Vente Privee – The Future of British E-commerce is…French?

There were so many things that I loved about They aspired to be everything that the internet promised to be – from 360 degree views, to the avatar Miss Boo, to convincing established brands to sell online –  it was oh so new but it was just too much, too soon.

So now we have Vente Privee, and it’s everything I thought an e-commerce company could be. I can’t tell you how many CEO’s that I’ve met who are afraid to read Boo Hoo: A Dot Com Story. It’s like an omen – if they read it something bad will happen. Vente Privee doesn’t seem afraid.

I recently had the pleasure of going on a press trip to visit Vente Privee in Paris. The office (formerly the Le Monde printing factory) has the feel of an art gallery with all the images on the walls, including the work of David Mach and David LaChapelle. The average employee age is about 30 and everyone seems hip and cool. You actually get the impression that everyone is really enjoying their job and you feel like you want to work there!

At Vente Privee everything is done in-house right from the creative to the shipping. They currently have 18 photographic studios and are building another 40. They are the largest employer of models in France. They have teams of stylists, hair stylists, make up artists and photographers. They even have five video studios and five sound studios that all work together to create the look and feel of the website. For every brand that they sell they design and shoot an in-house campaign and create a 30 second video with an original sound score (impressive!).

Vente Privee works in France because ‘high street’ sales only happen twice a year – how it will work in the UK is still to be determined.They are expanding in Spain, Germany and Italy and they say they already have 210,000 members in the UK as of September, with 800 new members joining every day. Net-a-porter and ASOS, saw sales grow 47% in the six months to the end of September 2009, so perhaps there is still room for Vente Privee in the UK market.

Here is a picture of the British team in Paris – they even have a Smeg with the union jack design (I didn’t open the fridge but I’m sure there would be things like marmalade, scones and Marmite inside – all things British).

The Vente Privee model is clever: the stockist guarantees that they have the stock, the sale takes place and the stock is delivered to Vente Privee, who then send out the merchandise directly to their clients. The downside is you might wait up to 4 weeks after the sale to receive your purchase, but then again if you get 70% off you might not really mind the wait. They’ve even sold cars and condominiums online. They say they’ve also sold 50,000 sex toys in 3 days and 25,000 watches in less than a minute (no, that wasn’t a typo!).

Vente Privee is like a beehive of activity. On average they process about 55,000 parcels per day!

I had the opportunity to meet with Xavier Court and Julien Sorbac – two of the eight founders. They are both charasmatic, witty and hospitable.  After the tour of Vente Privee they joined us for dinner at the Philippe Starck-designed restaurant BON. Julien Sorbac is a dynamic, delightful bundle of energy. He chats about the internet and not only how doing business is constantly changing but how his relationship with his children has changed because of the internet, texting and e-mailing – sometimes he finds it’s easier to communicate with a teenager via text rather than face-to-face!

One of the things that I like about Vente Privee is that no one who works for Vente Privee, not even the founders, have first access to purchasing items from the sale beforehand – they all have to wait for the sale to open and buy online just like their customers!

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