Three key trends are combining to provide a strong business case for fashion retailers and brands to launch online and develop their eCommerce platforms
Rapid growth of internet fashion retail sales, an increasing confidence among brands to go direct to consumer rather than wholesale, and online marketplaces’ burgeoning popularity with shoppers all strongly justify the decision to invest in eCommerce today.
Not only is the overall digital commerce market expanding at a considerable rate, with UK online retail expected to rise by 35%
in value between 2017 and 2022 to £68.8 billion, but clothing and footwear are set to be the biggest contributors to the growth.
The statistics, provided by business intelligence and analytics group GlobalData, indicate that 78% of the UK population made an online purchase in the 12 months to September 2017, with the prime drivers reported as convenience and lower prices.
And according to e-tail trade association IMRG
, the online clothing sector grew by 11.5% year on year in the January-to-September 2017 period, with the sub categories of lingerie (+21.1%) and footwear (+18.4%) performing particularly impressively. Going direct
FMCG businesses and technology companies are realising that an online presence can be enough to build a direct relationship with consumers – and therefore they are starting to cut out retailers in the selling process.
Where organisations such as Unilever and Apple continue to gain traction in this area, fashion retail brands can follow – or in some cases lead the drive. It’s all a balancing act though, with the combination of selling directly and via partners a recommended option.Marketplace movement
The likes of Amazon and eBay, with their global audience and an ever-increasing number of shoppers, provide an attractive option to retailers and brands looking for a speedy entrance and quick exposure into foreign territories.
The old days of consumers needing to touch, feel and try on garments before making a purchase are no more. Consumers the world over are shopping for fashion items online in greater numbers every year – and it is helping to bridge the gap between big retailers and fledgling brands.
But success will lie in finding the most suitable eCommerce platform partner to launch a web business. So what exactly should brands be looking for?
1 - Think functionality
Fashion is a seasonal business where SKUs have short lifecycles. It means the pricing, stock information, and promotional capability of brands’ websites need built-in flexibility, and they must be linked with wider business systems to ensure single view of inventory.
Modern retail is hugely competitive, and as shoppers head online to make purchases due to convenience and speed, any slowdown in the user experience or disparity between the information displayed and product availability is a fast track route to losing them.
Rob Silsbury, Dune Group’s eCommerce and marketing director, says: “First and foremost, make sure you’ve got a great product.
“It’s much better to improve your product than throw money away promoting something that you know in your heart of hearts is not good enough. If you’re sure you have done the best job you can with your product, spend your time on making sure you focus on the key stages of the funnel: traffic, conversion, average order value, margin and returns.”
Online is increasingly used as a purchasing channel, but it is more often than not used in the research process, even if a consumer chooses to buy through a store. Research from Forrester
predicts that 53% of European retail purchases will be affected by a digital channel by 2020, with sales that started online but were completed in-store set to be worth £498 billion in total.
With that in mind, fashion brands’ websites need to be:
The modern fashion shopper wants options when it comes to fulfilment and delivery. Can they pick it up in store or via an alternative convenient location, are there easy options to return their product if they change their mind, and does the price online match that which is displayed in store?
- Information rich
Up to date and extensive product information is needed to help shoppers through their purchase journey. Make it clear, make it educational, and help shoppers understand exactly what they are going to buy by detailing colour, sizing, and materials.
Shoppers are information hungry and they’ll be quick to compare competitor websites.
- Visually compelling
The aim of fashion retailers is to inspire and excite; it is an emotional purchase, and their websites must be visually compelling to support these goals with imagery that illustrates the soul of the brand. People shop for fashion for the experience of it all as much as the function, so retailers need to play their part in the story as best they can.
Sofie Willmott, senior retail analyst at GlobalData, says: “Clothing and footwear is a big player online – it’s of huge value to the overall eCommerce market. The best retailers have really developed their online offer, adding style imagery, reviews, videos and editorial content – they’ve also really worked on delivery and returns options, making it really easy for people to buy and break down the barriers to purchase.”
Retailers should look for a platform that is flexible enough to handle the seasonality of catalogue management, so that products and images can be added quickly, pricing can be adapted in line with stock levels and promotions easily managed – all crucial requirements for successful fashion brands and retailers.
2 - Think cloud
Cloud-based eCommerce platforms tend to be more agile than on-premise equivalents, and more affordable when taking into account total cost of ownership (TCO).
TCO over the eCommerce project lifecycle includes platform set-up fees, operational expenditure, capital expenditure, server infrastructure, upgrades and integrations – all of these investment points must be considered when it comes to making the choice between cloud or on-premise.
Cloud-based platforms are resource light, and will not require expensive systems integration investment or additional hardware costs. Analyst group Forrester says that software as a service will account for 66% of all software spending by 2019, as companies continue to realise the benefits of cloud technology.
Fellow analyst Gartner included Kooomo alongside other vendors in its Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce 2017
It said: "Kooomo offers considerable savings over equivalent feature-rich products from other vendors. All of its reference customers were very satisfied with the platform's overall value proposition.”
Jonathan Wall, chief digital officer at fashion retailer Missguided, says: “Cloud allows retailers to scale faster.
“We have so many spikes in retail now, and cloud gives businesses resilience during these times. I can’t think of a reason why retailers wouldn’t go for cloud now due to the cost-effectiveness and the resilience of the technology.”Simplified integration
The beauty of cloud-based eCommerce is its flexibility, and the ease in which other systems can be integrated.
The best eCommerce platforms incorporate distributed order management (DOM), allowing brands to take control of all their sales channels and choose the most cost effective fulfilment method. Retailers heading online for the first time should consider this level of sophisticated fulfilment if they want to maintain their margins.
Consider stores as warehouses too. Sometimes it makes sense to ship stock straight from a store, especially if consumers want it delivered quickly or to specific pick-up points. Gartner has acknowledged
that as retail continues its journey towards an omnichannel model, in order to accommodate consumers’ needs and expectations, companies operating in the sector will increasingly turn to DOM.
Offering advice to start-up online companies, Dune Group’s Silsbury says: “Focus on making sure your brand comes across emotively as well as offering a great mechanical customer experience.
“Remember that the real experience only starts for the customer when you despatch the product from your warehouse. Constantly ask yourself ‘what can I improve to attract my customer back one more time’.”
3 - Think global
Although conquering your local market might seem a challenge in itself, the beauty of online retailing is that it opens brands up to an international audience – given the correct approach.
When going global, retailers and brands need to localise their marketing and understand what attracts customers in different territories. Methods that work in the UK might not always work abroad – it’s not simply a case of putting up a website and waiting for customers to buy.
Local influencers – usually those with a strong social media following – can provide fashion brands with assistance when entering new countries, so companies should consider identifying those with the greatest voice in their sector.
Delivery processes and payment methods will be different by country too. For instance, German consumers often pay for goods on delivery, and invoicing is a popular way to pay. Research from Planet Retail
found that of the German consumers who buy online, 66% said they’ve used bank transfer to pay for their purchase, while debit cards are much less frequently used than in the UK.
A web presence needs to offer multiple currencies, payment options and languages if it is to appeal to local markets. Online retail is big business, with eMarketer expecting global eCommerce to be worth $4.1 trillion by 2020, accounting for 14.6% of total retail sales.
Online marketplaces continue to grow in popularity too, with Amazon and eBay leading the way in the Western hemisphere. Global cross-border eCommerce is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020, according to a study from Accenture and Alibaba Group's research arm, AliResearch.
Although fashion brands want to maintain their individuality online and to create their own proposition, selling on third-party platforms presents huge brand exposure opportunities. In New Zealand, for example, Trade Me has more users than Facebook, and in China, over 90% of online sales are conducted on marketplaces.
Going global clearly requires an eCommerce platform that meets these demands with a straightforward solution to localise brands’ content, and offer access to international marketplaces.
For fashion brands this could be critical. If stock still needs to be cleared at the end of a season, a click of a button can have it exposed to a worldwide audience.
4 - Think of the future
Fashion retail by its very nature is innovative and reinventive. Every season companies operating in this world need to create something fresh, to tell new stories and to market themselves accordingly.
It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that it tends to lead the wider retail sector in terms of technological advancement. Be it visual search, clothing fitting technology or augmented reality, the sector has stolen a march on the wider retail ecosystem in terms of online innovation.
Voice search technology is growing in a major way too – ComScore says 50% of all online searches will be voice-activated by 2020. Times are changing quickly and retailers and brands need to work with eCommerce partners ready to embrace that change and provide flexible platforms on which the future can be built.
When entering the online world, an open platform approach to development would be well advised. Running on a cloud-based eCommerce platform helps brands in this regard, but fashion companies need to choose tech suppliers tailored to their needs.Innovation, innovation, innovation
Retailers can never be sure what the next big consumer tech trend is going to be so it pays to be flexible by choosing an open eCommerce platform that’s cloud-based and easy to integrate with.
Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at e-tail trade association IMRG, recognises the importance of innovation, but warns brands to remain focused on the retail fundamentals when introducing new capability.
“The main thing to remember to focus on doing ‘good’ retail, irrespective of channel or technology – providing experiences that work for customers, maintaining consistency with the business’ proposition, listening to what customers want and avoiding doing tech for tech’s sake.”
There is a lot to think about for fashion brands embarking on their online journeys, but with the right eCommerce platform partner, their lives can be made simpler and their success can be amplified.
Four key takeaways for brands as they look to enter today’s fast-moving eCommerce landscape are:
- Agility: consider that your needs today may not be the same as tomorrow, and choose a cloud-based platform that can grow with you.
- TCO: the cost to develop an eCommerce proposition doesn’t end the moment a website goes live, so work with a partner that wants to share in your success.
- Integration: an eCommerce platform can’t do everything that consumers want from your brand, so consider a partner that embraces the wider ecosystem.
- Connection: it’s an omnichannel retail world with so many routes to market, so choose an eCommerce partner that allows you to manage multiple sales channels from one single point.
Dune’s Rob Silsbury comments: “Your brand is channel agnostic and must be consistent wherever your customer chooses to engage with it.
“Obviously there are specific nuances that you must get right from a digital point of view, but in the main, building your brand online should focus on all the same things that you would focus on offline too. Be customer centric in all that you do and you won’t go far wrong.”
Ciarán Bollard, managing director at Kooomo, says his company has a vested interest in the success of its partner brands because it operates on a shared success model. If Kooomo’s partners succeed then it succeeds, he argues.
“I don’t believe that we should be charging a huge amount of cash for any brand to get access to the platform or to get access to digital commerce to showcase their products and to turbo-boost their sales,” he notes.
“I don’t believe in that model and I think that model ultimately will end up being phased out. It should be about embracing brands, bringing them on our platform and having a shared success. It is a model that shares that success on the brand side and on the platform side.”