Vente-Privee invests in merchandising, not marketing

The France-based online retailer has 20 million customers, $2.2 billion in 2013 sales and a $0 marketing budget. But it does spend on merchandising.

Katie Evans

It’s a real puzzler. A France-based online retailer with 20 million customers across nine countries and $2.2 billion in sales for 2013 doesn’t spend a euro on marketing.

But such is the case for flash-sale retailer Vente-Privee, the third-largest web only retailer in the Europe 500. Vente-Privee doesn’t spend on paid search ads or invest in search engine optimization to move up in natural results on search engines. It instead spends ample time and money on fine-tuning what it sells and how it presents those products, says Ilan Benhaim co-founder of Vente-Privee. 700 of its 2,100 employees work solely on merchandising. And those merchandisers spend most of their time obsessing over why a consumer did or didn’t convert and why a product did or did not sell.

Lots of testing and heavy investment in imagery and web design has helped the retailer achieve an enviable 6.5% average conversion rate. “We know by experience, if you put a product on a hanger, it won’t sell as well as putting it on a model,” Benhaim says. “And that showing the product on a full model’s body, including her face, sells ever better.”

He says some retailers skimp on images and content to save money. For example, if a retailer uses a model’s face it has to pay the model for rights to her image, so many go the cheaper, anonymous route. But Benhaim says the extra cost is worth it. After testing several site designs, the retailer also structured its site so that all items in one of its flash sales appear on a single scrollable page rather than multiple pages. It made the change after it noticed conversion rates dropped for each page deeper a consumer was forced to click into a sale.

When snapping photos of items, the retailer’s photographers consult a Vente-Privee style book with details on precisely how to photograph everything from a high-heeled stiletto to a leather boot. Benhaim says his company can spend an ample amount on presentation with the money it saves on marketing.

The cost-saving means the retailer doesn’t need to cut merchandising corners. Benhaim describes an instance in which one of his employees suggested cutting the number of product images for each item from five to three. The staffer noted that only about 4% of shoppers looking at products clicked all the way to view the fourth image and only about 1% journeyed to photo five. But when Benhaim asked the employee to investigate how many images shoppers who purchased items viewed,  the staffer discovered around 80% on average looked at all five images before purchasing. The five photos stayed.

While Vente-Privee’s conversion rate is impressive, Benhaim is not satisfied. “93.5% still don’t buy,” Benhaim says. To boost conversions, Vente-Privee keeps offering new products.  “Our strategy is to offer something for every visitor so they won’t leave without buying, so we’ve branched into travel and ticketing,” he says.  


e-commerce, France, marketing, Merchandising, top 500 Europe, Vente-priveé