The fashion sector has up to now been largely driven by emotion, but sales have been hit by consumers’ tighter budgets and fashion retailers now need to take on board some more down-to-earth considerations.

Fashion in the Digital Era: Right Price and Contextualisation a Must for Retailers

Up until the introduction of digital sales channels, the fashion sector followed its own rules. The purchasing context was a highly immersive one, and the opportunities to go and try on clothes helped create a purchasing experience that was as much a part of the process as actually buying the items. So providing a high quality customer experience might guarantee the retailer a sale. Now a report entitled ‘Performance Marketing, from first impression to last click’, published by Swedish Internet marketing company Tradedoubler, reveals how the traditional purchasing journey for fashion items has been disrupted. This traditional path is up against the combined effects of the ubiquitous use of digital channels and the downward pressure on consumers’ budgets. The plethora of channels, whether physical or online, are all leading today’s consumer to form his/her conceptions and to be fashionable without following the traditional routes.  Tradedoubler’s survey found that among ‘connected’ people, i.e. those owning a  smartphone and being regular online consumers as defined for the purposes of the study, 39% stated they were more likely to purchase fashion items via online channels.

Blogs and editorial sites versus purely marketing platforms

Websites providing price comparisons, promotional codes and daily special offers are now winning out over brands’ and stores’ own online retail platforms. Today’s reality is that simply providing inspiration to the customer no longer guarantees a firm sales conversion. Brands therefore need to fully integrate their communication strategies with their sales channels, which means accepting that digital channels are now an integral part of the overall purchasing experience. Vertical sites and brand blogs with price-oriented copy are now playing a major role in purchasing decisions. Some 69% of fashion consumers use blogs or vertical sites as a source of inspiration, far exceeding the number who say they actually go to a physical store for that purpose.  And nowadays any retail channel has to be available on mobile. Around two thirds of the connected consumers surveyed stated that they do their research on clothes on their mobile devices, and 59% use the same channel to make the actual purchase. In fact the mobile device now tends to serve as a ‘second screen’, with 48% of the connected consumers owning a smartphone and 57% of the tablet owners polled saying that they go online via mobile to obtain additional information after seeing a product advertised on TV. The sales conversion rate in such cases is estimated at 25% for smartphone users and 37% for tablet owners.  Evidence shows that fashion blogs and editorial sites are resulting in higher consumer concentration, helping to achieve a high conversion rate.

Showrooming: from threat to opportunity?

Enabling the customer to pay by smartphone necessarily incurs the risk of showrooming – i.e. that s/he will come and try on an item in the store and then go away and buy it more cheaply online. Some 20% of the connected consumers polled have downloaded a fashion app, and 18% use apps that enable them to make purchases directly on numerous websites. Among these consumers, 70% do not hesitate to buy elsewhere at the best price. It is therefore absolutely essential for a retailer to draw up a strategy to counter the showrooming trend. The remedy here is also clear: to invest in mobile channels and hook into the modern consumer’s mobile habits, geolocated couponing coming out top of the list of solutions for enticing the customer to buy in-store. If it is true that the emotional dimension in the fashion business is now tempered by more rational considerations, offering the customer a correctly-priced and, perhaps most importantly, well-contextualised item seems to be the way to go for fashion retailers.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo