The Decline of E-Retailers & E-Commerce Platforms


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2024 may be the year that sees the “implosion” of luxury e-commerce platforms. Multi-level e-commerce sites like Matchesfashion and Farfetch face increasing financial struggles amid ongoing debts. The market shift away from e-retailers marks a change in consumer preferences alongside the return to brick-and-mortar as luxury brands invest in experiential shopping to regain consumer footfall.

About a decade ago, sites like Net-A-Porter, MrPorter, MyTheresa, Matchesfashion, The RealReal, Farfetch, Vestiaire Collective, and Gilt.com dominated the luxury fashion industry showcasing a range of luxury brands (sometimes secondhand and at discounted prices) under one virtual roof. The success of these sites came to a climax during the COVID-19 pandemic when consumers were forced to make their purchases online. However, the pandemic would also be a step towards its downfall as luxury brands were forced to make the transition from offline to online resulting in the first warning signs coming from fashion brands themselves.

The Dept Debacle

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In March this year, Matchesfashion (founded in 1987) collapsed resulting in a debt, in the amount of approximately USD 263 million to designer brands and customers. According to a report by administrators, customers who bought designer items prior to the administration are not able to return items or get a refund. Reports by the Guardian attribute the collapse to “widespread discounting and softening demand for luxury fashion”. The administrators said the retailer’s 541 known unsecured creditors — including customers, landlords and designer clothing suppliers — are owed at least USD 44.58 million and potentially as much as USD 125 million, but are unlikely to receive more than USD 1 million collectively. In December 2023, Frasers Group stepped in to acquire Matches from investment first Apax Partners for some USD 66 million. However, after a difficult Christmas, Frasers said it was unwilling to provide further funds and called in administrators from Teneo.

Matchesfashion was put into administration by Frasers Group in March of 2024, three months after it was acquired. Then you have the luxury group, Richemont, which has spent years trying to offload its online retail division Yoox-Net-a-Porter. Next, Coupang lent Farfetch USD 500 million which resulted in the South Korean e-commerce company suffering a significant decrease in net income for the first quarter. This decrease was attributed primarily to the inclusion of the losses incurred at Farfetch.

Branding Power

Perhaps the biggest issue faced by luxury e-tailers is competition from traditional retailers. Many luxury brands have established their own e-commerce platforms or partnered with established online retailers to sell their products directly to consumers. This direct-to-consumer approach poses a challenge for third-party e-retailers, as they must first compete with the brand’s official channels on top of offering added value to justify their presence on the market.

Luxury brands spend millions in marketing and visual merchandising to curate a one-of-a-kind shopfloor experience prioritising craftsmanship and exclusivity, which can be challenging to convey through an online platform. These sites then face the issue of balancing the brand’s image of luxury and prestige in a digital environment while ensuring a seamless customer experience.

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Next, luxury brands have finessed the art of consumer experiences and how to provide the best service for clients. Luxury consumers have come to expect a personalised and immersive shopping experience when visiting a physical boutique. To properly compete, E-retailers have to invest in technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual changing rooms to enhance the online shopping experience. E-retailers like Mytheresa have embraced digital innovations, such as virtual styling consultations and exclusive online events, to create a tailored and engaging shopping environment for their customers. However, until augmentation reality and virtual dressing rooms are properly designed, these online platforms will inevitably open themselves to the risk of high return rates of returns that would also lead to a loss in profits. Furthermore, as AI and AR become more common practice used in shopping experiences, a lack of barrier to entry would mean that luxury brands will also adopt this trend and could arguably do it successfully with financial backing from their conglomerates.

What’s Your Credit?

E-retailers face the challenge of building trust and credibility with luxury consumers who may be wary of purchasing high-end products online. While companies like Matchesfashion have implemented rigorous authentication processes to reassure customers of the authenticity and quality of their offerings, when it comes to purchasing high-valued items — particularly with watches and jewellery — customers have more confidence in purchasing it in person and wearing it rather than buying it online, particularly from a third-party platform.

The Inventory Issue

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Luxury brands often have stringent distribution agreements and limited stock availability, making it challenging for e-retailers to secure inventory. To overcome this, e-commerce platforms need to establish strong relationships with luxury brands and navigate complex distribution channels to ensure a steady supply of products. However, as these platforms continue to face financial challenges, brands could focus on selling directly to consumers and override e-retailers altogether which would result in inventory shortages and lost sales opportunities.

The Rising Competition

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The competition can be broken down into two components — a Lack of USP (unique selling point) and the Rise of third-party resellers. With regard to USP, the fashion e-commerce market has become increasingly saturated with no clear point of differentiation between the platforms. To overcome this, platforms like MrPorter and FarFetch have begun to include some added user experiences like styling guides while providing more editorial content to include alongside fashion commerce. Next, when it comes to resellers, some consumers may hold brand loyalty to specific fashion brands or e-tailers, while many others choose to prioritise price and convenience over brand loyalty. This price sensitivity can make it challenging for e-tailers to maintain profit margins, especially when competing with discount retailers and marketplaces.

In the ever-changing world of luxury retail, the decline of online stores and e-commerce platforms signals a significant shift in how consumers shop and engage with luxury brands. However, the decline of e-retailers and e-commerce platforms proves that consuming luxury goods goes beyond just buying products online. It is also about the tangible, the experiential, and the personal connection between customers and brands. As digital platforms evolve, luxury brands need to hone in on creating immersive experiences (both virtual and in-person) that reflect exclusivity, craftsmanship, and top-notch service. Calibre and value aren’t just about quick online transactions—they are also about communicating luxury’s enduring appeal of quality and sophistication.

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