Hybrid multi-channel retailing has made an interesting step forward as Farfetch, the multi-brand British fashion website, has acquired Browns, a famous London boutique where important shoe brands have a presence, as part of its omni-channel growth strategy. The financial details were not disclosed. Farfetch plans to operate the store to develop and test new digital concepts in retail technology, including ways to manage inventory and evaluate shoppers, in view of rolling them out across its full network. Farfetch sells products from 300 independent boutiques across 30 countries on its marketplace.

The business will be run separately from Farfetch. Holli Rogers, former fashion director of Net-A-Porter, will join as chief executive of Browns. The arrival of Farfetch, however, will not be the end of the founding family's involvement. Joan Burstein, the boutique's founder, will be appointed honorary chairman and her children, Simon and Caroline Burstein, will retain a seat on the board of directors. Two other operations belonging to the same family, Vera Wang and Browns Bride, will continue to run separately under the stewardship of Caroline Burstein.

Joan Burstein, known as “Mrs B,” founded the Browns boutique with her husband Sidney in 1970. The boutique has often championed young design talent including John Galliano and Comme des Garçons. Browns launched its own e-commerce in the late 2000s. In 2012 Browns partnered with Farfetch, which opened up new markets for the boutique, including China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and Korea. Today the online business reportedly accounts for 25 percent of Browns' total revenues. The banner is reportedly considering the launch of an exclusive online store for men's products.

This is the first time that Farfetch will own a physical store. The company has recently set up a new division called “Store of the Future” to drive its omni-channel strategy, as it plans to acquire other physical boutiques, or launch more stores under the Browns brand. The division is managed by Sandrine Devaux, previously multichannel director of Harvey Nichols.