Seams easy, get a turnkey site from the likes of Shopify and turn your spare room into a warehouse, or act as an intermediary for a few labels, or your own. But if it was that easy, we would all become stay at home shopkeepers.
The reality is, while online has grown substantially, there is a lot to consider and it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out.
So what will make customers flock to your site and return time and time again? This is an introductory piece of branding alone is a science that takes time to shape. Therefore, take themes and points to build your strategy.
Here’s the thing, there is a big difference between buying something you need versus something on a whim. Buying a £20 work shirt is very different to a £300 party dress. There are different motivations and expectations for a customer, male and female. There is a reason why we will always have physical retail for fashion. Going in-store lowers the risk of disappointment.
So apart from the convenience of online to avoid crowded shops, price plays a big part online. If you paid £10 pounds for an item, you are happy to take a chance. If it’s not as expected, you’ll chalk it up to experience. An expensive dress or suit, that is going to be a very different consumer journey and decision-making process.
A final point about fashion buying online. There is no physical good in your hand at the time of purchase. You have not formed any real attachment. You have no guarantee that it will look likes its picture and be the right fit.
There is a delayed gratification to the process, so the longer a person waits and the higher the price, the harder it will be to keep them happy. It’s a bit like opening a Christmas present. You asked for something, but because you have waited a few weeks, you get a buzz from the anticipation of opening it.
Remember this when selling clothing on-line, you are selling, in effect a present……
Where to start?
The first thing you have to consider is why? Are you already making clothing and accessories and therefore need an outlet? Or are you looking to set up an online store because you think there is a gap in the market?
While there are differences in approach, which will be covered below, the unifying theme you need to consider first, is your branding and name. Ask yourself:
- What are your core values for your brand, who are you selling to?
- What types of items will you be selling, what are the price points and quality levels?
- Can you call the site after yourself? - Most appropriate for designers, but if you have a unique name it might be a way to personalise your site.
- If you don’t feel your own name is appropriate, think of names that reflect your brand. Are you going for luxury or sportswear? The name has to make sense.
- Finally, make sure the site name is available and try for a ‘.com’ as consumers still think this is the most legitimate site type.
You now have a seed germinating about your site, but depending if you are making your own clothes or curating a site for items you want to stock, there is some difference to be aware of.
An online presence gives you an affordable option to complement your other sales channels, so consider:
- Do you create your own e-Commerce site or do you consider selling through an online marketplace such as Esty, E-Bay etc? Many designers now start off selling through a Facebook page.
- Remember your other channels, if you have sold wholesale to a number of retailers, make sure your e-Comm site is not competing. Not only will you damage your relationship with retailers but you are missing a chance to sell online exclusives, on your own site.
- Content management. If you have a limited amount of stock, remember customers will get bored visiting a site with nothing new. So, do think about staggering the release of new items, or release basics first, then a weekly/fortnightly drop of new items.
Make sure you have spotted a gap in the market first.
Physical retailers emerge because of a local need. A high-street would be over-saturated with 5 butchers. But no bakery, now..... there’s an opportunity! Think about this principle when creating an online shop, don’t just sell what everyone else is selling, you will only just end up competing on price and spending a small fortune on advertising. So:
- Where and who are you getting your stock from?
- Are you aware of minimum order sizes, duties, VAT etc?
- Do you know that certain brands are very selective and will only want to be on a few sites?
- Can you get exclusive pieces or price deals?
- How are you selling, will you be buying wholesale or can your site act as an intermediary marketplace, for example, be a portal for a new designer or a particular country
- Make sure you are able to fulfil orders quickly
- Make sure your inventory controls are strong, nothing more frustrating for a customer, than going to buy, and nothing left in stock
Irrespective of being a maker or a pure retailer, content really is king.
1. Blogging – As you build the story of your brand and online showroom, factor in how you are going to communicate with customers. You are building trust. When in a physical store you can strike up a conversation far easier. So your blog is how you can convey your personality and your passion for what you sell in a virtual world.
- Make sure these are regular, at least monthly
- Discuss why you have chosen the pieces you have – convey your passion
- Feature suppliers stories and why you trust and like them
- Offer advice on styling and how to team items
- Feature customer stories and feedback
- Think about the lifestyle of your customer
- Engage with social media with customers about your blog content, get the conversation flowing
2. Product listings, there are some basic facts that if omitted, can stop a conversion:
- Get decent product shots, the minimum is a front and back view of a model. Consumers need to picture this for themselves so try to get permission from designers to use their images, if you cannot afford to do your own shots
- Video if you can afford it, but there is a trade-off on site speed
- Give a description of the item and use tactile adjectives, e.g. soft, cosy, fitted, bias-cut etc
- State materials used
- Size guide and cover the main classifications, i.e. the UK, US and European
- Give the size of the model if possible
- Be honest, if sizing is on the small side recommend a bigger size, better than getting a costly return
- Country of manufacture – especially for ethical shoppers
- Care instructions
- The weight of garment (this will also help you know your delivery costs)
3. Terms of business – often forgotten but make sure you are clear on your delivery and returns policy. Can your delivery partner offer tracking?
4. About you – make sure you say who you are, registered address, and company number (if applicable) - why should they buy from you?
5. Mailing lists- invite customers and potential customers to join your mailing list. Make sure there is something in it for them, i.e. free gift on first purchase, discounts, invites to special offers etc. Do not bombard them with too many emails.
Always put yourself in your customer shoes. Pop-ups and cumbersome keystrokes to find an item are not great. Especially if you are a new site.
- Minimise the number of clicks to buy
- Do not have too many clashing colours on your site, therefore keep the design clean
- Have clear headers at the top
- Do not have a 'button' to enter the shop. You want to make sure the customer can start a purchase from the landing page
- Classify products correctly
- Use tagging on garments so that items be grouped into themes. We call these 'stories'. Therefore, not only have your standard layout by garment type but create features, e.g. 'The office edit' or 'colours for the season' etc.
Becoming an online retailer is no easy task. There is a huge amount to do in terms of logistics and infrastructure. There will be trial and error with product selection. You will be bombarded with SEO search 'experts' and 'conversation specialists'. But - no amount of marketing spend will make up for poor - branding, product selection, content and customer service. Just as with physical retail, consider the journey for the customer from browsing to delivery.
So, make sure you take your time to research the market and make sure you are filling a gap. Build up social presents before you go-live and build trust with potential customers and share your taste and opinions to attract the customers you are targeting. Customers want an authentic experience online, therefore DO NOT BUY FOLLOWERS.
Talk to your customers and do not be afraid to take criticism. It is how you deal with complaints, that will set you apart.