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Gilt Groupe Goes Global

Earlier last week, Gilt Groupe announced the monumental expansion of its e-commerce offering to over 90 countries. Founded in 2007 by Kevin P. Ryan, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Gilt.com is the ultimate online shopping destination, pioneering the now-ubiquitous e-commerce practice of the online “flash sale,” a limited-time only sale where customers receive designer merchandise at up to 60% off retail. Over the past four years, the company has expanded from womenswear to menswear and now features daily sales that include children’s products, home decor, cuisine and culinary products and travel. We had the opportunity to sit down for lunch and chat with Wilson last week and learned more about Gilt’s global push, its response to competitors, and why, unlike its sales, this company is no flash in the pan.

As avid online shoppers whose penchant for websites such as Gilt.com verges on addiction, we were absolutely thrilled to learn of the company’s expanded shipping to international destinations. Still, many wondered why this move didn’t happen sooner. The reason is “complicated,” Wilson admits. “It wouldn’t be very Gilt-like to have a bumpy checkout process for people living overseas,” she says. “If you did try to shop now, it would feel just as easy as an American customer; that was really important to us.”

Wilson remains ever-conscious that every decision made by the company is consistent with the Gilt brand. But what exactly does it mean to be “Gilt-y?” “[The word] Gilt means covered in gold and from the gilded age,” says Wilson. “It has all these connotations that, to us, seem elegant and fitting for a luxury brand.”

And then there’s the play on words, with “guilt” and guilty pleasures, and feeling guilty if you shop. “The name ‘Gilt’ epitomizes contradiction in that members feel anything but guilty when they are able to purchase highly sought-after goods at a fraction of the retail cost,” Wilson adds with a smile.

Wilson knows that “Gilt-y” feeling all to well as a loyal member of the site. “I love shopping on our site!” she declares. “I buy everything from gifts for people, to shoes, jewelry, dresses…many of our employees are actually addicted shoppers.” However, Wilson’s “addiction” pales in comparison to that of her friend, co-founder, and fellow Gilt-member Alexis Maybank, who actually purchased her wedding dress from the site. “I would never have done that,” Wilson confesses, sheepishly; “but she bought two!”

The Gilt-y obsession of both members and founders alike is a testament to the company’s success. However, what in 2007 was a novel and revolutionary idea in the world of e-commerce is now one of ubiquity, with countless flash-sale sites online. Despite the increase in competition, Wilson remains confident that Gilt will continue to retain its edge. “I think we have already set ourselves apart from any competitors,” she says, matter-of-factly. “We’re certainly the largest across so many different categories, and in terms of that we’re very clearly, I’d say, number one.” And with over 5 million members and counting (plus a slew of new ones now that the site has launched internationally) they have no plans to give up the top spot anytime soon.

- James Lavapie

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