Self-built apps help Net-A-Porter capture growing mobile demand

Net-A-Porter is an online-only clothes retailer that identified mobile applications as an important sales channel before many of its competitors. It was the first luxury brand to launch a mobile application, the company claims, when its iPhone app debuted in 2009.

All applications are developed internally, which allows Net-A-Porter to keep a close eye on design and to build a development skills base. “We’ve always had the ethos of building the knowledge in-house, training people up and learning from our mistakes,” explains Sarah Watson, manager of the company’s mobile group. “Giving a project to a third party and then bringing it back in again means you don’t get that.”

Last year, following feedback from customers on social media, the company decided that it needed to build an application for the Android platform. It took the opportunity to revamp its existing iPhone app at the same time.

“Our original app only had the ‘What’s New’ section of the website, because that’s where we originally saw the highest conversion of visitors to customers – people always want to know what’s new,” Watson recalls. “But there was definitely demand for new features.”

Functionality that has been ported from the website across to the new apps includes social media integration and a system called Net-A-Porter Live, which allows shoppers to see which items are proving popular around the world.

The Android and iPhone apps were built individually from the ground up, without any code sharing between the two. Net-A- Porter nevertheless wanted them to share the same look and feel, which proved challenging at times.

“We wanted to build these apps simultaneously so that they would look the same,” Watson says. “It was tricky, because all the buttons and pop-ups are different. At the start we had the standard, lime-green pop-ups in the Android app, which was upsetting our art director quite a lot.”

To get the look and feel just right, Net-A-Porter commissioned new photographs of its collection for the mobile apps. “The brief for the photographers was to take pictures that would end up being four inches across,” Watson explained. “It means you can’t have beautiful backdrops on location, and colours have to be very eye-popping and engaging.”

So exacting were Net-A-Porter’s standards that it ended up developing its own enhancements to the Android operating system to improve the way that it scales images on screen. The company has contributed that code back into Android’s open source development process.

Net-A-Porter reported 56% year-on-year revenue growth to £238 million last year. According to Watson, sales through desktops are essentially static. “The growth is very much through mobile devices,” she says.

Beatrice Bartlay

Beatrice Bartlay founded 2B Interface, a temporary and permanent staffing agency in 2005 and has since been serving the UK recruitment sector with specialised services. With more than ten years’ experience...

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