Gilt Groupe founders Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson recently breezed through town to meet and mingle with their Houston members at a private screening of The Young Victoria at the Angelika and a party at the Hotel ZaZa. I chatted with the duo, who met at Harvard where they both earned bachelor's and business degrees. As veteran shoppers who braved the sample sales in Manhattan, the longtime friends got the idea to bring the thrill online two years ago. Maybank has a background in e-commerce, having been an executive at eBay in its early days, while Wilson worked for Louis Vuitton and Bulgari.
I asked them about the prevalence and recent success of private sales sites like Gilt, Rue La La and One Kings Lane, and they agreed that it boils down to simple American appreciation for value. Department stores simply aren't as strong as they once were. Outlets like Gilt Groupe are an accessible and effective new distribution format, they said.
Gilt members from the early days remember when a call to customer service was answered by a person, and probably one familiar with your order and e-mail address. Those days are gone; the company has expanded to include home goods, travel deals and, most (pleasantly) surprising to its founders, a successful men's business offering everything from sports memorabilia to wine. Callers are now guided with voice mail prompts.
But Maybank and Wilson believe the company is staying accessible by hosting national mix 'n' mingle events with devoted followers, like the one in Houston.
What's the greatest steal they've seen on the site? Hervé Léger sold out fastest (those bandage dresses are like wearable Spanx!) but both women indulge most personally on Alexander McQueen.
I'll be logging onto the site today for the J Brand jeans sale. You can too. Register for a Gilt membership through Dec. 21 and you'll be entered in a contest to win a swag bag including a $50 gift card to Hotel ZaZa, lip glosses by Smashbox, perfume by BCBG, and $100 gift card to gilt.com.