The US$1,800 Shoe Problem

Alexander Wang makes very, very nice shoes
Alexander Wang makes very, very nice shoes
Image Credit: Alexander Wang

So here’s a product manager challenge for you. Let’s say that you are responsible for managing a line of high end fashion products. Part of what makes your product line so desirable is that not everyone can get their hands on your product – this is almost a part of your product development definition. However, at the same time in order to both stay in business and to grow the business you really need to sell as many of your products as you can. What’s a product manager to do?

Welcome To The World Of Online High End Shopping

Before we can look for ways to solve the challenges that our high end product manager is facing, we first need to get a better understanding of just exactly how the world of selling high end fashion works (that is assuming, of course, that you are not already intimately familiar with it…)

Unlike regular clothes, high end fashion are exclusive. This means that you can’t just run out to any store and buy them. Instead, you need to know which store has the Alexander Wang or Valentino line that you have fallen in love with and then you need to go to that Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman luxury store to both see what you want and then to buy it. The challenge here of course is that there is not a lot of these stores and the wealthy shoppers who might like to view an item and make a purchase may be located far away. Clearly we have a problem here.

A new wave of startup firms are showing up with their own collection of product managers. These firms want to take the process of shopping for high end fashions online. They’ve partnered with the big names in the business and they have the inventory. Using the power of websites and mobile applications these firms are able to present high end fashions to potential buyers no matter where they are located in the world. They hope to be able to reach younger buyers who are tech savvy and the jet seters who may live where there are no convenient high end fashion stores. If they can do this right, then they’ll have found something to add to their product manager resume.

High End Means Special Challenges

This new breed of high end fashion outlet got its start by offering what are called “trunk shows” online. A trunk show is a very special event in which a customer is permitted to preview and purchase from a designer’s new fashion collection that won’t be going on sale until next season at the high end stores. The new breed of online store puts these once in-person events online and allows anyone to attend. Customers who discover something that they want can put down 50% of the price of the item and then they’ll receive it roughly 5 months later at about the same time that the high end stores will be getting it.

The problem that product managers will be facing with these new product channels is that the purchase of high end fashion up until now has always been very much a hands on operation. When we’re talking about dresses that can cost anywhere from US$5,000 to US$10,000 your customer wants to hold and touch the product. What this means is that the websites will need to find ways to show such subtle things as the size of clasps and the types of fabrics that have been used.

The online firms are using the information that they get from their online trunk shows to hire stylists who then use their own sense of style to create online shops with handbags, shoes and other accessories that would be needed to complete a look. All of this is then made available for instant purchase. All of this seems to be working – the average purchase price at one of these online stores is US$2,000. In order to keep being successful, the online stores will need even more high end partners and they are going to have to expand into more fashion categories.

What All Of This Means For You

If you want to be a successful product manager, then take a look at your product manager job description and you’ll see that you need to have a highly desirable product and you need to be able to reach your customer. Product managers for high end fashions have the desirable product, but getting to all of the people who are both willing and able to pay for their product has always been a challenge. The arrival of new online high end stores may make this process easier.

This new breed of online store has struck partnership deals with the high end fashion design houses. Their new collections are shown online in virtual “trunk shows” where customers are invited to make purchases before the fashions will be available in stores. Additionally, stylists who work for these online stores use their sense of style to properly accessorize the fashions and make a complete outfit that is offered for purchase to customers.

Anything that can expand the reach of your product and get it into the hands of willing customers has got to be a good thing. However, high end fashion product managers do need to be careful here. One of the things that makes their product so desirable is that they are not easy to get. If the online stores make it as easy to purchase the latest handbag from Valentino as making a trip to Walmart, then a lot of the allure of high end fashion may disappear. Carefully managed, the new breed of online stores may make high end fashion more of a part of life for many more people.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How do you think a product manager could tell if a product line had become too popular?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I like pizza and I’m pretty sure that you do also. However, have you ever spent any time thinking about the box that your pizza comes in? I can tell you that had not, until the big U.S. sporting event, the Super Bowl, came around again and I started reading stories in the paper about how many pizzas would be sold during the big game: 12.5 million. That sure seems like it’s going to require a lot of pizza boxes and there has to be a product manager and a product development definition somewhere that is going to make sure that it happens.