Take note digital mall rats. Fashion Outlet is eBay's latest attempt to get into the ever-growing digital fashion market.
Boonsri Dickinson is a multimedia journalist who covers science, technology, and start-ups. She is a contributing editor at CBS SmartPlanet, and her work has appeared in Wired, New Scientist, Technology Review, and Discover magazine. E-mail Boonsri.
Hoping to tap the expanding online fashion market, eBay this week launched Fashion Outlet, a virtual U.S. outlet mall that lets brands and designers connect directly with eBay customers. Think of that outlet mall in the boonies without the drive down some random highway.
The launch of the fashion outlet follows the debut of eBay outlet sites in the U.K. and Germany. The fashion items sold through the "Buy It Now" feature are priced at 20 percent to 65 percent off retail price, making them comparable price-wise to items found at outlets, Miriam Lahage, eBay's head of global fashion brands, wrote in an e-mail to CNET.
"Outlets represent the fastest-growing retail channel, and we want to bring that experience and value to our shoppers," Lahage said. "Brands and retailers are looking to eBay to help move markdown and
liquidation product at greater velocity and higher margin than other existing options."
Through eBay's new fashion mall, customers will find deals direct from more than 200 brands, including Neiman Marcus Last Call, BCBG, and Timberland. The digital channel can help brands and designers sell their inventory when they lack the physical space to do so.
eBay has been refining its fashion sense over the last several years. Recently, it released an iPhone app that lists items on sale so shoppers can browse, search, and buy vintage and new designer clothes via their phones. The company also rolled out eBay Fashion Vault, which provides access to new clothing deals and limited-time offers on designer brands.
The online marketplace says it sold $9.8 billion worth of apparel last year. In the past three years, 60 percent of its customers have purchased fixed-priced fashion goods, reports The Financial Times. What's more, 70 percent of users are buying new merchandise.
eBay has plenty of competition from everyone from small "flash companies" such as the Gilt Groupe to bigger players in the e-commerce space such as Amazon, which relaunched its online clothing and shoe business last year.
Like eBay, crafts site Etsy offers a place for designers to sell directly to customers, but it's limited to vintage and handmade goods. Sty.ly launched this week as a kind of eBay for Facebook focused on women's fashion. While high-end outlets like Net-a-Porter's The Outnet exist, eBay's Fashion Outlet targets the masses while letting brands control how the apparel looks in the digital storefront.
Last year, online retail sales in the U.S. grew more than 12 percent to a total of $176 billion, according to Forrester Research. There are several reasons for this, one being that shoppers are always connected via their smartphones. Customers are getting used to shopping online and new shopping models like flash sites provide shoppers with instant access to designer brands.