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Sparking an online shopping craze in the Gulf

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Do you remember those days when you find yourself some really good deals online, most offering up to 70% off the original price, and then realise that you’re ending up paying near full price thanks to shipping charges? Yeah? Well, gone are those days now. Our trusted bargain shopping websites, BlueFly and Gilt, are going to have to take a backseat as Fashionation, the Middle East’s first invitation-only shopping club, localises the art of bargain hunting on the internet.

La Moda Editor-in-Chief Jim Joquico spoke to Didier Picard, Managing Director of Fashionation, about the inner workings of the exclusive ‘society’ and the future of the region’s favourite pastime and sport.

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Fashionation.me

What were the motivations behind the launch of Fashionation? The launch of Fashionation.me is the conjunction of several findings I did as I was heading one of the leading groups of luxury cosmetics for the Middle East and India.

The first thing I obviously realised is that shopping is a central social activity in the Middle East. However, I also noticed that shopping smartly – that is, comparing propositions and finding the best deals – was not always easy, could be quite time consuming, and in several cases, almost impossible. As access to the internet started to spread in the region and online credit card payments and courier services were becoming more affordable and reliable, I thought it was time to introduce in the region a by-invitation online shopping club, a concept that is proving very popular among fashionistas in Europe and the United States, but was not available to Middle Eastern fashion lovers yet.

Which brands have you made agreements with to sell discounted items? After only a few days operation, we are pleased to showcase recognized designer and lifestyle brands like DKNY, Von Dutch, Azzaro, Michael Kors, Thierry Mugler, Chantelle, Roccobarocco among others.

Contrary to a traditional fashion website, it is almost impossible to predict Fashionation.me’s assortment in advance. Indeed, for various reasons, brands or their representatives in the Middle East sometimes have limited quantities of excess stock that they may decide to offer for sale at a reduced price on Fashionation.me. While we therefore cannot tell which brands, categories or products will be available at any point of time, our commitment to our members is that all items on the site will be proposed at prices up to 70% off their original retail price, will be in perfect condition, genuine and sourced exclusively from the brands or the official distributors.

How has the market responded to the launch of Fashionation so far? The launch of Fashionation.me in fact started mid-February with the creation of a Facebook fan club which we intend to use to communicate openly with our members and provide them with a platform to exchange on fashion and smart shopping in the Middle East. The reaction has been beyond our expectations as we attracted over 5,500 members in less than a month.

On March 8, we invited our fans to take a fashion quiz which could give them a 12-month membership on Fashionation.me, as well as a US$10 welcome voucher. Indeed, the limited quantities of the hand-picked brands available on the site at any point of time justify that we restrict access to members with a real passion for fashion. This explains why we have decided to create a by-invitation-only shopping club as opposed to a regular e-commerce website.

Won’t this be redundant, since we already have an outlet mall in Dubai where people can physically inspect merchandise? Fashionation.me’s proposition builds on the convenience of online shopping and home delivery, not only for Dubai shoppers but also for shoppers from around the Middle East. Gone are the times when you have to touch the goods to decide whether you like them! Today’s technologies enable us to provide high-resolution pictures from different angles. This said, we understand that everyone has the right to change their mind when it comes to clothing or shoes, which is why we offer a flexible return policy for these categories that are a bit more difficult to select.

Is the UAE/GCC-based shopper ready to do their favourite hobby online? Numbers speak for themselves. Internet usage across the Middle East is exploding. Women aged 20-45 across the GCC are particularly active online. Today, they shop their cloth, shoes, accessories, home decoration – on sites located in Europe or even the US. Fashionation.me brings an alternative reflecting regional specificities, including a dual Arabic–English communication. So why would Middle Eastern shoppers want to miss the opportunity to pay less for freight – thus being also more environment-friendly – if the opportunity is there ?

Will you be selling products from local and regional designers on Fashionation too? Fashionation.me’s objective is to serve the Middle East from the Middle East. The fashion scene offers a large and rapidly growing pool of talents, and Fashionation.me’s vocation is definitely to stage, promote and help local designers. We, at Fashionation.me, also believe that fashion goes far beyond clothing and accessories, and welcome initiatives helping to close the gap between fashion design and other forms of art.