Net-a-Porter, the acutely successful luxury high-fashion retail company founded by Natalie Massenet in 2000, was the first brand to produce a transactional retail app in 2009, followed by a shoppable magazine in 2010.

In 2014, recognising that 40% of their sales were coming from mobile, Massenet announced it to be her focus, declaring it ‘a platform for trying new things, which you can fold back into other channels if successful.’

On the cusp of the company’s 15th birthday in May, Massenet launched The Net Set, an app which vows to be ‘the world’s first luxury shoppable mobile social network,’ pointing to the rise of social media and style blogs as insight to the fact that women are mainly inspired by each other.

Almost a month in, The Net Set hasn’t performed spectacularly in App rankings, barely breaking the top 100 globally, not quite reaching the top 500 in the UK and not broaching the top 1000 in the US.

It has, however, been lauded by the fashion press, and critically acclaimed by app experts.
It is also also performing steadily in other European countries; arguably a lot more valuable to high fashion retailers in terms of reputation than the US. And these are what matter to Net-a-Porter, which has made it clear that mass adoption isn’t what its after with The Net Set. This is made clear in the process of acquiring the app; it cannot simply be downloaded. A user must be invited, or must request an invite from The Net Set site. The exclusive feel is maintained by the site declaring that it is only introducing people to the app on a first come, first serve basis, and they must wait for acceptance.

After all, the kind of data that will prove a goldmine for Net-a-Porter is that which only a certain kind of person will provide; those actively interested in and engaged with high fashion trends, brands and items and those who, most importantly, buy them. There would be little gain to be had in the app being downloaded by hundreds of thousands of people who would use it simply to look.

Features of the The Net Set, while maintaining that they aim to replicate nuances of real-life shopping experience; are unavoidably designed to appeal to and then harvest valuable data from users looking to buy. These include:

  • The ability to upload an ‘Inspiration’ photo of anything, be it a dress you saw in the street, a print or a flower, and gain access to buyable similar items or items that relate - described by Massenet as ‘like Shazam for shopping’;
  • To peruse what users worldwide are coveting and see which items are trending;
  • To join or create ‘Style Tribes’ according to a trend a user is passionate about, be it monochrome, double denim, etc;
  • To have direct access to ‘The Style Council’ (a small group of famous international fashion icons) and see what they’re picking to buy, in real time.

Each of these features, whilst allowing users to share inspiration and engage in a conversation whilst shopping also, crucially, allow Net-a-Porter to gain the most valuable data in fashion; emerging new trends. The company can respond to these trends in their buying and marketing as they’ve barely left the minds of their users.

So is this simply a buyable Instagram - a nice app for the fashion-conscious, or an absolute game-changer for the whole of mobile e-commerce?

Neither.

The app’s entire functionality and aesthetics are resolutely aimed at luxury fashion shoppers, creating an experience that they will savour. It’s an example not of a new way of going about e-commerce in general, but a new way of targeting a user group profitable in both conversions and in data. Content and commerce have already been blended in magazine-style editorial sites and apps; this is the next step in adding social to the mobile retail mix.

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