Interview

STEPHANIE PHAIR

08.30.11

Stephanie Phair is the managing director of Net-a-Porter’s sister site, Outnet.com.

Interview

What were you doing before becoming Director of THE OUTNET? Is your background in discount shopping?

Prior to joining THE OUTNET I was VP Merchandising at Portero – a pre-owned luxury accessory retailer.  It was a proper start-up when I joined so it was a great grounding before moving to THE OUTNET to launch and run it.  Before that I worked at US Vogue’s editorial Public Relations and Marketing department during the time of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund launch, the movie Seamless, The Devil Wears Prada and the annual Costume Institute Gala.

Do items from NET-A-PORTER that don’t sell end up on the THE OUTNET? Do you have your own team of buyers?

We partly serve as an outlet for NET-A-PORTER but over 70% of our stock is sourced directly from our designers, specifically for THE OUTNET customer.  We have our own buying teams based in New York and London who work with over 200 brands.  They edit rigorously so that our customers really only shop the best past-season fashion from runway hits such as Balmain, Chloé and Stella McCartney to cutting-edge labels like Erdem, Peter Pilotto and Jonathan Saunders.  Our buyers also work closely with designers to produce exclusive ranges – at great value – just for THE OUTNET.

Do you stock for a particular season or is it items as they become available?

We’re all about making sure our customers can shop the items they want to wear right now.  That means we offer season-appropriate, on-trend items 365 days a year. Hundreds of new items arrive on the site three times each week – every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday – but we’re selective about what we make available when.  The product doesn’t just go up on the website.  For example, if a gold blazer by Balmain from last fall is on trend now (and usually key looks stay relevant for several seasons so it is), we’ll make it live on the website so that our customer can get an up-to-the-minute trend item at an amazing price.  If it would better serve the item to wait and make it part of another trend then we will.

Customer service is a huge part of NET-A-PORTER, are you able to carry that over at THE OUTNET?

THE OUTNET shares a lot of the DNA of NET-A-PORTER with customer service being the most key.  Our mantra is to offer OUTNET customers a luxury, full-price experience in a discount world.  We do this through our editorial point of view, our unparalleled selection of designers and our service team who will pick up the phone when you call.  Great service isn’t something usually associated with the discount world but THE OUTNET turns that notion on its head.  After all, what we sell isn’t cheap.  An Alexander McQueen gown, even at 60% off, is still expensive.  Our customer expects a certain amount of service at that price and rightly so.

Where is the company based? Where is the largest concentration on shoppers coming from?

We ship globally to 170 countries and have offices and warehouses in New York and London.  Our largest market is the United States where we have the most customers and visitors.  We have experienced 90% growth year on year which is amazing because there’s still so much potential.  We’re recently moved our stock into a new warehouse and now we’re bolstering our management team in this market.

Do you feel competition from sites like Gilt Group?  In what way is your customer different?

It’s exciting to see how quickly the industry is growing.  The discount world is competitive but we’re different to private and flash sale sites.  First of all we’re open to everyone.  There’s no invite and no time constraints.  Our customers turn to us because they can shop sale 365 days a year and at a time that suits them.  This is important because our core customer is a busy, affluent professional.  She loves great fashion and labels so she turns to us for our selection of designers like Alaïa and Marni that are normally hard to find at discount.  She’s confident in her fashion choices.  She’ll experiment and snap up a niche brand like Karl Donoghue that she may not have heard of before but that our buyers have sourced because he produces the best shearling coats.  Finally our customer is a luxury consumer.  She’s not shopping discount because she can’t afford full price, she’s shopping discount because she’s savvy.  She’s a high net worth individual and she’s smart.  She knows she can get great labels and great fashion that’s on trend at great value.

Does THE OUTNET offer customers a heads up when new merchandise is posted allowing them to get in before styles/sizes disappear?

You can sign up for our emails to be the first to hear about Just In items as soon as they arrive on site.  You can shop THE OUTNET by your size to save time.  Our Facebook fans are given a sneak preview of products.  Items at THE OUTNET sell out fast but sometimes we’ll receive more stock of the same item so we recommend tracking items you love with our Most Wanted wish list.

How many pcs per style does the site usually stock? Do you get requests for different sizes?

There’s always an element of scarcity – this is previous season after all.  However, because we work directly with our designer partners on exclusive ranges we’re able to offer full size runs.  For example, at the moment you can buy gorgeous ballerina flats, leather sandals and pumps by Giuseppe Zanotti in sizes 6 – 12 that were created just for THE OUTNET.  We’ve got more exclusives in the pipeline so stay tuned!

In what ways do you see growth for THE OUTNET, a blog, online magazine…perhaps a vintage shop?

We house our editorial in our Dress Me section where you can get inspired by fashion shoots and shop for instant outfit solutions based on occasion, personality and destination. You can also watch video interviews with the world’s most stylish women.  It’s the most popular section of the website so we’ll be bolstering this with more fabulous video content.  We’ll be unveiling our Tumblr blog shortly.  We’ve also got lots more fabulous product arrivals from our stable of 200+ brands including Alexander Wang, Alberta Ferretti and Balmain.  We’ll have another Christian Louboutin event before the end of the year which is always popular with our customers!  In our last event we sold one pair of Louboutins every three seconds.