A good decade spent marketing software solutions to the fashion industry, coupled with having lived most of my life in Milan and Paris, have likely been contributing factors to the fact that I’m an irredeemable shopaholic. Throughout the course of the last few years, the time-consuming impact of motherhood has forced me to transfer my passion almost exclusively online, and I have made a few interesting observations about what is universally missing from my e-commerce experiences.
My expectations as a customer are almost systematically unfulfilled when I shop from the commerce sites of independent fashion labels, which seem to have a long way to go before matching the high-level experience offered by large, multi-brand marketplaces. Ninety percent of my frustrations with online fashion retailers have been caused by three recurring issues.
You can never be too overdressed: Online promotion is too casual
While brand names dominate on search engines, if you try and search for a product, like a cashmere jumper for example, you will see that the first page of Google Search is dominated by the global apparel marketplaces. Smaller, local providers, who would offer much higher value and quality products, are nowhere to be found. A targeted, optimized SEO strategy is desperately missing here, not to mention promotion on social media.
I once clicked on a Facebook sponsored post of a high-end, formalwear brand displaying a complete outfit and landed on the home page of its e-commerce site, not the specific product page. Worse still, the three pieces of the outfit had to be searched separately on the website. Online seems to still be considered primarily a “shop window” without enough focus on the complexity of the customer journey. This made me think about Giorgio Armani’s famous words, “Elegance is not about being noticed, it is about being remembered.”
Build on the basics: E-commerce site navigation lacks the essentials
The main cause of my frustration with midsized fashion company e-commerce is site navigation. I’m not even speaking about more sophisticated commerce capabilities, like related product suggestions or customer profiling; no, here I am talking about basic e-commerce navigation functionalities, like search or filtering. Let’s be honest, those are the very basic functions that distinguish a commerce site from a mere online catalog.
On the site of a family-owned brand known across the globe for its natural fibers, I tried to search for “cashmere” but typed “cachemire” instead, which, in my language, is an alternate correct spelling. Zero results. Not a single trace of search suggestions while I was typing “ca…” either. Grumbling, I tried to use the filters instead, but there was no filtering by material available. This has worried me a lot, because the very identity of the brand (in this case, material) was not reflected at all on the company’s e-commerce site. Vivienne Westwood used to say, “When in doubt, overdress.” Dear fashion labels, when in doubt, add more commerce functionalities rather than less.
Incompatibility issues: Channels are mismatched
The final point, and the one that is a symptom of an underlying, generalized problem in the fashion industry, is related to the brands’ omnichannel strategy. Here again, my only 100% positive experiences came from the large marketplaces, while independent brands are still lagging behind – and by far.
Why, in 2017, am I still unable to use my store loyalty card for my online purchases to receive the promotions that I deserve as a recurring customer? And why is the customer service chat not personalized, but instead is a chatbot firing me automated FAQ responses riddled with typos? Note that I’m not talking about a small, local producer here, but a global fashion retail brand with hundreds of stores.
The service, commerce, and marketing processes seem to still be juxtaposed and not working together, much like putting mismatched colors on without looking at the whole effect. “Being well dressed is a form of good manners,” Tom Ford used to say. Good manners would also be looking at the customer journey first and adapting the company’s internal processes accordingly.
One of my favorite aspects of online shopping is the ability to “sniff around” smaller brands and unknown designers, but I often end up being frustrated. The convenience of buying from the large marketplaces is unmatched at all levels, and if emerging or local fashion players do not start pursuing an integrated digital-transformation strategy, they may quickly become invisible in front of the harsh competition of the digital giants.
I hope that in 2018 brands will understand that well-supported e-commerce processes and solutions, far from being “uncool” IT stuff, can, on the contrary, boost creativity – the intrinsic innovation and growth driver of the industry.
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