Success with something that nobody needs

Isabel May is Chief Customer Experience Officer and Managing Director at luxury fashion platform A hugely successful venture––because the site has far more on offer than the latest beautiful clothes.

“We do something completely irrational—we sell luxury,” says Isabel May. The special feature of what they sell? “Nobody needs it, not even our customers.” So the key question is: how to sell something to people that nobody needs? At the SHIFT boutique conference held in Munich by hartmann campus, Managing Director May revealed how it can work.


“Theresa” was founded way back in 1987 as a small-scale luxury boutique; the website followed on in 2006. Today the company has long since become a “fashion authority,” as Isabel May puts it. No longer selling only luxury womenswear, it expanded into children’s fashion eighteen months ago and added menswear at the start of this year. A total of 800 employees at global locations—Munich, London, Barcelona, the US—oversee the running of the business. “Our daily mantra is: what do our customers want? How can we make it easier for them? How can we create an experience that transcends criticism?”

May captures the distinction between and its competitors thus: “We curate. Our customers don’t have the time to spend searching. They need someone to do it for them.” This means, she adds, that “we have a relatively narrow focus in buying, but depth of selection within the brands” and “our price point is what sets us apart because we focus on major global luxury brands,” be they Gucci, Saint Laurent or Valentino.

To be able to supply these special and exclusive products, needs to cultivate good relations with those brands. Some relationships are long-standing and have evolved organically; but the company also adopts more offbeat approaches, producing over 70 brand campaigns a year itself. Like a recent short for Gucci, a music video with Australian electro-pop band “Parcels.” So what does the customer get out of it? “These campaigns are always strongly product-focused. The products they feature are either exclusive to us or can be bought from us first,” says Isabel May.

In addition to its unique selling points of curation and exclusivity, provides “incredible service,” with guaranteed prompt delivery of its iconic yellow packages; after all, explains May, many customers place orders for specific events like weddings, business dinners or parties. Shipping operations are run from Heimstetten near Munich, with a choice of 13 payment methods and a website in eight languages.

The cherry on the cake is provided by what Isabel May calls “money-can’t-buy experiences” such as a sneak peek behind the scenes of the industry, or a personal meeting with a favorite designer like Victoria Beckham. Many customers fly halfway around the world for experiences like these and are grateful and overjoyed at the opportunity. Particularly prosperous customers can also summon a “personal shopping team” and personal consultant, described by Isabel May as a kind of concierge service that even extends to decluttering the customers’ home closets. “We’re always thinking about what we can do better,” says May, “and sometimes it’s the small details that have the biggest impact.”