In 2006, before social media became completely and utterly mainstream, we were getting our news, reading about our interests, and shopping wherever. We used browser bookmarks and checked our favorite websites religiously, remembering their URLs and manually typing them in as part of our daily rituals.
Today, in 2016, when there are way too many sites popping up, new things to look at, shiny objects vying for our attention, the ones who will succeed in breaking through the noise are the exceptional or the convenient, better if you're both.
Today, we get our news from social media, subscribe to our favorite newsletters to keep our interests in one inbox (or two, or three, if you are me), and look at all of this through our phones, but as far as shopping goes, it's probably the hardest to aggregate, requiring the right balance of curation, editorial and a tech and operations strongsuit.
The future of retail, however, belongs to vertical direct-to-retail brands and these mega-boutiques that manage to get it right, evolving the concept of aggregation as more than just one-stop convenience, as aggregated shopping sites have typically been about in the past (Ebay and Etsy come to mind as two prime examples marking the beginning of all types of a certain kind of thing in one place, before most of us gave up trying to find the needles in mounds and mounds of haystacks).
What makes an aggregated boutique, exactly? In short, inventory will be primarily uploaded either manually or through a synced data feed, and controlled by the designer/brand. There is no warehouse, so products are being shipped directly from the designer/brand (aka dropshipped). So, as a business model, you're relying on volume, not margins. And premium customer service is a given, because you'll be the middleman, servicing both customers and vendors as clients. How to do it right, though? Content and context. Oh, and a lot of good stuff.
Here are five doing it in the realm of luxury fashion:
The UK-based luxury megaboutique boasts a conglomerate of over 400 brands and brick and mortar boutiques from all corners of the globe - from Toronto to Tokyo, Miami to Milan. Dubbed a unicorn startup for its growth to a $1 billion valuation in March 2015, Farfetch is leading the way when it comes to seamlessly merging offline with online commerce.
Seattle-based startup Garmentory focuses on indie, contemporary and emerging designers, boasting over 2000 designers and 300 boutiques. Unlike many of the other names on this list, Garmentory has continued to emphasize the boutique's role in curation and discovery, providing not only a platform, but a voice for shopping cool, small-batch design. Of note: a name-your-price sale model and a personalized feed feature.
Launching first to the UK market, I'll always remember Style.com fondly as the website I visited obsessively during fashion week all those years in fashion school. This year, after years of uncertainty, Style.com unveiled itself as a shopping site, Conde Nast's big e-commerce play. The site is certainly slick, but the real power play remains to be seen: can Style.com deliver on its opportunity to fold itself into Vogue's editorial content, becoming the "shopping layer" magazines just need to make work?
The only retailer on this list dedicated solely to consignment fashion, The RealReal gets a mention for it's cult appeal, essentially creating a brand built on referrals and word of mouth off the tongues of fashion's tastemakers. Not many startups can boast this in a way that feels organic. It's also the only retailer here that caters not just to business sellers, but to people like you and me too. Oh, and their inventory model is unique: The RealReal actually drives to sellers homes to pick up goods, bringing pieces back to warehouses to undergo vigorous authentication.
Describing themselves first and foremost as a technology platform, Lyst is outwardly the most data-driven of this bunch, with "trending" items and product keywords defining the shopping experience. In this way, it's less about curation and more about true aggregation. The downside: they don't host their products, which means every product listing links out to another website for purchasing, while Lyst takes a commission. That does mean though, that there's a ton of stuff here, pages and pages and pages to scroll, if you really want to see everything.
Aha takes its content seriously and it has to: the marketplace is dedicated not just to aggregation, but discovery as well. Whereas most of the other retailers on this list present brands that you may have heard of, Aha thinks of its role a bit differently, instead choosing to be the one to introduce its customers to new designers, brands and things, with a focus on artisanship. They get a nod for pushing the envelope in filling an actual need: helping small brands get in front of more people, on a curated platform that's easy to shop, and helping people who want to try new things find them.