Empowering Shoppers and Brands: The Latest Trends in Online Fashion Retail

Fashion shoppers and brands demand more than monotonous ‘scroll and buy’ experiences. New trends are already redefining online fashion retail, are you following them?

Shopping for fashion online has become widespread, especially for millennials who now buy 20% of their clothing on the internet, according to WWD.

And the big online retailers, led by Amazon, deserve credit for having found ways to offer reliable and trustworthy shopping experiences with easy and secure payments, flexible deliveries and often free returns. By establishing this trust in the online shopping process, a big milestone has been reached that allows online fashion retail to leave its infancy.
As a result, shoppers and brands now expect even more from their digital experiences. I have therefore spent the past weeks looking at a number of emerging trends that will help online fashion shopping grow by another 40% until 2021, according to Statista.

I initially found myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of innovation and number of new technologies that appear on an almost daily basis. But then I started to notice that many efforts are focusing on providing new functionalities that let users make better decisions about what and how to buy, and on new ways for brands to take advantage of digital retail in a ‘platformised’ world.

In short, a great deal of innovation is concerned with empowering users and brands alike. Those are the examples I will share with you here.

Turning Users Into Curators and Influencers

The process of buying online is usually divided into a series of distinct steps. The first step is when users decide what to buy. Simply put, it’s about inspiration. And when it comes to this topic, 35% of shoppers, according to McKinsey, say that they rely on recommendations from their social networks.

It therefore didn’t surprise me to find a trend to better integrate how users are inspired into the buying journey by further integrating social media and shopping. The goal here being to give users more control over the recommendations they get and the purchases those can generate.

For many online retailers, inspiring users is divided between creating content for 3rd party social media platforms like Instagram on the one hand, and own editorial content on their websites on the other. However, when it comes to streamlining the shopping journey and making it easier for users to get inspired and buy, two paths are emerging.

The first path consists of social media platforms’ efforts to move into the shopping world. Indeed, both Instagram and Pinterest have added payment options to enable users to directly buy products without having to leave their platforms. With millions of active users and a large base of popular influencers, succeeding in properly integrating the purchase process would give those social media platforms a big advantage.

The second path sees some shopping platforms try to become more like social networks. Two interesting examples of this move:

  • 21Buttons, an app that lets users make Instagram-like posts and then tag products within photos. Users can even earn commissions when the products they show are bought.
online fashion

(Source: 21Buttons)

  • Polyvore, a site that lets users create and share shoppable product combinations.
online fashion

(Source: Polyvore)

In both cases, users are simultaneously put into the role of curators and influencers who help others with their selection, and into the role of active spectators, selecting who they follow to easily find products they are likely to love and buy.

The success of such models remains to be proven (Polyvore recently disappeared), but efforts to leverage social shopping to turn users into curators, influencers and active spectators are likely to continue.

Providing Shoppers with New Ways to Buy

After inspiration, the second step is the ‘journey’ to buy. According to McKinsey, in the US, 70% of online shoppers request more personalised journeys in a context where platforms like Amazon and Zalando feature hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of products that are hard to sift through with a simple ‘scroll and buy’ experience.

online fashion

     (Source: Spring)

In a similar way to the ability of creating playlists in popular music apps, shoppers now demand more control over what they see and buy, with ways to easily and quickly filter out irrelevant products or have access to personalised experiences.

There are quite a few interesting initiatives: starting with larger platforms, sites like AboutYou, Shopbop or Spring are allowing users to save their preferences in brands, categories, styles or even sizes in their personalised interfaces. Users can then easily find things they are likely to buy, without the clutter. Those functionalities are especially useful for shoppers who already have established preferences.

Personalised subscription boxes have also become popular, led by Stitch Fix in the US and Outfittery or Thread in Europe. Here personalisation is taken a step further, almost to the extent of personal shoppers. Users must go through a questionnaire about their style preferences to then receive a monthly box full of relevant products. They pay for what they choose to keep while easily returning the rest in a prepaid package.

Personalisation is driven by the users’ tastes, along with stylists and machine learning algorithms that match the thousands of possible profiles with the available selection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon itself tried to enter this virtual ‘personal shopper’ market, by leveraging its new Prime Wardrobe system that uses a similar ‘keep and pay’ mechanism and its virtual stylist service Echo Look.

online fashion

(Source: Outfittery)

Fashion brands naturally have smaller product selections but they are using their central role as ‘makers’ to provide a unique kind of personalisation. They offer forms of product personalisation that let users customise products to their desires, from engraving initials all the way to complete DIY designs at Nike or Adidas.

online fashion

(Source: Adidas)

To conclude the user side of the story, I want to share a few additional trends that follow along the same path of giving more power to users:

  • Rental replacing purchases: with sites like Rent the Runway, shoppers get access to a designer wardrobe through a subscription model. Much like with cars rented by the hour, the service can be very attractive to shoppers who want both the quality and the diversity of a perpetually changing wardrobe.
online fashion

(Source: Rent the Runway)

  • Second-hand shopping: similar to rentals, the traditional ‘buy it, throw it away’ model is being challenged with sites like Vestiaire Collective, allowing users to subsidise part of their seasonal wardrobe update by selling older pieces.
online fashion

(Source: Vestiaire Collective)

Platforms are Finally Giving Brands More Control

Many brands have been feeling left behind in e-commerce, with only 11% of purchases happening on their sites, to the benefit of platforms. Platforms, in turn, are beginning to realise that they need to give more control to brands but progress remains slow:

  • At a basic level, Amazon has been accused repeatedly of failing to curb counterfeit sales, causing leading brands like Birkenstock to leave the platform. The company has recently declared that it is increasingly cracking down on offending sellers.
  • Zalando has recently launched its ‘partner program’, resembling a marketplace, that gives brands more control over their selections and their prices. The increased ability to control what they sell on large platforms is frequently requested by brands and is therefore a welcome change. But the fear that the data brands thus help generate will be used in favour of the platforms’ private labels remains.
  • One step further, FarFetch puts an emphasis on supporting brands in their digital and e-commerce efforts. For example, the platform gave an edge to brands like Gucci with its demanding customers who can now shop online for delivery within 90 minutes in a few cities.
online fashion

(Source: FarFetch)

To conclude, online fashion shopping seems at a turning point and the next few years will be interesting, as both users and brands become more demanding with their digital experiences. Those who continue to provide the same ‘scroll and buy’ experience that has been prevailing since the early 2000s are likely to soon fall behind unless they provide more control – and thus empowerment – to users and brands alike.

About the Author:

Thomas specialises in e-commerce. After a tenure at Amazon Fashion he launched his own company, love the brands, to help brands build stronger independent e-commerce businesses while keeping the connection with their customers alive and strong. Read his posts here or get in touch with Thomas via e-mail.

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