Can independent stores succeed online?
When it comes to e-commerce, Elyse Walker hopes third time around will be the charm.
Since opening her eponymous luxury boutique in the Pacific Palisades 22 years ago, Walker has expanded her business to six locations in Southern California. Known for their casual selection of luxury basics, Elysewalker stores have been profitable since day one, enticing customers to shop again and again with the brand thanks to a tenacious personal style program.
Walker had a bumpier run online. In 2010, she launched the first iteration of Elysewalker.com. Two years later, Walker partnered with e-commerce retailer Revolve on a new digital concept, Forward by Elysewalker – later known as FWRD. She served as fashion director for the new venture, but could not operate her own online website. Around the time Revolve went public in 2019, Walker ended the relationship and began planning a new independent online venture.
Now, Walker is rolling out a new version of Elysewalker.com, which will go live on January 18. She said her business was doing just fine without a major online presence – sales were up more than 50% last year compared to 2019 – but e-commerce is key to building her empire. mini-retail.
The revival of e-commerce will bring other changes to the company. His company recently purchased a warehouse and doubled its workforce. And after two decades of self-financing, Walker is now looking for outside capital and a partner.
“To grow this business from $50 million to $100 million and then to the next level, we’re working 100% aggressively this year … to attract outside investors,” Walker said, adding that she’s open to anyone. of capital, whether it comes from a major strategic player or a private equity firm.
With sufficiently unique publishing and localized appeal, a number of independent boutiques manage to operate a few stores, even as global brands and retailers, from Farfetch to Gucci, capture an ever larger share of luxury sales. Especially since 2020, local shops have been able to capitalize on the working-from-home consumer whose savings and overall financial situation have improved during the pandemic.
To grow this business from $50 million to $100 million and then to the next level, we are working 100% aggressively this year… to attract outside investors.
But the attributes that make for an exciting shopping experience in real life are much harder to achieve online.
Walker hopes his existing client list will follow his latest e-commerce venture, and those close personal relationships will set the website apart from rivals like Net-a-Porter and MatchesFashion. On the new website, which the retailer has built in-house, each stylist will have their own webpage with their own product selection. It will also allow stylists to send their personalized recommendations to clients via email and other channels.
“We own our client… she trusts us and now she will have better [access] for so much more product and to be able to reach us in his salon,” Walker said.
Elysewalker stores are known for their exceptional customer service. The bulk of transactions are generated by 21 salespeople – called “stylists” within the company – who regularly text or direct message buyers with personalized recommendations. This helps retain customers, even when they can’t visit stores in person. Half of all customers live out of state, the company said.
“You have retailers like Nordstrom, which is known for its customer service, and of course that’s good to some extent, but [Elysewalker] is so much more personalized,” said Los Angeles-area retail analyst Gabriella Santaniello. “I actually have a salesman who texts me all the time.”
A website will also allow Elysewalker to offer more products from more designers. Some of its best-selling products come from global independent labels such as Alanui, Totême, Zeynep Arcay and Paris Texas. The e-commerce site will attract new wholesale partners, such as Los Angeles-based designer Rosetta Getty.
Elysewalker isn’t the only multi-brand retailer to double down on loyalty as a driver of growth rather than customer acquisition; Neiman Marcus announced its own customer communication initiative in 2020, creating its own app for salespeople to connect with existing customers. But Elysewalker already has a track record of profitable success: at least 35% of sales are generated by its mail-out personal styling services rather than in-store visits.
Still, brick-and-mortar will remain an integral part of the business, and the most effective relationships with customers are still in person, Walker said. After successful pop-up-style service in the Hamptons this summer, the retailer plans to open its first East Coast location later this year.
Stores and in-person events are a powerful driver of word-of-mouth marketing, Walker added. Even with the launch of e-commerce, she anticipates that it will be her existing customers who spread the word about the new channel.
“We meet 10 women, or 100 women, and let them be our brand ambassadors,” she said. “If we do our job well, all of our customers will come out and bring us new ones.”