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Flash sale pioneer Vente-Privee eyes smartphone-driven boom

By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis

PARIS (Reuters) - Vente-Privee, the French firm that pioneered online sales events, expects the bulk of its sales in coming years to be carried out on smartphones and tablet computers, its founder and chief executive said on Tuesday.

Vente-Privee, which sells luxury fashion, wine and music at steep discounts to its 19 million European members in "flash sales" that last three to five days, also expects revenue to continue to grow at a double-digit rate over the next 10 years.

"The smartphone is the future; one day people will no longer be in front of their computers," Jacques-Antoine Granjon told Reuters at the World Retail Congress. "This is the magic wand of the consumer."

Vente-Privee currently generates 40 percent of its estimated 2013 revenue of 1.5 billion euros ($2.04 billion) via mobile devices and expects that to rise to 90 percent "rather quickly", said Granjon, who did not give a specific timeframe.

Launched in 2001, Vente-Privee is now one of Europe's biggest homegrown online retailers, with a presence in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Britain, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Sales were 1.3 billion euros in 2012, a year-on-year rise of 22 percent, with France accounting for 80 percent of the total.

The group, whose model is to negotiate large discounts with brands carrying excess stock, employs 2,000 people. It has been profitable since 2004, with a net sales margin of 5-7 percent.

In recent years, Vente-Privee has branched out from its origins in clothing into wine, travel and music.

Vente-Privee began operating in the United States in 2011 in a joint venture with American Express. It achieved sales of $25 million euros in the U.S. last year, and expects to double that this year, Granjon said.

In Europe, Vente-Privee has seen its model copied by rivals such as Brand Alley.

While Vente-Privee dominates the region, it faces competition in the U.S. from flash-sales companies including market leader Gilt Groupe, Rue La La, HauteLook and Ideelia, as well as from e-commerce giants including Amazon, which has its own flash-sales site - MyHabit.com.

Granjon and the other founders own 80 percent of the group. The U.S. private equity fund Summit Partners took a 20 percent stake in 2007.

($1 = 0.7368 euros)

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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