They were the first luxury e-commerce retailer to market, delivered the first shoppable m-commerce app, and now Net-A-Porter is taking on s-commerce with the launch of its own social media platform, The Net Set.
'About two years ago Natalie [Massenet] set us with the challenge of coming up with a social network for our customers,' says The Net Set's vice president Sarah Watson. 'I say two years ago, but actually this has been brewing in Natalie's brain for such a long time; thinking about a way to let our customers know about each other and feel like they are shopping together.'
You could say that Net-A-Porter has been something of a one-way conversation… until now. 'Digital innovation doesn't stand still and neither do we,' Massenet explained of the project. Its name itself is a play on 'jet set', and was born from an existing hashtag used across the retailer's Instagram and Facebook channels by customers styling up their new purchases at home.
'We started building it under our desks, borrowing developers,' Watson continues. 'Natalie told us to keep it secret at first as she wanted to build a proof of concept first.' Working with co-conspirator Alexandra Hoffnung, Net-A-Porter's former technical lead for mobile design and now creative director of The Net Set, they launched a Beta version (under the moniker 'The Net Book') into the app store in September 2013. By September 2014, The Net Set had become the pair's full-time focus.
Built for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch (not android just yet), the app follows a familiar, news feed functionality, with each user curating content for their profile page in the visual style of Instagram. The Net-A-Porter twist is the addition of third party image recognition technology, which makes intuitive 'style matches' with Net-A-Porter products for each picture that's loaded by a user (or 'admirer' as they term followers).
In addition to profiles helmed by each of Net-A-Porter's 350+ designer brands (with accounts run by each house's social media team), The Net Set also launches with 20 style ambassadors (think high profile fashion editors and creatives), who have been chosen to lead the platform's conversations.
When it officially launches next Wednesday, The Net Set will be available in addition to Net-A-Porter's existing shopping app, which replicates their editorial content and easily filters its product listings for mobile. 'The Net Set is a very different experience in that you are shopping with other people and being inspired by the things that they're looking at as a whole community,' explains Hoffnung. 'They can upload images, comment and interact.'
So what's going to happen when you upload a photo of a cherry blossom tree on a trip to Tokyo for example? If a designer hasn't used the exact floral, a print of a similar nature will pop-up on clothing and accessory matches. And it's impressively close. While they acknowledge that there are competitors in the market, The Net Set takes users from inspiration to purchase remarkably quickly and, of course, comes with the full Net-A-Porter global service experience.
And unlike many start-up apps, The Net Set has been slowly building up its user numbers. It will launch with 15,000 community members to make sure that the initial offering feels meaningful. As for the membership process, for now it will remain invite only, with Net-A-Porter shoppers extended the first invitation and the ability to invite five friends.