’s Tom Chapman: Amazon’s missing the ‘magic’ of high-end fashion

Tom Chapman has experienced the evolution of fashion retail first-hand. He and his wife, Ruth, opened the London-based fashion retailer, now a major player in luxury e-commerce, three decades ago.

In 2016, saw a 61 percent revenue growth year-over-year, reaching $265 million. (Farfetch did $800 million in gross sales, and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group pulled in $2.1 billion.) In August, will launch a partnership with E-Contenta, an AI content distribution platform it discovered through the New York Fashion Tech Lab that will enable the personalization of its vast content. By the end of the year, it is expected to open 5 Carlos Place, a physical retail space in London’s Mayfair neighborhood.

Chapman shared what’s driving’s growth, why he still stands by brick-and-mortar and why he believes luxury fashion and Amazon are no match.

Surviving 30 years is a huge accomplishment in this industry. What’s your secret?
We’ve embraced change. With e-commerce, everything has accelerated in the last five or six years — and it’s only accelerating more. We consistently think about the three Cs: customers, content and curation. When you consider what the customer wants, you win — and content and curation are a big part of that. Customers want to have an experience. They need to find something new, they need to find something engaging — and storytelling needs to come into play.

You’re certainly doing a lot of storytelling.
Our content team is probably larger than most magazines; we’ve got over 60 people. All of those content stories, we’re creating; all of that product, we’re shooting. We’re really thinking about the journey of the customer on the site, and maintaining a seamless engagement of content and commerce. We have data analytics teams in a number of departments — there are more engineers than there are buyers — so we can measure each piece of content’s value, not just from a background and positioning perspective, but also its return on investment.”

A sample of content featured on is often mentioned in stories about Farfetch and Net-a-Porter. Would you call them your biggest competitors?
We’re in a high-growth industry, and if you’re not growing at over 25 percent a year, you’re really doing a shit job. The ones that are good are growing — and we’re only happy about others’ successes, because that means the industry is going in the right direction. We all have a point of difference: We don’t think about trends, we think more about where the customer goes in that product and what they want in their lives. And we’re really focused on the customer, not what the trade press is going to say or doing anything for the sake of a big splash.

Last year, 49 percent of your online sales were on mobile. Is a move to mobile a goal?
No. Some people are saying the future is mobile-only. It’s not. We say it’s customer touch points only. We have a single view of our customer: We know how they’ve interacted, we know if they’ve shopped online, if they have visited a store. The more touch points, the more retention, average spend, repeat purchases — especially if one of the points is a physical experience.

What are you working on in terms of physical retail?
Later this year, we’re opening a new version of retail: 5 Carlos Place. We’ll change the whole floor every week or two, and we’ll have calendar events all around that retail concept. One week, it will be about vacation. The next week, it will be about workwear — and we’ll get speakers involved to talk to that. One week, maybe we won’t have any clothes in there, and we’ll just bring in artists and do an installation. The store will also have private shopping, where you can take a friend or have breakfast — all in one building that feels like a private home. We don’t use technology for technology’s sake. Technology shouldn’t be apparent, and it should make your journey easier. If you go into Carlos Place and you’ve got your app, it will send a notification to say, “Mrs. Jones is in the building.” A salesperson can then connect with you. Beacon technology will add the product you’re looking at to your wish list to look at later. If you want something that’s not available in the store your size, we can get it to you in 90 minutes.

A former interviewee argued that nobody is worried about Amazon like Americans. Would you agree?
I genuinely have no concern, no interest at all in what they do in fashion. I’m sure Amazon will continue building an amazing business; I just don’t think it has the magic that our type of business really demands and the customer demands. There needs to be something that makes it feel really special. We take an enormous amount of care and detail when we send an order out: It’s in a marble box, with ribbon, with tissue, with a hand-written note from the person who packed the parcel. No business like Amazon could ever look at that and say it’s practical, but it’s about relationships. It’s about an experience. You won’t see Balenciaga on Amazon. The minute that happens, Balenciaga is dead. Brands are very, very careful about their presentation, the way they’re seen. Brands want growth and longevity, and putting yourself in a position like that doesn’t make sense.

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