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Is luxury e-commerce facing a downturn?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Business |Opinion

Online luxury fashion Credits: Pexels

Luxury's digital platforms are grappling with significant challenges, marked by financial struggles and strategic shifts. London-based Farfetch, in an effort to avert bankruptcy, has chosen to sell a majority stake to Coupang, often dubbed South Korea's Amazon counterpart. Referred to as an ‘every’ store known more for selling affordable garments in the 20 dollar range than 2,000 dollar dresses, Coupang’s acquisition exemplifies Farfetch's recent decline in value from a peak of 21 billion dollars in 2021 to a mere 250 million dollars last week.

Matchesfashion, initially a small South West London boutique business, faced a similar fate. Valued at approximately 800 million pounds during its 2017 acquisition by Apex Partners, it now looks to be acquired by Frasers Group for less than 100 million pounds, resulting in a substantial loss for Apex.

Richemont-owned Net-a-Porter, with over two decades in the industry, has struggled to attain profitability throughout its history as a pioneer in online luxury. A proposed merger with Farfetch last year proved too complex to materialise, leading Richemont to abandon the deal, although it is actively seeking "new stewardship."

Mytheresa, another player in the luxury online space, witnessed a dramatic 70 percent stock nosedive this year. Battling diminishing returns and a "continued slow-down in demand," CEO Michael Kliger reported net losses of 11 million euros in the quarter ending September 2023, nearly tripling from the 3.8 million euros in the corresponding period last year.

Luxury conglomerate Kering reported a 30 percent decline in online sales of its brands in Q3. While luxury brands with physical boutiques have the advantage of offering a more immersive in-store shopping experience, platforms lacking a brick-and-mortar presence face a distinct future.

Diminishing returns

Farfetch, anticipating a lifeline, is banking on a new 500 million cash injection from its new owners. However, a more profound concern looms over how online luxury platforms will vie for the attention of aspirational shoppers who are currently exercising caution in their spending.

As observed by the Wall Street Journal, "shopping for luxury online has fallen out of fashion" among this demographic. The shifting landscape prompts a reconsideration of strategies and a quest for innovative approaches to rekindle the allure of online luxury in a market facing shifting consumer behaviours and economic uncertainties.