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A clear vision

Their website is a retailer’s shop window to the world, meaning visual merchandising and rich, engaging content is needed to draw customers in.

Today’s fashion shopper may well spot three swimsuits she likes online, then hit the shops for a closer look - classic multichannel shopping. So merchandisers must think carefully about online merchandising, particularly when deciding which new arrivals and best-sellers to promote. Apart from providing a direct sales channel, fashion retailers are beginning to understand that websites need to be a powerful shop window to drive traffic into stores.

As Drapers’ Etail Report shows, customers are influenced by the presentation of products online for both online and offline purchases. With 41% of consumers saying the web influences purchases through both channels, it is crucial for fashion retailers to get online merchandising right.

Other evidence of the need for rich and engaging content around merchandise in the digital fashion store comes from a recent survey by ecommerce solutions supplier GSI Commerce. It found that 40% of customers would avoid purchasing if they saw no lifestyle images of products on the website, and 48% would not buy if there was only one product image available.

“The trick of web merchandising is to ensure the products look fantastic online - good enough and easy to buy immediately, or at least eye-catching enough to inspire a store visit,” says Danielle Pinnington, managing director of shopper behaviour research agency Shoppercentric. “Merchandisers will know which items are the best-sellers. So how can the limitations of a PC, tablet or mobile screen be overcome to present hot items, suggest outfits, and give enough visibility to engage customers? This is the challenge for etailers.”

Pinnington says retailers offering ‘flat’ product presentation, without rich media content, total outfit ideas, or exciting ‘just in’ features are missing sales opportunities. “Thanks to sites like Asos and My-Wardrobe, shoppers have experienced the kind of content and functionality that is possible online, so expectations are high,” she says. “Some retailers don’t have the physical coverage of stores - John Lewis for example - so it’s even more important for these sites to seize the merchandising opportunities.”

There’s a unique demand in young fashion to check out the very latest looks. Jonny Challenger, managing director of fashion aggregate site Style Compare, says: “‘New in’ is very important and we introduced an extensive ‘new in’ search function when we relaunched the site in February this year, which is now widely used.”

When a customer is browsing dresses on Style Compare, they can hone down the list of products to browse by clicking one of four ‘new in’ options - either past three days, past seven days, past 14 days or past month. This provides the featured retailers with a great way to show off new ranges and monitor the popularity of key lines. “This allows online shoppers to go straight to the latest looks, just as they would on the high street. We also incorporate new arrivals into the fashion blog because consumers are just as likely to want to buy something they’ve seen in a piece of editorial as they are a shop window. I think we’ll see the style advice/trend blog/community element of fashion websites directing shoppers towards the latest looks much more in the coming years,” says Challenger.

Shopping the catwalk

Retailers are working hard to speed up the journey between browsing looks and making a purchase. For instance, young fashion retailer River Island’s home page has a ‘Runway Ready: shop the catwalk look’ feature that takes customers directly to the styles shown. At the luxury end, Net-a-Porter has just launched a digital TV station on its site, which allows visitors to shop their favourite designers as they browse glamorous, informative video content. Next to the videos is a stream of relevant new products available to buy in only a few clicks.

“We wanted to create the most engaging and interactive watching and shopping experience to be had online,” says Alison Loehnis, Net-a-Porter’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “We have taken our original concept of a shoppable magazine one step further with the addition of shoppable TV.”

Home-shopping retailer Very, part of the Shop Direct Group, has just invested in a new Adobe Scene7 platform for its mobile app, which lets young shoppers enjoy rich media video and images on their iPads and iPhones. They can zoom in to view intricate details on the main product images using a pinch and zoom touchscreen feature, opt for alternate views and watch full-screen videos.

The new platform means the 1,800 product videos - already available on Very’s website - are now accessible on mobile devices. Neal Preece, ecommerce development director at Shop Direct Group, says rich content is not only an engaging way to present product and draw people into the site, it’s also likely to lead to fewer returns. “The app is part of our multichannel strategy to make all products and content available on any device and browser,” he says. “Customers who watch product videos on our sites tend to make a more considered purchase, and we wanted to replicate the same, detailed customer experience on the mobile app.”

Reaping the benefits

Achieving return on investment in new channels is paramount, and constantly updating rich media content can be costly. One recent development is that retail merchandisers are managing the web content, bringing immediacy tothe virtual shop window, and working the current best-sellers for maximum commercial benefit.

“Rather than having to rely on five days of agency work to produce the look book or style feature that links back to the underlying product platform, new user-friendly software is making ‘productising’ the magazine-style content of landing pages much easier for merchandisers,” says Fergal O’Mullane, strategic business development director at ecommerce content management software provider 10CMS. Clients including A-Wear, TK Maxx, LK Bennett and Anthropologie have seen sales success if signed-up customers are directed via email campaigns to featured best-sellers.

On items of clothing pictured in lifestyle photography or a look book setting, it is possible to include ‘hot spots’ or ‘more details’ icons, and clicking on these brings up ‘light boxes’ - dialogue boxes that give price, size and colour details, and which let the customer put that item in their basket with one click. “Many of the fashion retailers we work with are seeing up to 40% of their traffic coming through the landing page imagery following email campaigns. Conversions to sales from this tend to be double the average,” says O’Mullane.

Digital merchandising has a long way to go, and the most likely direction will be shoppable video footage, predict many industry watchers. Web-enabled TV will make it possible to click through and buy straight from adverts, catwalk footage and lifestyle programming. Asos, Net-a-Porter and Marks & Spencer are edging that way as they invest in online TV. Very has already run a ‘Shop the ad’ feature on its website, making it possible to buy via its Christmas 2010 advert.

“Retailers are very interested in this because of the immediacy of conversion, and for customers it cuts out a lot of the search,” says Matt Bruce, director of video commerce agency Gate Web Video, whose clients include Shop Direct Group and Pretty Green. “The marketing department and the merchandisers will be working much more closely, and the success or otherwise of adverts will become highly visible.”

Case study A-Wear

Irish young fashion chain A-Wear uses an ecommerce content management platform from 10CMS to create and publish editorial-style promotional features to inspire consumers with seasonal and ‘on-trend’ looks.

Templates are used for an extensive palette of content elements - from text areas to ‘call to action’ buttons. A-Wear head of ecommerce Sam Bain says: “The system dramatically improves our ability to merchandise. We can even embed video into the module to bring the looks to life.”

The 10CMS modules now account for more than 30% of A-Wear’s traffic, power its email campaign landing page and will soon underpin the delivery of rich, interactive content for iPad users.



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