Despite continuing global economy uncertainty, e-commerce continues outperforming other major economy sectors across the globe.
U.S. e-commerce sales are expected to rise from 2011’s total of $194.3 billion to $361.9 billion by 2015 (source: eMarketer, March 2012). U.S. apparel and accessory sales are expected to more than double over the same period.
Among Canadian retailers, e-commerce sales are expected continue adding year-over-year increases above 12.6% through 2015 (source: eMarketer, Feb. 2011).
Clearly, the online channel remains the key to growth and profitability. Despite which, the full potential of the online channel remains sorely underutilized.
Below I’ve identified what I consider the top 5 strategic principles where online fashion retailers must deliver across all facets of their e-commerce enterprise — online store, email, social media and beyond.
1. Make Every Customer Visit Count
The U.S fashion retailer's online conversion rate hovers around 3% and 1% for its Canadian counterparts. Meaning, the vast majority of customer visits will not result in a purchase.
If you regard your online presence as nothing more than a click-and-buy cash register, most of your visitors will be a waste of your bandwidth.
Leveraging the “just looking” visits can advance your long-game with every customer.
Is a customer researching a purchase? Looking for style tips or your customer service 1-800 number? The better you understand the reasons behind customer visits, the better you can serve customer needs. A quick “What is the purpose of your visit?” survey is a simple and direct way to acquire necessary insights.
One other thing to keep in mind — for the first-time visitor, your website is the face of your brand. Make sure your website is an effective brand ambassador.
At Zappos.com, their highly visible logo integrates their brand promise: “Powered By Service.” That’s a message even the most casual visitor won’t miss.
2. Present A Seamless Brand Experience
In a world of increasing commodification, your brand is your key differentiator.
Winning brands deliver a clear, consistent brand experience — omni-channel and end-to-end.
And the digital experience offers unprecedented opportunities to invite customers into the world of your brand.
In keeping with its young, wired audience, H&M clearly communicates the sense of being at the center of a thriving fashion eco-sphere — a rich fashion stew of trend reports, how-to-wear-it advice and even DIY sewing projects, much of it the work of avid young fashion bloggers.
Coach is extending the reach of their brand beyond their global retail presence with some very smart use of social media. Coach Magazine features customer-generated content. Using a simple Facebook app, Coach’s fans can upload and caption their own photos. Beyond helping build the customer love affair with the brand, this outreach gives Coach valuable insight into the real-world situations where their products live.
3. Cultivate A Strong Fashion Point-of-View
Your take on fashion is a key proposition that can drive margins and persuade customers that full price is worth every penny.
Net-a-porter is a brand with a clear point-of-view, turning product assortments into editorial statements. The net-a-porter viewpoint is expressed through trend-driven product pages that cut across multiple brands to carve out a unifying theme. Its Trend Edits for Spring/Summer 2012 offer 25 unique stories — from Flower Show to Uptown Gypsy. A recent selection of animal prints was headlined with “Zebra vs Leopard” and enticed shoppers with the provocative question, “What wild side will you walk on?”
If you’re selling fashion, you’re selling dreams. Embracing a distinct point-of-view is how you deliver on the fashion’s promise.
4. Win At Your Core Products
Any merchant who knows the phrase “cost recovery” knows that a few big winners pay for many, many losers. Pay attention to your winners. Those dependable core products support the seasonal and trend-driven offerings that keep your assortment fresh.
Lands’ End does an excellent job of keeping its “hero products” front-and-center. A hardy perennial like the Men’s Original Oxford Dress Shirt — well-made and affordably priced — gets freshened with seasonal colors and serves as an order-starter that helps drive seasonal accessories and fashionable add-ons.
Helping customers find that reliable core product is key to building larger (and more profitable) orders and needs to be supported with enterprise-wide resources — from the placement of key products on your website to the inventory strategies for supporting demand.
5. Mind The Store
Smart retailers are “channel agnostic,” letting customers to choose for themselves which channel they prefer for purchases and returns.
But evenhanded treatment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play to the strengths of each channel. Unless you are a pure play, the store is where most customers interact with your brand.
At present, the online attention paid to the in-store experience is limited to some combination of store locator, store inventory look-up, ship-to-store and store pick-up.
But emerging technologies will transform online content into a vital resource supporting the experience of shoppers on the selling floor.
Merchandise equipped with new labelling technologies such as Quick Response Codes (QR codes) or Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID) will connect shoppers via mobile device with product-specific data on your website — everything from on-figure photography to detailed product descriptions to ratings from other shoppers.
In effect, every product soon will travel with a virtual sales associate to highlight its selling points. But successful execution entirely depends on the quality of the online experience your customers will link to.
Your Website isn’t a cash register.
Effective omni-channel strategy recognizes that every channel must play in harmony like musicians in an orchestra. That orchestra is your brand. To hit all the high notes, smart retailers recognize that the potential of their online presence goes far beyond keeping the shopping carts filled. Leveraging the untapped potential of your website keeps your enterprise moving forward on every front, from the brand-space to the selling floor.
Are there aspects of your own business getting an unexpected boost from your online presence? When you look around the competitive landscape, who do you see doing smart things? Let’s hear about your own experiences.