11. October 2012–
Today sees Fab – the stratospheric social commerce site that started life as a gay social network – launch a new mobile app "optimized for iPad, perfected for iPhone 5". It's the first time Europe has been treated to a mobile version of the service and sits side-by-side with the company's ambitious plans to dominate the European – and ultimately the world – market.
We caught up with Roman Kirsch, the Senior VP of Fab.com Europe at their bustling new Berlin epicentre to talk strategy, Fab's ever-growing team and their best-selling sex toys – and find out if the new iPad/iPhone app lives up to its lofty aim of "re-imagining mobile shopping"...
Meet Fab's new Berlin dream team – focused on "getting Europe right"
We dropped in to the epicentre of Fab Europe's base in the tattily trendy corner of Kreuzberg, looking out over the Gorlitzer Bahnhof U-Bahn station, with its travelcard-toting bums, doner shacks and graffiti-strewn walls.
Inside the back courtyard, it's a different story – we're met instantly by a gaggle of Mac-toting Brits, freshly arrived from the UK and raring to relocate to their new German home after the acquisition of Llustre, a London-based flash sales site. "There are about 50 or so staff moving here from Britain," confirms Kirsch. "Everyone is super-keen to move. They're all young and Berlin is cool!"
The new premises already has some 150 staff crammed into two floors of the building, with 50 more arriving from Llustre in the coming weeks. "We have to have introductory meetings every week to welcome the new staff," says Kirsch. "We already have to look for new premises at the start of next year, we need to grow."
This recent swelling of the ranks comes hot on the heels of the rollout of the new Fab.eu domain and plans for massive European expansion. Fab only took up a European presence in February this year with the acquisition of Casacanda, Kirsch's Berlin-based shopping site, and the only in the German-speaking market.
Fast-forward eight months and Fab's German base now operates for the whole of Europe (in 24 countries), with the staff swollen from 40 to almost 200, and European sales jumping to 30 per cent of the company's total revenue.
The woman spearheading Fab's European push
Maria Molland is the recently arrived New Yorker who is now spearheading the European push. The Harvard Business School grad joined Fab as Chief European Officer in July, having previously been Global Managing Director of Lipper and Digital Ventures, two subsidiaries of Thomson Reuters, as well as senior stints at Dow Jones, Yahoo and Disney Internet Groups.
Kirsch takes place as head of European Marketing, while Tracy Doree, former MD of uk.Fab.com and one of the founders of Llustre, heads up European Merchandising & Design.
Jason Goldberg, Fab CEO, put it like this in his recent blog: "For 2012, our international plan is: Get Europe Right. Maria is critical to making that happen. We have plans for Europe to be a $100M+ business for Fab in 2013".
Are you an iPad-toting European? Then Fab is coming after you...
So what's so special about the new Fab app? In a nutshell, it just works. More than that – it's gorgeous. Designed in the last six months from the ground up, it's a showcase for Goldberg's company ethos that product should always take precedence over a fast buck.
Most eCommerce apps cram their screens with hard sells on special offers and displays of as much inventory as possible, while Fab knows the value of letting you slide sedately (sideways, of course) through options, offering clean screens, and zoomable hi-res images (an important factor, core to its previous web success).
Smart touches include search and filtration options for calendar (ending soon), colour, category, lifestyle etc. But it's the social aspects (already a massive success for Fab online) that really make it special. You can tap into a live feed to see what your Facebook friends are buying, pin your favourites to Pinterest and see a live stream of what's most popular on site.
"People want to share this stuff", says Kirsch. "It's beautiful design items they want their friends to know about. We see so many eCommerce sites who think it's enough to stick a "Like" button on, we knew we wanted to go much further.
Kirsch explains why it's a sound decision for Fab to also "get it right" in the mobile space: "Already more than 33 per cent of visits and sales are already through mobile, with 11 per cent through iPads. We expect a day in the near future for us when mobile will be more than 50 per cent of revenue."
Buy your next sex toy straight from Facebook
Another massive shot in the arm for Fab is the news that it will be one of the select seven retailers involved in Facebook's new "Collections" service. This will allow users to purchase items straight from Facebook and signals a whole new era of social shopping, one that could turn Zuckerberg's social network into a retail giant.
As well as being able to see that your friend has purchased a JimmyJane vibrator (one of Fab's famously big sellers), you'll also be able to click "Buy" there and then to share the joy.
Apart from Fab, Facebook's partners are all pretty US-centric: William Sonoma's, Pottery Barn, Neiman Marcus, Limited Brand's, Victoria's Secret, Michael Kors, Smith Optics and Wayfair. The trials are for the US service, but Kirsch forsees a European launch to follow shortly after.
There's also a planned shift in the business model to allow for more "stationary" items on site, a move away from the flash campaigns moniker and into straight retail. "Flash campaigns will remain, but we want to offer more items that aren't on Amazon that are there for longer," explains Kirsch. "We also plan to start buy inventory for ourselves (Fab has traditionally relied on direct shipping from merchandisers), so that we can offer more items globally."