Luxury Net retailer set to launch Rue Boston

Rue La La staffers photograph each of the items the company sells instead of using images provided by a manufacturer. Rue La La staffers photograph each of the items the company sells instead of using images provided by a manufacturer. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2010)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / November 11, 2010

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Rue La La, the private online sales company headquartered in Boston, is going local.

The company, which sells 500 luxury brands from Dior and Corum Watches, planned to reveal today that it will launch Rue Boston, an extension of its site that will sell goods from area businesses to local Rue La La members.

The two-year-old site acquires slow-selling or overstocked items from high-end retailers, then offers those goods at a discount to its 2.6 million members. People must be invited by a member to shop from the site. Daily e-mail reminders alert members at 11 a.m. about the latest sales, also known in the industry as “flash sales.’’

The sales are considered exclusive, because they can’t be found through traditional Internet search methods such as Google. Items featured on the Rue La La site are hidden behind a password-protected wall. In its Fort Point Channel warehouse in South Boston, Rue staffers photograph each item the company sells instead of using images provided by a manufacturer.

For the city-specific site, local members will receive a daily offer called a “Rue Boston Pick’’ beginning at 8 a.m. and available for 24 hours. That purchase, which will include offerings from local salons, restaurants, bars, and other businesses, can be redeemed for an extended period of time.

Rue La La had been experimenting with local deals during the summer by offering discounts to Exhale Spas, the Alibi Bar and Lounge at The Liberty Hotel, and a James Beard Foundation culinary event.

“We wanted to start in Boston because it really is our hometown,’’ said Mark McWeeny, the president of Rue Local. “We are curating the best restaurants, salons, events from around Boston.’’

Rue La La has been growing steadily. Last year, the company had 185 employees. This year, it has more than 350.

McWeeny also plans to expand the Rue Local extension sites to several major US markets by the end of 2011, but he wouldn’t elaborate for competitive reasons. He declined to comment on revenue figures.

For the launch today, the site will feature The Butcher Shop, chef Barbara Lynch’s restaurant and wine bar in the South End. Rue La La will be taking over the restaurant for a private dinner, with a four-course tasting menu and wine pairing.

“With the launch of Rue Boston, we are excited to explore a unique way of sharing our restaurants with the city of Boston,’’ said Jefferson Macklin, chief operating officer of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, in a statement.

Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst with market research firm NPD Group, said that it makes sense for Rue La La to grow its cyber customer base by going local.

“It’s really about trying to figure out how they can expand outside their sweet spot, but not stray away from their vehicle of delivery,’’ he said. “They can redefine that formula and take it to the next city and the next city.’’

Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester Research, said Rue La La’s strategy is similar to what competitors such as Gilt Groupe and Ideeli are already doing: “selling local deals,’’ she said in an e-mail.

Mulpuru added that it makes Rue La La more competitive with Groupon, a Chicago-based site that also offers daily deals at Boston businesses.

“Everyone needs to think of how to turbocharge their business,’’ she said.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at