Olivia Pratt
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Who's Winning the Fashion E-Commerce Race?

LONDON, United Kingdom — Inside the warehouses of the newly forming Yoox Net-a-Porter Group is a software-controlled ballet of man and machine. In giant buildings strategically placed near major fashion markets, robots work alongside humans to pick, pack and ship Christian Louboutin stilettos and Saint Laurent biker jackets. It’s a reminder that, behind the virtual array of shiny products that populate websites, fashion e-commerce is an intensely physical business, depending on smooth back-end logistics as much as slick front-end experience.

On paper, the merger of Yoox and Net-a-Porter is a perfect union of front- and back-end excellence. Indeed, the all-share deal — in which Yoox is buying Net-a-Porter from Richemont, forming the world’s largest fashion e-tailer, with combined annual sales of €1.3 billion — promises to not only deliver economies of scale, but unite two highly complementary companies. Yoox, which began by selling discounted, end-of-season merchandise, is a leader in back-end operations and now powers e-commerce sites for several Kering brands, as well as Armani and Valentino. Meanwhile, Net-a-Porter, which began with full-price merchandise, excels at front-end customer experience, with beautiful packaging, same-day delivery and glossy editorial content. “The two businesses can piggyback on each other now,” said Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas.