While brick and mortar retail is hanging on, online retailers are steadily gaining ground. A variety of businesses are feeling the impact, but few more than the fashion industry.

Digital transformation, changes in consumer spending and demands, and unique-to-fashion struggles have all had an impact on fashion’s retail sales. 

While this is a significant problem for fashion brands, it’s also an opportunity for clothing retailers to shift their approach and take advantage of rising eCommerce sales, which are predicted to grow to 36% of total retail sales by 2022, according to a Forrester report.

Digital Transformation

Fashion websites are in a league of their own. Far from just being an online store, a fashion site has to be stylish and visually appealing in ways that a standard goods and services company may not. 

Clothing brands have customers that don’t just want a simple product or service, but want attire that is unique; that enhances their personal appearance; that elicits compliments and admiration from friends and strangers alike.

Consequently, websites need to have clear photos, deeply informative descriptions (including fabrics, care, and fit), and even interactive experiences when possible. Attractive photos alone won’t cut it; clothing needs to be displayed at all angles, include detailed and close-up shots, the ability for customers to zoom in and out, and ideally display the clothing on a variety of body types and skin tones.

Unfortunately, many fashion brands have not undergone a comprehensive digital transformation. Used to relying on in-store shoppers who can try on and feel the clothing, many clothing retailers have yet to develop similarly interactive online experiences. Some brands have implemented 360-degree views of clothing; videos that show how the clothing moves; and other engaging technology, but there is still vast room for improvement.

Perhaps most significantly of all, eCommerce demands that fashion websites are mobile friendly. In 2018, mobile commerce accounted for over 65% of online fashion traffic, and also earned 57% of total online sales, according to Forrester reports

Mobile Shopping by the Numbers graphic

Sizing Struggles

On the upside, eCommerce allows shoppers to browse and buy from their couch. They no longer have to locate a clothing store nearby, which is a wonderful advantage for small business fashion labels, who may only have one brick and mortar store, but who could generate massive online sales. 

Yet it also creates significant struggles in regards to fit and sizing.

In fact, online fashion retailers often see return rates of 20% to 40%, with customers citing the wrong fit as their number one reason. 

While free shipping and returns may incentivize customers to click the “Buy Now” button, unfortunately, they can also be huge areas of loss for apparel companies. 

Fashion retailers can remedy this by providing comprehensive customer reviews where customers upload photos of themselves wearing the clothing. Robust fit guides (not just height and weight, but body type) are also key, as is innovative visualization technology, such as virtual fitting rooms. These tools can reduce returns by up to 50%, according to Maven eCommerce.

Furthermore, personalization can assist with this. Developing product recommendations based upon behavioral aspects can ensure that customers find items that fit them properly. If customers create a profile with sizing details, you can suggest to them products purchased (and not returned) by customers with similar profiles.

Fashion Moves Fast

Additionally, the fashion industry must inspire in-the-moment purchases. Unlike many industries which sell evergreen products (e.g. you will always need a dishwasher, and the design isn’t likely to change too significantly), fashion comes and goes with rapid speed.

Seasonal clothing, trendy looks, event-specific outfits (i.e. New Year’s Eve), and other time-sensitive styles mean that fashion retailers must move product far faster than other businesses. 

Fortunately, a smart eCommerce strategy has numerous tools in its arsenal to inspire unplanned and urgent purchases. 

Lookbooks and shop-by-look visuals can help customers shop seasonal fashion; loyalty programs inspire repeat purchases; shopper analytics and segmentation allow apparel companies to follow up with consumers about the outfit they left in their shopping cart, or email the customer who’s always browsing dresses about a major dress event. 

Sustainable Style

Consumers are also shifting their spending and behaviors in response to their increased awareness of how their purchases impact the environment.

One in three shoppers has already started value-based shopping, a trend which will only grow. Fashion brands need to consider how to embrace and capitalize on this trend, creating sustainable practices that are good for the planet and for business. 

Some eCommerce apparel companies are already catching on. Utilizing long-lasting, natural fabrics and marketing your clothing accordingly can build a loyal customer base in an era when fashion brand loyalty is a dying concept. Offering loyalty programs that are built around sustainability (i.e. ship us your old clothes, we’ll recycle them into new ones, and you’ll get an exclusive discount on your next purchase) is another strategy.

In Summary

The fashion world is rapidly shifting, and eCommerce is driving the biggest changes - and opportunities - of all. Don’t let your brand fall behind. Contact the team at Object Edge to develop and strengthen your eCommerce strategy.

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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