Quoi? France's Big Flash Sales Site Vente-Privee Signs Joint Venture With American Express to Enter U.S.

Vente-privee.com, a French-owned flash sales site with about 13 million members and more than $1 billion in European sales, is forming a joint venture with American Express to enter the U.S.

This will be the first time vente-privee, which translates to “private sale,” will enter a non-European market. The site is expected to launch late this year, and like its counterpart in France, will offer designer apparel at low prices for limited amounts of time to people who sign up for a membership.

Vente’s move to the U.S. was expected. The joint venture with American Express was not. One might even go as far as to call the match-up perplexing. (Maybe we should warn vente-privee now that American Express is a credit card-issuer and not some sort of patriotic speedy deliver service, like FedEx or UPS!)

As part of the agreement, the two will be equal partners. However, terms of the deal were not disclosed, such as the size of investment or the kinds of resources the companies would be required to contribute.

To be sure, vente was wise to enter into a partnership for its North American debut. It’s the American Express part that’s easy to get hung up on.

Despite vente-privee being more than a decade-old and well established in Europe, it will be walking down an already crowded catwalk. Many start-ups here have done a good job imitating vente’s model and making it its own. Perhaps its closest competitor is Gilt Groupe of New York, which just raised $138 million. Also a contender is ideeli, which just lined its pockets with $40 million in cash. Others with offerings include Amazon and Nordstrom.

Earlier this week, Gilt’s CEO Kevin Ryan downplayed the significance of vente’s impending entrance in an interview with me (like a model would diss another model’s photo shoot).

“There’s only one player in the world to watch,” he said. “But if you weren’t covering this business, you would have asked ‘Who? I never even heard of them.’ That’s the reality, and for them to enter, they’ll have to set up warehouses and sign up members. Basically, you are a start-up…I don’t worry about international players, even ones that are bigger than we are.”

American Express presumably won’t be able to help vente with warehouse space, but the two claim to have a few synergies. In a press release, American Express Enterprise Growth President Dan Schulman said that both brands have a heritage in the luxury market and place a high premium on delivering quality customer service.

Schulman has been busy heading up American Express’s two-month-old digital payments platform, as of recently. He characterized the joint venture as helping the company reach a new audience. Earlier this week, American Express started working with SCVNGR’s LevelUp app to help redeem coupons at a few Levi’s stores.

Founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon didn’t reveal anything more in his statement, either: “The brands where we have strong relationships are excited about extending their offerings into the U.S. market through this joint venture. There is no question that American Express was our partner of choice. As leaders in B2B and B2C market approaches, we will now combine our skill sets to deliver experiences that are unmatched in the U.S. market.”

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