Last year, FashionUnited spoke to Cecile Renaud, founder of niche luxury maternitywear designer and etailer, Seraphine, having just been recipient of a Drapers Award for Best Online retail specialist. As a nominee for Best Independent Retailer as the next Drapers Award and this year celebrating their 10 year anniversary, FashionUnited caught back up with Renaud to learn about a successful launch into the US and further brand developments.
hat developments have you made since last year?
We launched a brand new website in December 2010. We have also fully refurbished our flagship London kensington store to the highest standard. And finally we have just launched a luxe range of dresses for spring that will strengthen our offering for special events.
How have you noticed the landscape changing and as a niche online retailer, how have you adapted to suit these?
In the past two years big online retailers have moved into niche sectors such as maternity. Asos , Gap, Boden , John lewis and many others are all trying to get a slice of our market which means the sector is becoming increasingly competitive, which makes it harder for smaller retailers to keep their market share . At Seraphine we have continued to grow by 25% year on year and we have done this by introducing many innovative products and designs and consistently delivering an outstanding quality of clothes for a reasonable price.
Why did you decide the time was right to re launch your website? What new features are there and why?
Our e commerce platform was over 6 years old and needed to upgrade to the newest technology. We chose a magento platform and fully reworked the design of the site to make it more attractive and user friendly. For fashion presentation and picture quality is key to convincing customers to buy and so our new platform has a strong emphasis on the visual aspect. We have added the functionality of being able to buy a whole outfit in literally two clicks and have greatly improved the cross selling functions on product pages resulting in an increased average basket of about 20%
Having now launched in America, what differences do you notice in the UK and US markets?
For maternity the American market is 10 times the size of the UK so it has a huge potential, however at the same time generating brand awareness in such a vast market is much harder. Our strength is that we offer a unique brand positioning of European designer clothes and that definitely appeals to affluent Americans which gives us a strong USP. Online American shoppers on average give us a bigger basket value which reflects the high consumerist American society and also shows that they are very comfortable with spending large amounts online, which is less the case in Europe. Demand for plus size clothing is also a characteristic of this market and that' s an area we are looking to develop more in the next 12 months
What plans do you have for 2012?
Online we will focus on continuing our expansion in the USA and we are looking at launching a Spanish version of our site . We are also looking to open 2 more stores in the Greater London area and to introduce ipad ordering in store. We are also setting up a franchise model to fast track the development of the Seraphine brand in countries like Russia and China.
Why do you think the luxury maternity and lingerie industry is currently experiencing such boom?
The luxury sector is experiencing strong growth be it in maternity or in normal fashion because the globalisation of the economy leads to many more high net worth customers who can shop online. We ship to over 50 countries worldwide and find that particularly in China, Russia and the Middle East demand for luxury goods is strong. They are ready to pay a premium for European brands and want to emulate style icons from Hollywood, whatever the ticket price.
With multiple online start ups, how do you intend to keep Seraphine a niche business?
Our motto is to focus 100% on the fashion needs of pregnant women and that is where our strength lies. Several maternity specialist have followed the temptation to diversify into other product areas like baby wear, regular ladies wear or nursery equipment and in doing so they have lost their unique proposition and quality focus. Being a true specialist is what keeps us very competitive and, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, we have built a decade of positive word of mouth on our brand at that can't be rivalled by new entrants
You are for the second year running nominated for a Drapers award; Best Independent retailer, what effects did you notice on the business from winning last year?
Winning best online specialist from Drapers gave us an excellent opportunity to generate more PR about Seraphine . It also helped us feel confident about the large investment made to revamp our site. 2011 was a gloomy year from an economic perspective and winning that award definitely boosted everyones outlook for the future growth of Seraphine.