Death of Retail? 2017 Was All About the Empire of Luxury E-Tail

At first glance, Lauren Santo Domingo may not strike you as an empire builder. A former Vogue editor and glossy blond socialite, she is married to the heir of a Colombian beer fortune and has a slew of “It girl” friends. She could appear easy to dismiss.

But this week Moda Operandi, the online high fashion website she and Aslaug Magnusdottir founded in 2011 as the first “pre-tailer” (a place where customers can pre-order looks immediately after runway shows), announced that it had raised $165 million in its latest round of funding.

As the “death of retail” is heralded as the biggest trend of 2017, boutiques shutter and rumors fly of possible department store bankruptcies driven by changing consumer habits, price wars and the threat of Amazon. High-end e-commerce remains a bright spot in the shopping landscape: flooded with more cash than ever before and with bubblelike sky-high valuations to boot.

“What is so exciting about the amount of money we were able to raise is that we have proved ourselves and our model on a global scale. Year-on-year sales are growing at an exponential rate,” said the Moda Operandi chief executive, Deborah Nicodemus, who has worked with Ms. Santo Domingo since 2013. Their latest investment round was led by Apax Partners, the private equity firm that bought a controlling stake in the rival e-commerce outfit in September.

Lauren Santo Domingo photographed at her store Moda Operandi in New York City in 2016.CreditTawni Bannister for The New York Times

“We feel on top of the world right now, and it is a fantastic place to be,” Ms. Nicodemus said.

It’s a world dominated by two behemoth competitors who have spent the last year aggressively expanding their territories and strategically carving up the landscape between them. Napoleons of the virtual boulevards, they are locked in an escalating battle for power — and your wallet. You may not know their names, but they are shaping how you shop.

Yoox Net-a-Porter, the largest luxury e-tailer by sales, is one of them. It owns the e-tailers Net-a-Porter, the Outnet, Mr Porter and Yoox; it also operates the e-commerce sites for over 30 luxury brands including Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana and Chloé.

Farfetch, the other big name, is a online marketplace for 500 independent luxury boutiques and 200 brands as well as the owner of the bricks-and-mortar store Browns in London.

The stakes are high. Online luxury sales jumped by 24 percent in 2017, according…

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