Ecommerce startups shine during LeWeb panel and contest

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The latest edition of LeWeb took place in Saint-Denis (near Northeast Paris) from December 9-11, 2014 and—as discussed in a recent preview of it on the Lengow Blog—featured an impressive group of rising ecommerce startups.

The speakers definitely were prepared for the big stage and came from the US (Zady), the UK (Farfetch, Stella & Dot and Made.com) and last but not least, Saint-Denis’ own: hometown hero Showroomprive.com. Among some of the many interesting insights and statistics they shared with the panel’s curator, Roxanne Varza of Microsoft Ventures, some of the highlights featured in this article have to do with the international growth of ecommerce and marketing strategies.

Before the panel began, Varza interviewed Zady.com co-founder Soraya Darabi, who discussed the community of conscious consumers who shop on sites like Zady. Darabi mentioned that Zady recently launched an original line of sweaters (one of which she was wearing) and that all items it sells that are made by other designers (approximately 75 brands as of now) are carefully selected to ensure that only brands with high ethical standards are featured.

Cross-continental commerce

A challenge that many growing startups face is how to successfully scale. What is especially challenging for startups is expanding in various regions of the world while continuing to succeed as they did in the areas where they first started locally.

For Showroomprive.com CEO Thierry Petit and his team, one of the answers for the huge question of global growth seems to have been focusing on a rapidly growing sector (mobile, featured on the Lengow Blog last week).

“Mobile is disrupting our business, with more than 50 percent of sales. Consumers are changing,” said Petit, whose website facilitates private sales of fashion items at discounts of up to 70 percent and recently reached its goal of 500 million euros in global sales for this year.

He added that knowing when to ask for external help was crucial for boosting the site to pan-European notoriety.

“We sold 30% of our share to Accel Partners in 2010: since then we’ve been much more global and developed our brand in Europe (8 countries).”

Made.com—a London-based ecommerce startup that sells high quality furniture at reasonable prices and was selected to become a member of Tech City UK’s renowned Future Fifty program for growth-stage startups—also discussed the ways it has expanded internationally.

Made.com CEO Ning Li said his company’s concept was conceived thanks to collaborating with a longtime friend who manufactures furniture back in his native China. But the site clearly has its sights on selling around the world while flipping the script when it comes to traditional furniture logistics.

“We are based in London in Notting Hill and today we’re selling in the UK, in France and Italy. A few weeks ago we just opened in the Netherlands and we are opening in Germany in a few months, hopefully,” said Li.

“Traditional retailers usually think in seasons: twice a year, usually, they launch huge collections. In our case, we do two new collections a week. It’s about ‘test and learn.’ It really is the web mentality, and is inspired by the fashion industry; but we are the only ones doing that for the furniture industry.”

Dynamics of distribution

An interesting complement to the panel’s international-centric discussions was the presence of one of the most unique ecommerce networks created in the US.

Stella & Dot has expanded around the world since its 2003 launch in the US; its VP of EMEA operations Kathleen Mitchell credited innovative marketing campaigns and strong sales incentives for the company’s growth.

Mitchell, an American expat based in London, described the hybrid social selling strategy that her company and its stylists (i.e. entrepreneurs who sell Stella & Dot products) use.

“We’re reinventing the home-based business in a modern, stylish and fun way and they (stylists) earn between 25 to 35 percent commission.”

Mitchell said that trunk shows for Stella & Dot products are not just limited to offline (in a stylist’s home) as similar companies have done in the past: sales are facilitated thanks to highly customized email marketing campaigns and online marketing of products.

“We basically allow people to shop how they want. Each unique trunk show has a URL that stylists can share on social media.”

Farfetch, which specializes in promoting and selling a wide range of luxury products from all over the world via its site, highlighted the need for stellar marketing for prestigious brands.

Farfetch’s SVP of Technology David Lindsay explained that his team had to raise the bar when it came to logistics in order to convince more high-end designers to sell online.

“For the luxury industry, what we tried to do was make the service phenomenal. In order to be accepted as (a site that is) as good as the brand (retail) stores themselves, we had to go above and beyond and have better photography, service, wrapping and faster delivery.”

Video footage of the entire discussion can be found below courtesy of LeWeb. Varza’s interview with Darabi can also be found online courtesy of LeWeb.

You may also find some photos below of standout ecommerce startups which were featured at LeWeb; including Teasio and EasySize, which finished second out of the 21 startups that pitched at LeWeb’s Startup Competition. In addition to these startups, another highlight at LeWeb was the showcasing of companies that offer products and services which benefit ecommerce companies and merchants, including .CO (Neustar) and Stardust.

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Elias Jabbe