LONDON, United Kingdom — Tongues were wagging again this week about Net-a-Porter, the pioneering luxury e-commerce retailer, whose future as part of Richemont has been the subject of ongoing speculation over the past 18 months. In October 2013, it was rival e-commerce retailer Yoox that supposedly had Net-a-Porter in its sights for a potential merger of equals. But when that deal was not consummated, the next rumour to surface last November was that Net-a-Porter would be spun off from Richemont and be taken public. So far, there are no concrete signs of an impending IPO.
This week, fashion observers moved on to Amazon as a potential acquirer of the Net-a-Porter business. Some people are saying an announcement could come as early as next week, but the rumours have not been confirmed, and a deal is far from certain according to people familiar with the situation. For Amazon, which has unsuccessfully been targeting the high-end fashion space for years, having Net-a-Porter in its stable could make all the difference. What’s clear is that the Net-a-Porter business is in a period of transition as it aims to maintain its leading position in the fashion luxury e-commerce space, with lots of other players nipping at its heels. From omni-channel players like MatchesFashion.com, MyTheresa.com and Luisa Via Roma, to start-ups employing inventory-light models like Farfetch.com and Moda Operandi, both of whom have just closed substantial fundraising rounds, the luxury e-commerce space suddenly seems much more crowded.
One little-known fact is that Net-a-Porter’s senior management team, including founder Natalie Massenet, are set to receive a significant bonus payment this month — which marks 5 years since Richemont bought the business for £350 million (about $521 million at current exchange rates). Back in 2010, a formula was agreed to determine the change in Net-a-Porter’s valuation between 2010 to 2015. With speculators saying that Amazon’s bid for the business could be as high as $2 billion, or more, that valuation bonus could be very significant indeed.
In any case, it seems likely that Richemont or any potential acquirer would have to find a way to retain Massenet, who still remains the heart and soul of the Net-a-Porter brand. Whether she stays or goes must be a big part of any conversation about a potential acquisition.
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And don’t forget to check out BoF Weekly, a week in review published with Flipboard and updated every Saturday.
Imran Amed Founder and Editor-in-Chief