Time to reevaluate

Just when I think I know what consumers want, along comes a retailer who makes me reevaluate.

Case in point: M.Gemi. A relatively new European luxury shoe brand that debuted online in 2015, M.Gemi is the brainchild of Ben Fischman and Ted McNamara, the serial entrepreneurs originally behind members-only shopping site Rue La La. M.Gemi sells handcrafted Italian-made men's and women's footwear direct to the consumer; the website features stories for each collection that include where the products are made, the work of the artisans involved and more. Most prices are in the $200 to $400 range.

What sets M.Gemi apart? The brand introduces several new designs every Monday and promises to deliver them to shoppers within three days of ordering. Keep in mind that the shoes are made in Italy: The founders have figured out how to flatten the supply chain, putting a new spin on managing inventory and logistics.

I recently spoke with M.Gemi CTO Russell Schwager about how technology is shaping the brand experience — online and in the company’s new physical space, a pop-up shop in Manhattan. The intent, he says, was to give shoppers the opportunity to engage with the brand in person, “to try the shoes on and feel the leather, which isn’t possible digitally.” It also helps shoppers understand European sizes, which reduces return rates. The store holds minimal inventory; most purchases are shipped directly to shoppers’ homes, as if the purchase was made online.

“We want shoppers to feel a personal connection, to have that face-to-face conversation,” Schwager says. “Not everyone will be ready to buy on the spot, but the experience puts shoppers on the road to knowing us better and vice versa.”


When a shopper visits the pop-up, an associate captures their measurements and preferences, then creates a client profile on the brand’s website. If shoppers do not want to make a purchase on the spot, associates can add items to the customer’s online shopping cart for later consideration, Schwager says. “When she goes home and logs on, the shoes she wanted to buy will be sitting in her cart.”

M.Gemi deploys a host of third-party solutions, including Salesforce Commerce Cloud, “in ways that are understated, to get to know our shoppers better with each purchase and to try to personalize our outreach in a way that makes them feel valued,” he says. In-store shoppers are offered a glass of Prosecco — Sunday visitors might get an Italian language lesson.

If someone had told me that shoppers would be comfortable buying shoes in a store, then waiting two days for them to be delivered, I would have scoffed. It doesn’t mesh with today’s Instagram immediacy. And if I heard that new designs of “post-luxury” handcrafted shoes would be introduced weekly, I’d have sneered. That’s the portent of fast fashion, not luxury — but M.Gemi has managed to do both so well that the retailer is already pursuing a permanent location in New York.

This article was published in the December 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.