May 3, 2018 / 10:53 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 1-Richemont technology chief quits amid online sales push

(Writes through, adds details on departure)

ZURICH, May 3 (Reuters) - Cartier-owner Richemont's technology chief Jean-Jacques Van Oosten is leaving after only four months in the job, during which the Swiss group bid for control of online retailer Yoox Net-A-Porter to boost web sales.

Richemont and luxury goods peers are seeking to ramp up e-commerce operations and attract younger shoppers, as online sales become one of the industry's fastest growth drivers.

Richemont, which also owns watchmaker IWC and fashion label Chloe, hired Van Oosten for the newly-created technology role as part of this drive, alongside a former LVMH human resources director with a tech-savvy profile.

Shortly after Van Oosten started in January, the group announced a 2.8 billion euro ($3.4 billion) bid for full control of Milan-based YNAP, putting the multi-brand retailer at the centre of its e-commerce efforts.

The shifting backdrop at the company following Van Oosten's appointment was linked to his departure, a source close to the company said on Thursday, adding Richemont's focus on boosting its digital presence was unchanged.

Richemont declined to comment further on Van Oosten's exit, saying only the executive, who had previously worked at companies including Tesco and Unilever, was leaving for personal reasons.

Over the last two years, the group has undergone a major management overhaul, replacing almost all of its brand heads, with new CEOs at watch brands Jaeger-LeCoultre and Baume & Mercier announced just last week.

Also last week, Richemont nominated Alain Zimmermann, up to now CEO of its Baume & Mercier watch brand, to head e-commerce operations at the group's watch brands from June 1.

Richemont did not say whether Van Oosten would be replaced. He was also a member of the now seven-strong senior executive committee that leads Richemont, which has abolished the role of group CEO.

"I presume Richemont will leverage Yoox Net-a-Porter's expertise to scale and internationalise its online and multichannel platforms, which was something Van Oosten was originally hired for," Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox said.

Luxury goods manufacturers have only belatedly pursued online growth, with many brands initially wary of an e-commerce world which they believed might make their products seem less exclusive.

But most are now playing catch-up, either building out their own websites where they can tightly control their image, or collaborating with third-parties sites such as Farfetch and MatchesFashion.

France's LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, opted to develop its own multi-brand platform, 24 Sevres, in one of its most eye-catching initiatives since hiring former Apple music executive Ian Rogers in 2015 as digital chief.

YNAP said in April it was launching a dedicated section for the sale of high-end jewellery - one of Richemont's fortes.

One challenge for the two groups as YNAP moves in-house will be to hold onto other clients that collaborate with the platform.

$1 = 0.8353 euros Reporting by Michael Shields and Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich and Sarah White in Paris; Editing by Mark Potter

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