have fashionistas drooling â€" it's poised to spear the competition with the point of one of its 6.8 inch stilettos.
ASOS is going to muscle in between the likes of Shopbop.com (owned by Amazon), Revolveclothing.com and other, smaller e-merchants. But just the way book buyers threw over independent booksellers when Amazon came thundering in, young (distracted, pressed-for-time) shoppers are much more likely to throw over an intimate, curated experience in favor of the one-stop massive marketplace, even at full price.
Because Robertson isn't going the discount route any time soon. He's leaving the limited-time only sales to Gilt Groupe and others and betting that ASOS' vast, yet offbeat, offerings will lure customers. And that's the genius part. As the cost of raw materials rises, team ASOS needn't worry. They've trained their clientele to click and buy at full price, leaving their profit margins intact and allowing them to focus on continued sourcing of more covetable threads.
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Image via ASOS