Mary Beth West has been on the retailer’s board for 10 years.
One executive estimates Italy’s online private sales industry to be worth $1 billion.
Private sale and members-only sites selling heavily discounted fashion brands are a growing trend in Italy, according to Netcomm, the country’s national e-commerce association.
Leading private sales sites include Privalia, BuyVIP and SaldiPrivati, Netcomm says.
SaldiPrivati which launched in 2009, now has more than 1.5 million members. The private sale site is part of Gruppo Banzai, one of Italy’s largest online companies, with over 50 million euros in annual sales (US $62.8 million) and over 25 e-commerce and media sites that attract 8.5 million unique visitors each month.
SaldiPrivati offers at least 60 invitation-only sales monthly, ranging from fashion apparel and accessories, to products for the home, games and children's items, furniture, books, and electronics.
Bruno Decker, founder and CEO of SaldiPrivati, says a huge demand in online private sales in Italy has contributed to his company’s growth
Decker estimates the current value of private online sales (“vendite private”) in Italy at around 800 million euros (US $989 million) compared with 100 million euros (US $123 million) in 2010.
“According to our company’s estimates, in 2010 private online sales were worth between 100 and 150 million euros—in the two years since, there has been a growth of about eight times that value,” he said.
SaldiPrivati’s own business doubled between 2009 and 2011, Decker says. He would not disclose specific sales figures. A report by the Boston Consulting Group estimates SaldiPrivati’s online sales totaled 20 million euros (US $25 million) in 2010—up from 13 million euros (US $16 million) in 2009.
Decker says clothing sales, which he says account for about 40% of online retail in Italy, are fuelling private sales’ success.
“A huge part of this growth comes down to the clothing sector,” Decker says. He says online clothing sales have grown around 50% in the past couple of years and adds that much of Italy’s private sales sites are focusing on apparel.
“Of the more than 2 million products we sell online, nearly half are clothing-related,” Decker adds.
SaldiPrivati says it got the idea to launch a private sale site from a French retailer. “In 2007, we noticed a boutique on the elegant Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, which was bringing the concept of ‘private sales, for the best customers’ online, inviting just a select few to enjoy the sales before offering them to everyone,” SaldiPrivati says on its web site. “We adapted that model and launched it in Italy,” Decker adds.
Competition in the private online sales sector in Italy is driving discounts deeper, with some sites currently offering as much as 70% off.
Decker adds that SaldiPrivati does not own the stock it sells. Instead, it works with brands to establish a set amount of stock to sell and the number of days that a sale will last.
"We agree on sale dates and hold the goods only for the days of the sale, so the brand can put aside that stock for that time period, knowing precisely where it is going, rather than hand it over to an outlet, and not know where it will end up,” Decker says.