The fact that desirability for B2C online fashion destinations is rising isn’t something new –take a report of market research firm IbisWorld explaining with graphics how men’s clothing online sales are going to grow at a much faster pace (14%) than store sales (3%) between 2015 and 2020. But actually, a similar process is being experienced by B2B online marketplaces. “The transaction volume on the platform should reach €100M by the end of the year,” explains Vidya Narine, CEO and founder of Le New Black, a Paris-based company hosting digital showrooms from 250 contemporary- and high fashion brands like Ami, Paco Rabanne, Sessùn, Etudes or Baum und Pferdgarten, among others. By the end of 2014, the transaction volume reached by the platform was of €25M, so if Narine's expectations are reached, the company will experience this year a growth of 400%.

If this figure is reached, the company will experience a yearly growth of 20% on average. Le New Black was founded in 2010, but further firms with similar business concepts were born in more recent times. In general, they all market their services with mainly 3 key advantages for brands –who have to pay in order to use the marketplace- and buyers/retailers –who enjoy free-of-charge access-: First and foremost, a reduction of distribution costs, followed by the fact that buyers get information on collections and brands all year long and can thus write orders comfortably at any time and any place. In other words, buyers and retailers are not limited to seasonal trade shows and physical showrooms in order to update their product assortment.

Ordering interface at Le New Black
Ordering interface at Le New Black


Growth is blessing not only Le New Black, but also other newer businesses like We Want Shoes (WWS), a footwear-only B2B marketplace for the German-speaking market that emerged in February 2015. “We expect to have around 120 brands on board for the next season starting January 2016,” says Saydou Bangoura, founder and responsible of international business development. Currently, WWS is working together with 35 labels like United Nude and NoBrand. Ben Sherman Footwear has been one of the most recent additions. “We like the idea and we – as a company - are open to innovation and try to go new paths,” told SI a spokesperson of Deluxe Distribution, the fashion group taking care of the brand’s distribution throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Benelux countries.

Saydou Bangoura, founder of We Want Shoes
Saydou Bangoura, founder of We Want Shoes
Apart from the advantages mentioned above that B2B marketplaces use to sell their services, there are three additional reasons which might shed light on their success. Firstly, the transformation that fashion trade shows are experiencing worldwide from a place for business to a place for an ‘experience’. The term encompasses e.g. the face-to-face exchange of information among industry insiders that takes place at trade shows; experiencing the identity of a brand directly by its representatives; or the vision of the market delivered by the trade show organizers themselves. Another important industry development that has shaken the industry and empowered B2B online marketplaces is the breakup of the traditional seasonal rhythm of fashion by the accelerated activity of fast-fashion chains, which bring new products to the retail floor in a matter of few weeks. As a result, other labels are also implementing pre-collections and capsules besides the classical fall/winter and spring/summer offerings to keep up the label’s market awareness. This decidedly benefits B2B marketplaces as the ones where retailers could go and purchase on a 24/7 basis. Last but not least, all these companies have a social media-alike interface that allows a simple communication while brand’s privacy is safeguarded, as only they can choose which retailers and buyers get access to their collections’ showroom.

We Want Shoes subscribed members can publish brand content in a public stream
We Want Shoes subscribed members can publish brand content in a public stream


Once the B2B online marketplace phenomenon got swept up, some insiders saw in their rising success the end of trade shows and physical showrooms. But this is something that even the executive managers of these companies disagree with: “This is exactly what we heard when we launched and that we don’t hear today anymore. Brands and retailers understood that digital is complementary with the off-line experience,” tells Narine of Le New Black. In the same direction, Tal Levy, CEO of platform Uppler with over 2,000 registered brands such as Dsquared and American Vintage, says: “As a former owner of fashion shops, nothing will replace the physical touch so it has to be a coexistence of both but in favor of the digital one.” All executives describe that the role is actually more that of a supporter who simplifies communication and trade between suppliers and retailers before e.g. a trade show appointment. According to Bangoura of We Want Shoes, agents or physical showrooms are irreplaceable because the role that they do goes beyond being connectors to retailers: “Good agents are also consultants telling brands how to succeed in the market. They replace the brand’s own company structure in the market. They have already established business contacts and know the market really well.”

A key question for many readers probably at this point is: how expensive are these platforms? Prices to use the services for brands might vary considerable, as companies offer between 2 and 3 different options according to their needs and budgets. In comparison to the basic subscriptions, the premium ones offer the possibility of publishing a higher number of products within the showroom and also of subscribing more representatives and introduce additional price lists. All in all, monthly subscription fees might start at a price between €69 and €280, according to the companies approached.

Just like it happens with social media, it’s probably too early to make a definitive judgement whether B2B online marketplaces’ support in the market will last forever. However, the boom of this business model in various markets is definitely a sign that these companies are here to stay. Deciding in their longevity will be the further addition of storytelling tools for brands to share their core messages more effectively with their e-audience.

Uppler offers users a social media-alike interface that allows simple communication
Uppler offers users a social media-alike interface that allows simple communication