Online retail website Avenue K launched in October 2013, focussing on the Canadian market. We interviewed its co-founders to learn more about its recent success, as the retailer is already enjoying substantial growth.
For those unfamiliar, Avenue K is a website that retails unique, upscale designer products for women including ready-to-wear clothing, shoes and handbags. Collections are curated and products carried on the website are from individual sellers chosen by Avenue K. The website's concept is based on Buyma, a Tokyo-based social fashion e-commerce website. The company has partnered with Hearst Corporation as well as social shopping leader Kaboodle, hence the "K" in Avenue K. The company is headquartered in Los Angeles, though spokesperson Susie Wall lives in Vancouver, BC. The website, which launched in October 2013, was co-founded by Alex Amin and Rafi Gordon.
The following details a few points from a very interesting conversation with Avenue K co-CEO's Mr. Amin and Mr. Gordon:
Why shop at Avenue K instead of other retailers and websites?
Avenue K focusses on upscale merchandise, and differentiates itself from other retailers with unique products and exceptional customer service. Suppliers for the website are hand-picked for their distinctively curated products: the collections are considered more diverse than those carried in department stores and boutiques. Suppliers are recruited, trained, and monitored to ship products to Canada at competitive prices.
The website also has an in-house concierge whose role is to help locate items not on the Avenue K website. The concierge, for example, was able to locate the last of a particular Céline bag for a customer in Vancouver. Once again, it appears that selection, uniqueness, and customer service are the three defining characteristics that differentiate Avenue K from its competition.
The website's co-founders decided that Canada lacked the depth and uniqueness of products offered on Avenue K. In general, Canada lacks the proliferation of local online shopping available in the United States and some other countries. At the same time, online retailing in Canada is growing rapidly and Avenue K stands to make substantial sales gains as Canadians continue to embrace online shopping. Only about 5.7% of all Canadian retail sales transactions are online, and that number is expected to grow substantially over the next couple of years.
What about returns? And product authenticity?
We asked Avenue K's founders about returns and product authenticity, concerns that some shoppers may have when making online purchases of pricy designer items. Avenue K's answer is that it accepts all returns on items purchased and it guarantees product authenticity, even if individual suppliers on the site do not.
What types of designers are carried on the site? A variety of designers are carried including Saint Laurent Paris, Alexander Wang, Givenchy, Valentino, Lanvin and many others. Designer labels can vary depending what vendors are carrying, and what sells out.
Who is Avenue K's biggest competition?
Competition comes from both both bricks-and-mortar stores such as Holt Renfrew, as well as websites such as Net-a-Porter, for example. Further competition will arise as Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue open Canadian stores. Hudson's Bay also plans to launch a comprehensive e-commerce website in the next 11 to 14 months. The company also will continue to compete based on its curated exclusivity, selection and customer service. Avenue K goes above and beyond other retail websites by offering a concierge service that sources hard-to-find items, potentially differentiating it from these and other competitors.
What kind of sales growth has Avenue K seen so far?
The co-founders declined to give numbers but say that they are impressed with the website's sales growth. It is growing by leaps and bounds and in the three months it has been operational, the company has seen sales grow by multiples. Impressively, Avenue K has over 217,000 Twitter followers.
After interviewing the company's co-founders and examining the website, we think it has a future as a successful e-retalier to Canadians. Though competition in upscale Canadian retail will grow substantially in the next 24 months, we think Avenue K's uniqueness and exclusivity will differentiate it from the competition.