When buying clothes, many consumers still prefer to head to a bricks-and-mortar store, browse the racks, and try things on. There’s something about clothing, after all, that’s inherently tactile and personal.
Gradually, however, the way people buy clothes has been changing. Digital technologies are reshaping the world of online fashion sales, and everything from how clothes are sized and designed to how inventory is managed is being altered by these new technologies and techniques.
One of the keys to successful e-commerce clothing sales is personalization. Because clothes are uniquely intimate, consumers increasingly have been demanding better ways to make sure they will like and be able to wear the clothes they buy online.
“As the market continues to grow, and direct-to-consumer brands in the space are escalating, brands need to focus in on personalization, using advanced technologies to make recommendations and ensure a memorable level of customer service,” observed Ian Rhodes, founder of Ecommerce Growth Co.
“Returns are killing fashion brands, so the more we consider how to ensure sizing is clear, and product look and feel is woven into product descriptions, the better off customers and fashion brands will be,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
A large part of the personalization of online fashion sales is rooted in new and improved analytics.
“In creating proper analytic reports, retailers can start smartly upselling and cross-selling to raise the average order value (AOV), for instance,” said Mousumi Behari, director of strategy practice at Avionos.
“Additionally, retailers should think about the post-buying experience. Are returns handled simply and without issues? Can a customer reach a customer service rep easily if they have a question about product specifications? Retailers need to be thinking two steps ahead to enable the seamless buying experience its customers demand, and make the buyer feel as though their purchasing journey matters,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
Having a strong product information management (PIM) strategy also can be vital to making sure that customers get the clothes they want when they want them.
“Brands and retailers selling clothing in particular can greatly benefit from a strong PIM strategy, given that they’re likely present across multiple platforms like desktop, mobile apps and even voice devices,” noted Dietmar Rietsch, CEO of Pimcore.
“Customers are particular about their clothing and how it fits, and make their purchasing decisions based on tailored recommendations, which should be populated from past purchases,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Having a strong PIM strategy means more accurate recommendations and consistently updated product details, which builds trust and loyalty among consumers who know they’ll always be met with the right content and recommendations that are in line with their actual wants and desires,” Rietsch added.
Perhaps more than the sales of any other product, clothing sales benefit from the ability of the customer to see, touch and hold. A number of clothing brands therefore are searching for ways to blend online and offline experiences for their customers.
“The online clothing purchasing experience will continue to become more personalized as retailers and brands tap deeper into their customers’ needs through analytics,” said Avionos’ Behari.
“One thing I think we’ll see is an increased blending of the online and offline experiences. Clothing retailers will need to make the in-store experience unique and engaging by recognizing that there is still a value in having customers come in to the store,” she said.
Online clothes shopping can be complemented — and ultimately completed — with a visit to an actual store.
“Canada Goose is now offering rooms in their stores that are 25 degrees Celsius, so a customer can try on the coat and see if it will keep them warm,” said Behari. “It’s this kind of unique experience that will inspire a customer to travel to the store and make the purchase, knowing that the product works and that the brand stands by it.”
Finding the Perfect Fit
One of the difficulties of buying clothes online is the worry that the clothes won’t fit. Some e-commerce retailers have been developing innovative ways to ensure that customers will be happy with the clothes they purchase online.
One approach is to offer clothes in a range of unique and customizable sizes.
“At Measure & Made, we want to empower women by embracing what makes them unique and different,” said Beatrice Purdy, president of Measure & Made.
“Our pants and jeans are powered by Fitlogic, whose research shows that 94.8 percent of women fall into one of three shapes: straight, hourglass and extremely curvy,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “With this patented technology we can provide a personalized fit that provides both comfort and confidence.”
Providing personalized customizable sizing gives consumers confidence in the clothes they’re purchasing online.
“Women’s sizing has not evolved since 1958 when the National Bureau of Standards published a flawed study that has led to years of vanity sizing built around the ‘ideal’ hourglass shape,” noted Purdy.
“No two women have the same body, and as a result shouldn’t feel bad because they don’t fit into an archaic archetype,” she emphasized.
“Fitlogic was scientifically developed and tested over a 15-year period with the entire goal of improving the shopping experience for all women,” Purdy continued. “By focusing on shape and not just size, the patented technology and it’s unique two-number decimal system gives women the ability to experience what superior fit feels like by answering just a few simple questions.”
Carrying a large inventory can be key to the success of this business model, ensuring that particular sizes and combinations will be available when they’re needed and ordered.
“Our brand is unique because we carry triple the amount of inventory compared to other retailers to maintain stock in all sizes and shapes,” said Purdy.
“As a result, we want to roll out new products thoughtfully. Bottoms are our differentiator, and we’ve already expanded our denim and career pant options, but we hope to add dresses to our future assortments,” she said. “We are also conscious of inseam options and continue to add tall and short lengths. As an example, our straight jean has more than 100 size and shape combinations. There aren’t too many other brands that can say that.”
Dressing for the Future
Automation and artificial intelligence are two more factors to consider in apparel sales.
“The future of online clothing will certainly involve automation and AI,” said David Marimon, CEO of Catchoom.
“Brands, retailers and marketplaces will use technologies to display personalized and relevant merchandising to eShop visitors in real time,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “They will be able to fine-tune more and more the experience for every single one of them, taking into account different aspects, such as personal tastes, context, behavior patterns and much more.”
As with all other e-commerce sales, online clothing sales in the future ultimately will depend on businesses offering unique experiences to their customers.
“Moving forward, the retail experience will be all about ease and meeting the customer where they are, when they want it — whether that be online, in store, and everywhere in between,” said Behari.
“We’ll also see more competition from marketplaces like Amazon, which are partnering with other retailers who sell unique products to drive more digital traffic to their platforms. This further elevates the need for unique experiences that differentiate the experience shoppers can get with other retailers.”