Farfetch goes from clicks to bricks with Browns buy, boutique to be its innovation incubator

Welcome to the brave new world of clicks buying bricks. In an important industry first, Farfetch.com has bought London boutique Browns as the online fashion retailer develops an all-new omnichannel strategy.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Farfetch said it has purchased 100% of the retailer in a cash and shares deal.

Farfetch plans to operate the store as an incubator for retail technology, in a project founder and chief executive José Neves calls the ‘Store of the Future’.

Former Harvey Nichols multichannel director Sandrine Devaux becomes managing director of the new venture leading a team to develop and test new innovations in retail technology and omnichannel at Browns, before rolling this out across the Farfetch network.

Meanwhile, the new Browns will run as a standalone business, separate to Farfetch, led by CEO Holli Rogers, the former, longtime fashion director of Farfetch rival Net-a-Porter.

Rogers’ role will be to “evolve” Browns both online and offline, and the store will also leverage the resources and global technology platform of Farfetch, according to the company.

Browns, which was founded by Joan Burstein and her husband Sidney in 1970, will see Joan Burstein become honorary chairman with her children Simon and Caroline Burstein staying on as advisors, with seats on the board. Browns Bride and Vera Wang, meanwhile, will continue to run separately under the stewardship of Caroline Burstein.

Neves said: “The vision is to answer the question how will people shop for luxury fashions five or 10 years into the future? This won’t be purely online. The answer, we believe, will be a seamless merge of a fantastic physical experience with powerful, yet subtle technology. Browns is the perfect partner for this evolution.”

Although it has its own e-tail operation, Browns has also sold on the Farfetch platform. Joan Burstein said: “We have been a partner of Farfetch for over two years and have enjoyed the journey. We are delighted to be able to announce that this is the next step for Browns and we couldn’t think of a better, more forward-thinking partner to take the reins and respond to the challenges of the future.”

Farfetch acts as virtual shopping mall for around 300 independent, multi-brand fashion retailers worldwide. The site allows shoppers to buy online from any member store becoming a popular way to locate hard-to-find or little-produced runway looks and sizes. It has also helped many small boutiques into the e-tail arena and to find a global following.

According to Neves, only about 6% of luxury fashion sales happen online, globally, (about 12% in the US). So without physical stores of its own, Farfetch was unable to test some of its marketing and business management ideas.

“We want to be the pioneers,” he told The Wall Street Journal,

However, he noted: “We do not want to change the DNA of Browns at all… The idea is to evolve it; evolution, not revolution.”

Devaux, meanwhile, said she plans to employ RFID (radio-frequency communication), and NFC (near field communication) technologies, by using chips on garments to quickly locate them and get them to consumers. Mobile payment technology should allow someone to shop from their home or hotel room.

Devaux is also interested in applying artificial intelligence to predict consumer behaviour, even taking into consideration, for instance, the weather and how a rainy day impacts desires.

Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.