The arrival of Shoptiques isn't a Cinderella story, but both tales do hinge on a pair of shoes. Five years ago, Olga Vidisheva, then an investment-banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, fell in love with a pair of flats in a tiny boutique she discovered while on a business trip to Paris. She bought the shoes, but because the shop has no website, she was unable to browse its unique collection after she got home.
"I thought it was absurd that in the 21st century I wouldn't be able to get these shoes from wherever I live," says the Kyrgyzstan-born Vidisheva, a recent Harvard Business School graduate (and onetime model). "Clothing is a way for women to say to the world, 'I'm different,' and to dress uniquely, you have to shop at boutiques that stock clothing in small quantities, and most of those boutiques don't have an online presence. They don't know how to handle it."
To fill that void, Vidisheva launched Shoptiques, a digital commerce platform that gives women in Kansas access to the same fashion-forward styles available in Manhattan. The New York-based site eschews items available at upscale department stores in favor of limited-edition, handcrafted apparel and accessories from independently owned boutiques across the U.S.
The result is an aura of exclusivity for the consumer, combined with no-brainer online ease for the stores. Shoptiques hires local photographers to shoot each boutique's merchandise, guaranteeing a uniform presentation throughout the website. It also processes credit card payments; provides all shipping materials, including prepaid shipping labels; and, most important, offers tiny shops the type of global exposure they wouldn't likely be able to afford otherwise. Vidisheva takes a negotiated cut of sales and insists that retailers ship all items within 48 hours of purchase.
The model works well for shops that are long on style but short on manpower and cash. "It's extremely difficult to have a presence online if you don't have a big marketing team or money to invest in a website and search engine optimization," says Barbara Shelsky, manager of New York City boutique Callalilai, one of more than 50 retailers on the Shoptiques site as of April. "Plus, we [weren't] known outside of our local area, but now we're selling pieces outside of New York, and even a few New Yorkers have discovered us by browsing Shoptiques, too."
In late March, Vidisheva wrapped an undisclosed amount of angel investment from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Benchmark Capital and others. She says the funding will go toward signing up boutiques from around the world--maybe even that shop in Paris where the whole thing got started.
"Our goal is that when you come to Shoptiques, you can take a virtual shopping trip to India, Bali, Hong Kong or wherever you want to go," Vidisheva says. "Then you can create your own unique style wherever you live."
Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.