Yezi- phenomenal post! I love this example because it’s such a public example of a “what went wrong?” scenario, and while American Apparel’s financial trouble was all over the news there was seemingly little on the root causes of the issues (beside the issues with Charney… plenty on that in the media!)
I particularly like the point that American Apparel was fundamentally misaligned as they could not take advantage of the sole operational benefit of having factories in the USA: proximity to go-to-market for new high-fashion, high-turn goods. As the majority of AA’s SKUs are low-turn basics that are effectively commoditized among apparel retailers, it is hard to demand a pricing premium that sustains the factory operations. The only thing supporting the model was the appeal of the brand itself- a shaky position to be in with a fickle, somewhat price-sensitive argument and an erratic CEO.
While I don’t think American Apparel could ever effectively compete in fast fashion against the likes of H&M and Forever 21 given their significant operational and pricing disadvantage, I do think they need to re-orient their brand messaging and SKU mix to give customers a reason to walk into their (few remaining) stores again. I like the message of “Buy American” and think American Apparel should strive to define All-American, aspirational patriotism in our generation the way that Ralph Lauren did for Gen Xers.
I really enjoyed reading this as I am a big fan of Yoox and other designer discount sites (e.g, Gilt, Rue). I had no idea about the infrastructure and logistical support side of the Yoox business model; I love that they have taken their competitive advantage of analytically-driven customer insights, web product and inventory management and turned it into a B2B product in its own right.
Recently I have found myself recently spending more time on more highly curated fashion marketplace websites such as Revolve and Farfetch which differentiate themselves from Yoox by their strong personalities, editorial perspectives, and aggressive marketing campaigns (both use extensive Criteo-style retargeting, and Farfetch recently ran a large out-of-home campaign in Manhattan). I wonder if Yoox will leverage NAP’s unique capabilities to build the Yoox.com brand, or whether they will continue to keep their overhead low to pass along maximum savings to the consumer.
I am also a huge Instacart fan, but agree with Palak that the economics of this business (combined with the low barriers to entry) create challenging dynamics at scale. Right now Instacart makes very thin margins on its orders despite marking up the prices on specific SKUs- see this interesting read from the WSJ that breaks down its potential per-order gross margin (http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/01/13/heres-how-instacarts-grocery-delivery-pricing-model-works/). To drive greater profitability, they will need to either increase fees they demand from the grocery stores, increase item mark-ups or raise the ~$3 delivery fee they charge the consumer. Any consumer-facing move risks slowing user growth and impacting retention, which could create the right environment for a new competitor to emerge. Having said that, investors will be looking for Instacart to achieve profitability to support its $1B+ valuation. Ultimately I hope that Instacart’s strong base of loyal customers will convince grocery stores to support the service at a higher fee so business model is sustainable into the future!