Around 4 p.m. on a recent Thursday, all but 14 of the employees of the members-only luxury e-commerce site Lot18 got an email asking them to report to the new conference room for an urgent meeting. The remaining employees, including the vice president of operations and director of operations, received an almost-identical note but were asked to report to the “alt” conference room instead. They were told they were being let go, asked to leave the building immediately and instructed to return on Saturday to clean out their desks.
The survivors were shocked. Lot18, which started with private sales for wine before moving into full-price wine and epicurean deals, has raised a total of $44.5 million from investors—its latest round spearheaded in November by the highly regarded Accel Partners. Lot18 also moved into a new office over the summer that features a tasting room, mounted LCD screens that pop up a buyer’s location on a map every time Lot18 sells a bottle, a permanent DJ booth and a fireplace. In its one-year existence, Lot18 launched several new verticals, bought Paris-based e-commerce site Vinobest, and announced a foray into Europe.
To industry insiders, the scenario sounded familiar. Mass flash sales—deep discounts that expire usually after one to three days—had been touted as the first real innovation in e-commerce in years, and start-ups that applied the flash-sales phenomenon to the luxury market had investors salivating. But the former venture capital darlings suddenly seemed to be hemorrhaging employees. Earlier this month, another site, Boston-based Rue La La, slashed 60 of its 550 employees after months of growth.
Suddenly, the question is being asked: Could flash sales for the well-to-do wind up being more of a marketing gimmick than a business model? Read More