E-commerce – short for ‘electronic commerce’ – refers to the selling, exchange, distribution and marketing of products and services between a person or organisation and their stakeholders.
Especially, within the fashion industry, e-commerce must be a priority for every brand wishing to remain relevant: according to a recent report, global revenue of the clothes and accessories market is expected to be more than $255 billion USD in 2017. Even more importantly, predictions dictate an annual growth of the market by 12.2%, reaching approximately $355 billion USD in 2020.
Although these numbers indeed seem appealing, the experiential nature of fashion items makes it harder to sell products like this online. Most people simply prefer to feel and see how an item looks on them before they actually continue with the purchase. Also, companies must deal with the high-costs generated by people who want to overcome the “try-before-buy” barrier. Simply a lot of items that are sold online will be returned to the seller. Some companies even report a return rate of up to 50% of their online sales. Which is not helpful considering the following: when a $40 item gets returned, it costs the seller around $15 in shipping and handling.
Many profitable e-retailers highlight their focus on customer experience as the reason behind their success. This article highlights that when a website is designed in a customer-centric way, it can lead to organisational changes that will not only increase customer satisfaction but will also ensure a sustainable digital model for the company.
However, a customer-focused design calls for information to be collected regarding the users. Unfortunately, many customers are bit reluctant to fill in their personal data online. Clearly, e-commerce websites need to create a sense of credibility and trust for to build a relationship with their visitors. Especially, i they want to turn them into buyers first and into loyal customers afterwards.
As mentioned above, e-commerce is a tactic that has the potential to leverage growth for fashion and apparel companies. Of course, only if strategically designed and in the right way implemented. In the following section of this article, a presentation will be given of the (technological) trends tomorrow’s e-commerce pioneers should keep an eye on. Reading the list below helps you to keep ahead of the ever-changing consumer behavior in the digital marketplace.
- Virtual Fitting Tools
To decrease the number of returns, which can really affect an online retailer’s profit margin as demonstrated earlier, one can incorporate in their website a virtual sizing tool to help customers in their choice of the right size and model. Either by allowing customers to compare the product they are interested in online to the fit of a previous purchase through your website or to the measurements of their favourite item (e.g. Virtusize), or by recommending specific items to visitors based on their fit preferences (e.g. Fits.me). So, also depending on your products, there are many options out there for you to consider – while definitely a lot more will be developed that will ensure an even higher ROI.
Cutting edge technology, such as augmented reality applications, also is used in specific segments of the market such as accessories, to allow customers to envision how they will look wearing a specific item (e.g. Glasses.com).
On a similar note, to bridge the inconsistencies between a customer’s ideas and reality as regards their style and fit preferences, an increasing number of websites is incorporating short surveys or quizzes that aim to clarify what a customer believes their style is and how they actually prefer to dress. In that way, their buying decisions through the website are closer to their style, leading to fewer items being returned.
A personalized experience on a website -apart from the obvious rapport-building effect with the user- can also allow more efficient customer segmentation for the company. Specifically, by identifying which customers are “serial returners”, the company can avoid offering them the option of free shipping, while discounts and special offers can be used to “reward” the customers that do not usually return products.
By making the buying process more fun and interactive, it is possible that visitors will engage more with the website’s content and will eventually end up spending more time browsing, that may translate into spending more money too. A reward can be offered to the users that go through with the game/ application (e.g. Covet Fashion, where visitors dress an avatar with real clothes from the collection and people vote on the best outfits which are then given as prizes) or the company can just use the data collected during the gaming process to offer a more personalized experience to the user in the future (e.g. Sephora, allowing website visitors to upload a picture of themselves and try various shades of lipstick – which are remembered by the website and then promoted in future visits).
- Social Validation & Liking
Persuading the visitors and potential buyers that the ecommerce environment they are browsing in is safe and credible can be an issue, especially with consumers who are hesitant with online sales. Apart from actually designing prominent Psychology and Marketing specialist suggests that two of the easiest paths to convince even the most skeptical customers, are social validation and liking. More specifically, social approval uses the feelings of “peer pressure” to influence behavior and is generally used in the form of online reviews by existing customers. The feeling of liking refers to the fact that people are most likely to adhere to a suggested action, when they like the source of the suggestion, as is the case in the employment of physically attractive people in advertisements. An actionable way to take advantage of both the social validation and liking factors, would be to encourage customers to share product reviews with their friends through their various social media accounts: people like what their friends like and are more willing to buy it if it’s approved by people they trust.
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