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Exclusive Interview with Alexis Maybank, Founder of Gilt Groupe: The Symmetry Between Luxury And Technology

Exclusive Interview with Alexis Maybank, Founder of Gilt Groupe: The Symmetry Between Luxury And Technology

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She is the CEO of the Gilt Groupe and one of its founding partners. Her background is in e-commerce, where she was instrumental in growing E-Bay, to what it is now. With her partners, she helped launch Gilt Groupe in 2007, an online, invitation- only, luxury sample sale flash site where the purchase of luxury products are time limited and change daily. New sales typically start at Noon EST, last 36–48 hours, and feature merchandise from a single brand or small groups of brands at prices up to 60% off of manufacturer’s suggested retail prices.

The first sale was in November of 2007, and has grown exponentially since then: Men’s Gilt in April 2008, Gilt Groupe Japan in February 2009, Gilt Fuse in August 2009, travel site Jetsetter in September 2009, Gilt City in April 2010 and Gilt Home in May 2010. Gilt is now currently valued at over $1 billion. On August 22, 2011, Gilt Groupe started allowing customers shop directly through Facebook. At the moment, Gilt Groupe has over eight million members.

At a recent event where the new 2014 ACURA RLX was showcased to press and media, she was the keynote speaker, discussing how Gilt Groupe came about, and why its success is important in the evolution of retail commerce. The relationship between ACURA and Gilt Group seemed apparent as she discussed the relationship between the luxury product and its accessibility for the public. “I see as a big trend the coming together of content and commerce,” she said. “Just as Acura has opened up the luxury experience to many new buyers, so too has Gilt Groupe has opened up the luxury shopping experience, luxury products, to 8 million and counting. I remember when even we were surprised at the level of intensity, human interest, and passion regarding our site. In one aha! moment, we were selling Christian Laboutin shoes– one product, and within a few hours, 40,000 buyers came online and wanted those shoes, and those thousands had to be wait listed. We knew we defined the luxury online shopping experience to many, but this overwhelmimg response was still surprising.

“It also symbolized something we thought was true: that first, mobile technology as regards online sales was and I think remains, underestimated. Now we know that 25% of weekday revenue comes from mobile devices and 30% on weekends, all combining into approximately 150 sales a week. Second, and from a more philosophical stance, our online shopping experience is in symmetry with what buyers of luxury seem to want right now: they don’t see consumption as a leisure activity, they want it quickly, they want it exciting and they want the experience to be addictive and escapist — combining the desire for excitement coupled with the desire to come back daily for more.”

There was a Q&A session after her talk, where she expanded on these ideas.

Question: Where does inspiration and online shopping engagement come into play with the Gilt Groupe online shopping experience?

Alexis Maybank: We believe inspiration is brought by just the consumer’s awareness that a lot of fun and excitement is “just one click away.” Within that idea, we take great pride in our images and website design. There are no headless mannequins with clothes on — there are real people wearing real things, allowing the buyer to see how he or she might actually wear the clothing.

Further, the engagement of the audience defines much of our success. We know the potential consumer must be engaged in 5 seconds. And how our website is created, its ease of navigation, and the beauty of the images are all part of this immediacy of engagement.

Question: What is the importance of the customer conversation at Gilt Groupe?

Alexis: The content of the site must go where the potential buyer conversation is. We have to surprise and delight the consumer audience with the best online shopping experiences. Also, the fascination, right now, with our industry comes from the extensive mobile thread: 100M IPhones, 23M IPads and nearly 1/2 of our community sales comes from iPhones and iPads. Gilt is a mobile predominant business. We have rethought our original business model because we have seen — so obvious! — a different mobile mindset from years past.

Question: What are your most important attributes at Gilt Groupe?

Alexis: We must be fast, scalable, and stable. We are in the business of predictive commerce. By that I mean, information is gathered on visitors and members so we know what they like and what part of their lifecycle they are in. For each person who comes to our site, their information is customized. We also are in many personal conversations with our customers, because their likes and dislikes are crucial to understanding their needs and wants.

Question: How do you create a more intimate brand, given the fact that you have 8M users?

Alexis: We communicate with them – thank them, answer questions, be at events, we want them to feel they have special access to us, which really, they do.

Question: How can you be a site that sells exclusivity and not become an

Alexis: Exclusivity was part of how we built the business, never critical of others and we treated high-end brands with the deepest respect and dignity. Because of this, many got online for the first time. They were quite interested in the fact we could reach 8 million people — it energized them, and they had no reason not to try.

Question: How did your business begin, and with what ideas?

Alexis: We started with four founders, and now we have over 1000 employees. We wanted a daily escape idea — alongside a jolt of energy idea — those things can fuel motivation to look at our site and buy some products. So we chose times that might be good for that: All sales start at 9:00AM Pacific time, and noon eastern time. Those times seemed conductive to looking at our site while eating a lunch or having a coffee break. Our business is based on these ideas.

Question: What is the connection between your company and Acura?

Alexis: I think it is a similar synergy between technology and luxury brands — and also making a grand luxury item more accessible to the consumer — we are creating greater accessibility to luxury brands, and, like ACURA, are making these purchases new and fun.

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