Once accessible only via application, the year-old site is opening its doors and bolstering its content offerings in an attempt to draw new shoppers in and keep them there.
Moda Operandi sells clothing “straight off the runway” through a series of three-day online trunk shows. Instead of waiting for items to appear in stores half a year later, shoppers are able to place pre-orders with a 50% deposit.
Designers then produce those orders and ship them to Moda Operandi as soon as they are available — about six weeks for jewelry, and four to five months for ready-to-wear — which Moda packages and sends to customers.
For many, the site’s appeal lies in the access it gives them to the more artistic or extravagant items in a designer’s collection — the ones that might not make it to their local Neiman Marcus because they lack mainstream commercial appeal. Ordering through Moda Operandi ensures shoppers will get their hands on items they saw in the shows.
The company made a series of high-profile hires at the end of 2011, funded by the $10 million Series B round it raised in June. Among them is Roopal Patel, former women’s accessories editor at Neiman Marcus; Taylor Tomasi Hill, the much-photographed former style and accessories director of Marie Claire; and Ashley Bryan, previous head of U.S. marketing for Net-a-Porter.
The site is evolving under their direction. The design and user interface are vastly improved, and magazine-like shoots and editorial content are making the site stickier. And as of this week, Moda is also now open to everyone: Previously, interested parties had to fill out a membership application to gain access to the site, which could take several days to process. (The company accepted 100,000 members in its first year.) The membership wall created a protected environment that appealed to many of Moda’s initial sellers, but which Magnusdottir says is no longer necessary.
“When we first launched the business, it was the first time designers were showing their latest collections right away with a lot of detail shots,” Magnusdottir explains. “It gave designers comfort in the beginning to know that their latest collections were only being displayed to a limited group of people that actually love fashion.”
One year later, and designers are starting to see Moda as a natural part of the way they sell their product, Magnusdottir says. “There’s a general push in the industry to get that product out there faster, and now brands are livestreaming and inviting coverage that features their collections in a lot of detail right away.”
For designers, Moda Operandi isn’t just a way to sell more inventory; it also helps them better estimate what items are going to sell and in what quantities, says Magnusdottir. That helps designers plan how to stock their own stores, and can be used as evidence of commercial viability to third-party buyers.
Plus, the company passes along the 50% deposit upfront to fund production costs — critical for smaller designers who typically don’t get paid until they deliver their collections to stores six months later.
One of the most appealing parts of Moda’s business model is its low inventory risk. Unlike more traditional retailers — think brick-and-mortar operations like Saks Fifth Avenue, or even newer online properties like Net-a-Porter and Gilt — Moda doesn’t have to make any guesses about what will sell: The company only purchases items that have already been ordered.
Moda does get stuck with customer returns, which the company then sells through curated sales. A spokesperson for the company estimated less than 10% of items are returned, of which all are for store credit
This year is about scale, Magnusdottir says. Moda has no intention of lowering its prices — few items cost less than $800, and the average order is an impressive $1,400 — but it is planning to introduce significantly more European brands to shoppers this year. It’s also expanding internationally, developing partnerships and making hires in both established and emerging luxury markets to help target customers there.
Presently, 60% of Moda’s 100,000-plus members are international, and account for 30% of the company’s revenue. The site has been shipping internationally since launch.
Mobile is also on the roadmap. The company hasn’t yet launched any apps, but about 15% of revenue comes from tablets and smartphones, according to Magnusdottir.
“It took the first year to really make sure everything running smoothly, to ensure that we were taking care of our customers in the best possible way and giving them the service they needed,” Magnusdottir says. “We’ve brought on some amazing people to the team, and now we’re at a place where we can just focus on scaling this platform.”
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