In case you missed it, in 2008, the Great Recession struck the U.S. Although some brightness came of its black hole: New economies were forged within the internet marketplace. These, though, had problems of their own.
Aspiring to transparency in a design industry so holistically
affected by online retailing, I’m curious how the transactional
buying and selling between design professional and retailer or
dealer was affected by the dotcom disruption. What was it that
became so problematic?
As a maker, and as someone passionate about the sustenance of independent fabricators and designers, these backsto-ries are important to understanding how our industry operates,
so that we can be a viable part of it and learn from its mistakes.
Paradoxically, the 2008 recession made space for loads of industry-external venture capital to be poured into new online marketplaces
that could offer interesting design product (or fashion, or small tech
items) for less: flash sale sites.
It was a moment that authorized a whole business model predi-
cated on this coincidental recession, which had left brands with
excess inventory they couldn’t seem to sell to now-thrifty consumers.
These new online “retailers” would swoop in and place big orders
of product that brands, at this point, were willing to sell at signifi-
cant discounts to a new, heretofore unproven marketplace.
These discount e-commerce sites arose to prominence (or at
least visibility) and were selling the same furnishings and products
found in brick and mortar stores and showroom spaces, but with
discounts that, because the overhead was so much lower than a
physical store, they could afford.
Within the first couple years, the discount sites began oversaturating their marketing and product launches, resulting in diluted
sales per brand – not to mention a compromise of curatorial and
editorial integrity. Eventually, only very small quantities were being
sold of any single product or design. There was simply too much to
At the beginning, these “buyers” wrote purchase orders for the
large quantities of product that recession-hit brands were sitting
on; the designers or brand owners were paid up front, and the
online platforms stocked inventory of the goods and shipped them ➤
The flash sale fail—and how it’s done right.
E-commerce can be a
successful model for
selling. However, the
flash sale model, in
particular, is unsustainable
and often leaves designers
and retailers with more
problems than solutions
when it comes to selling
a stock of goods.
interiors | FIELD NOTES | By Michele Varian as told to Emily R. Pellerin | Images by Lesly Unruh, courtesy of 1stdibs