Almost a year ago, Richemont dipped into its enormous cash pile to buy a big chunk of a company it already partially owned. The company was Yoox Net-A-Porter. So, how did that turn out? Therein lies a story. The purchase of the 50% of YNAP (as the combined company of Net-A-Porter and Yoox is now known) Richemont didn’t own somehow didn’t seem very important to outsiders at the time, except for the enormous $3.3bn price. Richemont’s share price barely moved on the news. But for Richemont, the purchase marked a substantial departure, because until then it was generally accepted wisdom that people won’t and don’t buy $100,000 watches, for example, on the internet. They do so in expensive stores in global capitals with immaculate shop assistants fawning all over them.

The purchase marked other changes too. Richemont until recently was really what is called in the industry a "hard goods" retail company, focusing on consumer durables such as watches and jewellery rather than "soft g...

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