Fashion Site Gilt Looks Beyond Discounted “Flash Sales” and Embraces the Upscale Men’s Market

4/25/11Follow @arleneweintraub

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treat men’s retail as a commodity or an afterthought,” he says. “We plan to offer a highly curated selection of the world’s best brands, built on authoritative and engaging content.”

Gilt’s new men’s site is shaping up to be more like GQ than a typical e-commerce site. The site will offer fashion advice and provide a community where men can go to find out how to achieve that certain look. Gilt has already built the foundation of that idea with GiltMANual, a site that launched last September. It includes a blog with nuggets of fashion tips, such as this recent entry: “Doubling down on denim is a risky move, leaving you open to aspersions of the ‘Tennessee tuxedo’ variety.” Auerbach says the full-priced site will put a premium on editorial content targeted at fashion-conscious men. “We’re looking to build on GiltMANual,” Auerbach says.

But even Gilt’s celebrated founders recognize they cannot count on any one new initiative to guarantee the company’s continued success. So they keep adding features that they hope will not only keep their rabid fans coming back, but also attract a new crowd of members to the site. Gilt recently held its third bridal flash sale, for example. And on April 16, the company had a special sale just to raise money for victims of the Japan quake. There’s also Gilt’s travel site, Jetsetter, as well as Gilt City—a collection of seven city-based sites that offer sales from local merchants.

And in January, Gilt started a monthly feature that spotlights celebrity stylists. The stylist of the month sifts through all the merchandise on Gilt’s site and “curates a vision of fashion,” says Wilkis Wilson. The site recently featured picks from Ilaria Urbinati, co-owner of the boutique Confederacy in Los Angeles and a stylist for Hollywood stars such as Giovanni Ribisi.

Beim says that Gilt’s growth—and the proliferation of competing fashion sites—isn’t reminiscent of the e-tailing boom of the late 1990s. “Many e-tailers back then were figuring out their business model as they went along. Customer acquisition was difficult and they didn’t have the proper infrastructure,” he says. Gilt, by contrast, acquires most of its customers via viral marketing. “We don’t have to dedicate much of our resources towards marketing,” which helps keep profit margins high, he says.

Beim adds that much of Gilt’s expansion has arisen from trial and error. He recalls that Maybank once decided on a whim to try to sell memberships to a yoga club on Gilt. “They sold like hotcakes,” he says. In response, the company launched Gilt City, so it could offer local merchants around the country a platform to sell their products and services.

Meantime, Maybank and Wilkis Wilson have become cult figures, especially to up-and-coming online fashion entrepreneurs. Vivian Weng, a recent graduate of Harvard Business School, consulted Wilkis Wilson about her own recent startup, FashionStake, which features young, up-and-coming designers. Wilkis Wilson became an investor in the new site. “She’s been a great advisor,” Weng says.

Gilt’s success in flash sales has spawned copycats, most notably the New York Times, which in March launched a site called TimesLimited. Subscribers who sign up receive e-mailed offers of deeply discounted merchandise, dining, events, and travel. Even the department stores are experimenting with flash sales, Maybank points out.

But Maybank and Wilkis Wilson don’t spend a lot of time obsessing about the competition, choosing instead to focus on what they need to do to stay a step ahead. “We have to stay in touch with our customers and understand what they want,” Maybank says. “We have to be nimble.”

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