Connected E-Fashion: The Paradox Of A Commercial Success

Stephanie Haukingham

The fashion industry, like the cosmetics and food industries, is one of the sectors where the physical dimension is inevitable. Indeed, the purchasing process involves many physical steps, such as the fit, the feel, the touch, and its integration with a global clothing style.

All these conditions turn the market of connected fashion into a particularly complex environment to go beyond the physical point of sale and adopt omnichannel logic.

Fashion: The challenge of e-commerce

Apart from the fact that the fashion sector was primarily built around the customer’s physical experience, the complexity of the market of clothing products presents significant logistical challenges: High degree of stocks qualification (size, shoe size, color, product integrity), substantial variation of the average order involving a variety of payment devices, extensible inventories, etc.

Added to these conditions is the change in purchasing behaviors, by clients who are freed from the constraints of time and location, who expect to access all available information on the size or stocks, whatever the channel they use, as well as a strong reactivity of the brands to additional questions they may have.

Fashion is characterized by the importance of personalization, involving an in-depth knowledge of customers, with the rising importance of “style” as an indicator of social and individual identity. Finally, purchasing behaviors for fashion products have a complex and particular temporality: For instance, purchasing such a product could be impulsive or due to a trend, as much as it could result from a long process of comparison and reflection. Further, this sector is subject to strong seasonality, with the regular milestones of sales and holiday celebrations.

The special features of fashion, especially the importance of physical experience for consumers, make online commerce difficult for e-retailers. It may be assumed that the market of connected fashion would struggle to address these challenges, but the reality of e-fashion seems to show the opposite.

E-fashion: A dynamic and rapidly growing market

The fashion industry is well-represented among the leading brands of e-commerce. Moreover, along with books, tickets, and music, clothes are now one of the four main categories of products where online sales exceed those made in physical points of sales at a European level.

The stakeholders who wish to adopt an omnichannel approach must face one key challenge, which is to rely on infrastructures flexible enough to adapt to the demands of personalization and mobility from customers. They notably must fulfill three conditions to ensure real success.

A seamless and relevant shopping experience across the customer journey: The multiplication of touchpoints and the growing complexity of purchasing processes, along with the tremendous growth of cross-channel behaviors, represents a major challenge for each stakeholder in this field where high-quality experience is an integral part of shopping. In other words, all channels must convey an ecosystem of sensitive representations and experiences, in harmony with physical points of sales. Therefore, the brand must put forward an experience and not only the product.

An efficient device for personalization: The consumption of clothing products is particularly influenced by external factors such as trends, the brand’s reputation, the location of purchase, and the season. Paradoxically, fashion appears both as an indicator of belonging to a determined group, and as a way of affirming one’s difference and one’s identity. Consequently, stakeholders in this field need to constantly develop new devices of personalization in order to adapt to this fact: Exclusive capsule collections, virtual fitting, creation of wish lists, alerts for the availability of products or special offers at birthdays – all allow consumers to benefit from tailored services. The efficiency of these services depends on profound customer knowledge, which is today the main obsession of e-commerce leaders.

A solid infrastructure: In a market subject to a strong seasonality, problems of access to the product, inventories including criteria such as the size, a continuous stop and go and complex temporalities of purchase swinging from impulsion to ultra-reflection, every player must have platforms that are at the same time efficient, flexible, and evolving in order to increase the conversion rates and not to lose sight of customers. Besides, the necessity to react quickly to the acceleration of trends and to adapt the prices to market pressures makes the infrastructure’s versatility a fundamental element.

Paradoxical in its success, e-fashion represents a tremendous opportunity for stakeholders in the fashion industry, who managed to adopt an approach focused on the user, while relying on an infrastructure flexible enough to respond to the needs of increasingly-demanding connected customers.

For more on digital transformation in the fashion industry, see Fashion E-Commerce: 3 Faux Pas Not To Repeat In 2018.

The article originally appeared on Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.