When Gilt first launched 10 years ago, flash sales were the hottest way to shop online. Thanks to the recent recession, customers were scrambling for discounted goods and services; whether buying experiences like massages at a local beauty parlour from Groupon or snapping up the latest fashions from Rue La La, companies couldn't launch these sites fast enough.
But as quickly as those sites peaked, they began to fail. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue got into the discount game by investing heavily in their off-price counterparts, and with a glut of flash sales sites competing amongst each other for market share, one by one, they closed up shop.
Gilt, however, has survived all of that. Following a $250-million purchase by Hudson's Bay Company in early 2016, the website has made it to its 10th anniversary and has a shiny new redesign to celebrate. Jonathan Greller, President of Gilt and Saks Off 5th, says the company built the new website around the desires of its best customers.
"Though the company's been fantastic and built an amazing brand, the customer expectations are much greater today," he says. "Shopping is supposed to be much easier, but yet getting the consumer's attention is a lot harder. Their expectations are greater, so we have to change."
Dubbed "Flash Forward," those changes include a more intuitive site design built for "intent-based shopping" — there will be less clicking around and hunting for the particular style or brand you were looking for than before — and more tailored results for returning customers. The website will learn from customers' shopping habits, search patterns and favorite brands to deliver not only more customized mailings, but also sections of the website like "Most Wanted Brands."
The flash sales upon which the site was built will remain, but they too will streamline. Gilt will focus on six key sales to promote in the grid rather than the cluttered, packed homepage of before. In addition to flash sales, Gilt is adding in "The Mix," an editorial section that features more permanent product styled around current trends or seasonal categories.
Gilt will also partner with sister site Saks Off Fifth, enabling customers to both pick up and return orders at Saks Off Fifth locations; the entire Saks Off Fifth inventory will be available to shop through Gilt starting this fall. "Any time you have a greater assortment, more styles, more depth, you're more likely to convert the customer," Greller says. "We're going to have all of that inventory, and that inventory will be available from our distribution center. We can ship it from one of our stores. We're going to be able to offer our customer merchandise anywhere, any time, any place she is."
The key to the new Gilt is more fully integrating the Gilt City content; customers who shop local deals are more likely to become return shoppers. According to Sarah Joyce, GM of Gilt and SaksOffFifth.com, that means people shopping for athletic gear might be served a Gilt City deal on a new yoga studio; people browsing eveningwear might be served a deal for a blowout at a local salon.
"Gilt is the leading innovative online experience," Greller says. "The company gives that special access to the most desirable fashion, but also integrates experiences — nobody's doing that."
The redesign is just the beginning for this new phase of Gilt's business; Greller says that 70 percent of its customers are under 45 years old, a demographic everyone from brands to celebrities is trying to tap into. Gilt will continue to work on exclusive collaborations and, perhaps more importantly, to listen to its customers to improve and outlast its competition.
"We're doing the work now so the customer doesn't have to," says Joyce. "We used to have the mentality that at noon, I'm going to tell you what you want. Now, I'm creating a clean experience for you to find what you want when you want it."