Anytime you are in New York talking about ecommerce 2.0 part of the conversation has to center on Gilt.
As flash sales have lost their luster, Gilt has as well. But as Erin Griffith has detailed, the company has left an indelible mark on the New York tech scene, and as our dinner guests discuss below, it’s left an indelible mark on ecommerce as well.
“It made it okay for people to shop online and buy cool brands,” says Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker. “It gave a lot of status to working for a startup. This used to be a town about being a trader, and then it was about being an investment banker and then working at a hedge fund and now working at a startup.”
“It legitimized investing in fashion and ecommerce companies in New York run by women,” Katia Beauchamp from Birchbox says.
“It was the first commerce company that was a brand,” Ben Lerer of Thrillist and Jack Threads says.
Lerer’s comment sparked a debate about whether or not you could say that about Zappos — the last ecommerce company to exit in the $1 billion range. And the conversation then evolved to a profound point I’ve never quite heard articulated: The dividing line between ecommerce 1.0 and 2.0 runs right down the middle in between Zappos and Gilt. (Or more accurately Vente Privee in Europe, which Gilt was inspired by. More on that in a later post.)
As One Kings Lane’s Doug Mack explains Zappos was still very 1.0. In other words, it was mostly about logistics. Gilt, on the other hand, was about inspiration. It was about generating demand rather than fulfilling demand. It was, he says, the rise of window shopping online. “If we can create demand online there is no limit to what it can do,” Mack says. “Marc Andreessen’s theory only works if we can create demand. That’s what offline stores do.”
The question remains whether some sites have pushed this too far. Erin has complained about the paucity of search bars on modern etail sites — because sometimes you don’t want to browse; you want to actually find something. You shouldn’t have to go to an ecommerce 1.0 company for that. Indeed, even the one who started it all — Gilt — has had its struggles on its way to an IPO.
Lerer says that Jack Threads added a search bar for this reason — to be able to generate demand through inspiration but also show someone a blue henley when they know that’s what they want. It’s deeply effected the site’s mix of sales. “Over the last five months we’ve gone from 100 percent of our business being flash sales to 60 percent of our business being flash sales,” he says.
A few days after this conversation, Mack emailed me to emphasize that he thought this segment was the single biggest idea that emerged out of our dinner. Taking away the hype, the logistical challenges of inventory, the valuations, customer acquisition costs, and everything else, ecommerce 2.0 will rest on companies like these nailing that mix between generating and fulfilling demand.