Gilt Groupe is one of those sites that I never saw coming. No coverage on Tech Crunch. Hardly any blogger mentions. No Silicon Valley funding. But it’s damn popular for a start-up under a year old: 417,000 visits last month; the perfect example of Nascar Blindness.
Gilt Groupe is not a web 2.0, social media, or long tail success story. No community or Twitter. Every blogger preaches that there are “new rules” for competing online. Well, Gilt Groupe is ignoring the “new rules” and staying true the old ones.
What is Gilt Groupe?
Gilt Groupe is an online sample (fashion) sale. Access is invite-only, limited to friends of other Gilt users (a la Gmail invite-only access). The sales are announced by email a week ahead of time. “Gilt Groupe offers several new designer sales each day, with most sales lasting 36 hours or until everything is sold.” (via VentureBeat). “The sample sale truly is a phenomenon that generates mass hysteria in the city,” CEO Alexis Maybank said. Gilt Groupe is an “opportunity to take it to a national audience” (via RedHerring).
And it’s crazy addicting (so I’m told). A popular sale eerily quiets my office. I’ve witnessed a director at Amex, during a meeting, open an email alert of the latest Gilt sale on her Blackberry. It must have been good–she excused herself from the meeting to run to her computer.
Following Old-World Rules
Browse Gilt Groupe. It’s almost as if the founders ported the physical shopping experience to an online environment. The “air of exclusivity” is maintained by the invite-only policy. Like sample sales, the site is no non-sense. People know what they want–the shopping experience is purely pictures and prices.
Digital experts argue that there are new rules for competing online. This includes many of the buzz topics of late: conversation, relationships, dialogue, engagement, social media, etc. Gilt Groupe does none of these. The site is ugly, designed as if it was 1998. No familiar nods to social media. And this is perfectly OK.
We must not apply the same web 2.0 formula to every site, brand, or category. Gilt works because it kicks ass meeting its customer needs: bring the sample sale to a national, scalable audience. Think it needs a community or “customer dialogue?” The reality is that Gilt’s customers don’t care, and it surely would not match the essence of the callous sample sale.
In short, the “new rules” are irrelevant if your customers don’t expect them (and definitely don’t use them). Gilt Groupe’s success is built by remembering that the old-rules worked for a reason, and exporting the traditional sample sale to an online platform reaped huge customer value. No new media. No “dialogues.” Just happy customers.