When I ask Neves to look into his crystal ball and imagine the future of shopping, he sees it as a completely blurred landscape. “There will be a convergence of physical and digital,” he says. “I think people won’t be able to tell at all whether they bought something online or offline.” But the world that Farfetch is building is going to trigger an even more dramatic slurry. In Neves’ future, Farfetch will be an online retailer, a physical store, an aggregator that relies on stores to meet their needs, and something not unlike a luxury conglomerate – all rolled into one.
Just as easy, of course, is to imagine a world where the effects of the pandemic and Farfetch are left behind by a once desperate retailer, a brand past its peak, disgruntled retailers, and a sneaker reseller in a less sneaker-crazed environment Culture and a population tired of shopping online. Then there is still an ongoing risk that other companies will pull their products off Farfetch to sell them on their own exclusive platforms, as studios and networks have done to Netflix. Couldn’t LVMH – which owns Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine – and Kering – the parent company of Gucci, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent – start hoarding all their brands’ clothing and creating LVMH MAX? How about Kering +?
Aside from the Doomsday Prophecies, there’s a rift in Farfetch’s defense that I keep coming back to. “If something can be digitized, it becomes fully digitized,” says Neves, referring to how every Tower Records store has been replaced with an app or how almost every existing film is available online. So the problem with modeling Farfetch after these firms is that fashion and clothing pose very different problems. “You can’t download a dress or a pair of shoes,” he says. “And as such, the physical experience will continue to be important. It’s a tactile part of the culture, isn’t it? “That’s why there are projects like the Store of the Future and the theme of an ad campaign in March for the company was traveling in a weird way – an attempt to get rid of the magic of the real world.
“You can’t download a dress or a pair of shoes.”
Neves tells me about a time when he lost his luggage on a trip to Tokyo. Fortunately, he happened to be in the best city in the world and suddenly lost all of your clothes. So he set about replacing what was gone. “It was amazing,” says Neves. “I loved it.” This is the problem none of Neves’ role model companies face. How do you manage the magic of strolling down Tokyo’s back alleys, walking into a store, poking through a rack and finding the perfect goofy pair of pants that you would skip if they were just a JPEG?
The short answer – and the one Neves is counting on – is that you don’t recreate this magic because you no longer have to. He believes Farfetch is in a transformative moment – that the pandemic has forever changed attitudes towards the digital world. Think of all the ways in which we have rearranged our lives in recent months: We have learned to capture feelings almost exclusively online, to swipe for love, to order in our favorite restaurants and to be moved by a flat picture of luxury In fashion, we smash the add-to-cart button and never look back. While it looks like consumers have been forced to shop online with few to no alternatives, Neves sees the phenomenon differently. And Farfetch’s future may depend on his interpretation being the right one. “People are discovering,” he says, “the joy of buying luxury online.”