March 6, 2014

Shopping for Sharewear

Girl Meets Dress is one of a growing number of digital-first businesses tapping into the pay-as-you-live ethos. In an in-depth interview, co-founder Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise tells Figaro Digital how the designer-wear hire firm approaches its digital marketing channels

One of the most interesting recent developments in consumer behaviour has been the rise of the sharing economy – the move away from conventional ownership of goods and services and towards access. The trend’s apparent in sectors as diverse as music (Spotify), leisure (Airbnb), automotive (Liftshare and Zipcar) and household goods (Freecycle). 

A model that fits

What this movement is not conventionally associated with is high-end or luxury items. Etailer Girl Meets Dress is a business that’s tapped into the pay-as-you-live ethos by hiring out designer dresses online, providing glamour-hungry girls with access to over 4,000 pieces from 150 international brands at a fraction of the retail price. Users choose a garment starting at £29 for a weekend, filtered by style, occasion, designer and size. Girl Meets Dress mails it out for either a weekend or week’s hire. When the party’s over, users send the dresses back. 

Founded by former fashion PR Anna Bance and investment banker Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise, the venture has proved highly successful, picking up a clutch of awards from the likes of Drapers (Best Etail Innovation) and positive coverage in the business press as well as the style pages. This is also a company with digital written into its DNA. So what was the thinking behind the company’s launch and what role do different digital channels play in its current marketing strategy?

“The model is fairly straightforward,” says Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise. “We bulk buy from designers and rent those dresses out. The idea came from the fact that my co-founder Anna Bance, who was managing PR for the luxury brand Hermes, was lending stock to celebrities and jokingly said she should open an office on the ground floor and start a business allowing anyone to wear these amazing dresses. We got talking about our own idea seriously and thought we’d give it a try.”

Though the model is not necessarily unique – Moss Bros have been providing an equivalent service for men since 1897 – de Lecaros-Aquise says that Girl Meets Dress is penetrating the mass market at a time when the sector is particularly vibrant. From organic beginnings, he explains, the company has gone on to acquire customers through a variety of channels including SEO, email, PR, content and affiliate partnerships. 

“With SEO and PPC,” he says, “you reach a point where you’re maxed out. From that point on it’s about optimising the long-tail. PR and partnerships with brands, retailers and publishers have been very successful for us.” 

As an example of how those relationships can play out, de Lecaros-Aquise cites a collaboration in 2011 with Glamour magazine to promote the premiere of The Inbetweeners movie.

“We contacted Glamour magazine and asked if we could dress the film’s star Jessica Knappett. We supplied five dresses and let the Glamour audience choose via social media which dress she should wear. The audience chose, Jessica wore it, there were lots of pictures of the event and it proved a great lead generator for us. It gets our brand out there.” 

These are instances, he explains, of Girl Meets Dress using an existing community to extend its own reach. It’s a tactic that’s proved particularly successful on Instagram, where a celebrity post can double the level of engagement in just a couple of hours. “Acquisition is limited on social media,” he says, “but it’s great for reinforcing our message.” 

Clothes to go

No digital business in 2014 can afford to ignore the mobile market, but for plenty of brands the sector is complicated by issues around design and attribution.

“The idea for us is to be more mobile-ready so a customer can come straight to us when they’ve got a big night out to plan for. Mobile means people can access things like our newsletter on the go. Word-of-mouth is a big channel for us, so we want people to be able to find us very quickly on Google or just come straight to the site. Everything has to be mobile-friendly. Having said that, there are differences between desktops, tablets and mobiles so we have different benchmarks for each of those.” 

Video – always a staple in the fashion industry – also has a role to play. “We’ve started doing a lot more of this recently,” says de Lecaros-Aquise. Video, he explains, represents a much more streamlined method of getting users to convert than other social media channels where the focus might be more on content or customer service. Crucially, it can also be hosted on Girl Meets Dress’s own pages, rather than sending users to external platforms like Facebook. 

Material metrics

Content, of course, is top of the list for plenty of brands in 2014 yet, according to the Content Marketing Institute and Direct Marketing Association, 52 per cent of UK marketers believe they’re not doing content marketing effectively. How does it fit into the Girl Meets Dress mix?

“Content’s very important,” says de Lecaros-Aquise. “It has a role to play in SEO, of course, alongside things like customer competitions. If we want to do something more detailed we use the blog, which is the perfect place to link to from social media; it can operate as a great landing page. How we approach content depends on the metric we have in mind – is something there to drive conversion or is it something we just think people are going to want to read?

“Retargeting also works well for us. If we have a big piece of press coverage, and at the same time we’re doing a lot of display advertising, we find we can capture people who just need that extra refresh to come to our site. Though of course it’s up to us to check all those channels to make sure we’re not paying double or triple to acquire a customer. It’s a great way for us to reinforce our presence, particularly if something big is going to happen.”

Regular reinvention

The best ideas, as the old saying goes, are common property – an apt approach to the new collaborative economy. So what’s been the biggest lesson learned by de Lecaros-Aquise since Girl Meets Dress launched?

“That you move forward by stepping stones,” he says. “You’ll launch, then you’ll reach a certain point – critical mass – and you can’t get beyond that without reinventing the business slightly. In our case that meant thinking about stock. Then you get to the next level and you realise you need more content – that’s what’s going to help people convert. That’s been the key lesson. Every five or six months you have to reinvent yourself.”

Article by Jon Fortgang