Farfetch’s Black and White program shows slow growth

Designer Tomas Maier announced yesterday that he’ll be relaunching his e-commerce business with Farfetch’s Black & White program, making him the seventh brand to rely on the company — best known for its multi-brand website — and its vast infrastructure to power its online shopping experience.

For Maier, the appeal seems to be rooted in international expansion. “Our current split of the business is 45 percent international and 55 percent U.S., excluding directly operated stores,” the brand’s chief executive officer, Giuseppe Giovannetti, told WWD. “We feel strongly that this partnership with Farfetch will help support our international growth by allowing us access to a full global delivery, starting on our launch date.”

First launched in September 2015, the independently run arm of Farfetch delivers an “omnichannel out-of-the-box” solution for brands, allowing them to sync their websites with in-store inventory, and facilitating in-store pick-up and returns. Brands are able to choose how much control they have over their website’s design, build and logistics, and sites can be deployed in up to nine languages. To Giovannetti’s point, Black & White sites can ship to 190 countries, including key markets like China and Brazil.

“Farfetch has built a strong offering, giving brands what they need to become a real player in the e-commerce world,” said Victoria Buchanan, a retail researcher at The Future Laboratory.

DKNY’s relaunched website with Farfetch Black & White

“The broader ability to reach consumers across more distribution channels [that Farfetch offers] is a growth area [brands] cannot ignore,” said David Kalman, the chief technology officer at HackerAgency, noting that it could be especially appealing for small brands hoping to satisfy the speedy worldwide shipping needs of their Amazon Prime-weaned customers.

However, despite big names like DKNY and Manolo Blahnik utilizing the program, the slow adoption rate does pose questions about the model’s longevity.

“The lack of uptake to the platform reflects a broader problem in the luxury industry, which is that luxury brands have been slow to embrace digital technologies,” said Buchanan. “In fact, about 40 percent of luxury brands still lack e-commerce sites, and most luxury brands also have a severe shortfall of senior executives with e-commerce experience.”

Of course, there are exceptions. Brands like Gucci and Saint Laurent have proven that the luxury sector can thrive online. And Yoox Net-a-Porter’s online flagship program, offering similar services to Black & White, is going strong. It manages the websites of 35 brands, seven of which are owned by Kering, which has been partnering with the retailer since the program’s debut. Launching in 2012 has certainly given Net-a-Porter’s platform a leg up.

Manolo Blahnik’s relaunched website with Farfetch Black & White

“If you were to judge Farfetch purely as an e-commerce platform vendor, six clients in two years is not enough traction to be viable,” said Jason Goldberg, the senior vice president of content and commerce at SapientRazorfish. “In the best of circumstances, it’s very difficult to run multiple business models under the same roof.”

And retailers launching platform vendors today “are finding that it’s a strategic disadvantage to try and compete with the major platforms like IBM, Oracle, SAP and Salesforce,” he said, noting that they struggle to match the pace of innovation in the space. “Every time a new capability is introduced — such as buy buttons on Pinterest or ApplePay in browser — all of these platforms have to quickly scramble to implement it, so it’s increasingly hard for them to keep up.”

What’s more, some brands may view it as risky to rely on a retailer to host their platform. Just look to companies like Target, which once outsourced its e-commerce business to Amazon for the sake of expediency, only to have Amazon emerge as a significant competitor. “They run the risk that Farfetch will simply find what it needs to focus on its own retail business and under-resource [your brand], or even shut down the third party platform altogether,” said Goldberg. “And of course, if you’re a brand that’s hosted by Farfetch, other retailers may be hesitant to carry your products or partner with you, given that you’re in bed with a competitor.”

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