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The online journey

Drapers discusses some of the headline findings from our second Etail Report.

Click here to download the full report

With a packed room of retailers, ranging from those who sell £5 basics through to those who sell footwear and accessories for thousands of pounds per item, it wasn’t clear whether there would be much agreement during our roundtable discussion on their experiences selling fashion on the web in the past year.

Yet when presented with some of the top-line findings from Drapers second Etail Report – which tracks the views of 2,000 consumers on buying fashion online – there was much that they shared, though future plans on how to tackle the big issues were dependent on business size and its level of online maturity.

The roundtable began with a discussion of how loyal the retailers and brands in the room feel their online customers are. Our research shows a significant proportion of women either head straight to the websites of their favourite retailers, or they Google them. In comparison, men are more likely to begin their purchase journey online by thinking about brands.

Brand success: Liberty’s Damian Grogan

Brand success: Liberty’s Damian Grogan

Several retailers in the room agreed that men are more likely to search by brand. Damian Grogan, head of digital at department store Liberty added that customers who go straight to a brand on his site are the highest converters.

There was also much awareness of the high levels of discounting online by retailers, whether it’s direct, blanket discounts, deals of the day or offering other incentives such as free delivery.

This type of activity makes it harder to create loyalty. Dan Rubel, brand director at young fashion etailer, said his site gives away free treats with every purchase, but that alone isn’t enough. He added that the discount environment is even more challenging in the US, where Very launched in November last year.

Representatives from contemporary menswear and womenswear retailer Jaeger and jewellery retailer Links of London both pointed out that it is crucial to use customer data to ensure special offers make a difference and increase loyalty. Links of London head of online Caroline Rolfe said it’s one thing to collect lots of useful data on customers, but another to actually be able to use it to make a difference.

Research focused: Jaeger’s Charlotte Livett

Research focused: Jaeger’s Charlotte Livett

At Jaeger, plans are afoot to move away from a heavy promotional focus online and run research among members of different tiers of its loyalty scheme to determine what kinds of promotions and discounts might work best for different groups. In particular, the retailer wants to learn more about customers of its Boutique brand.

Susan Aubrey-Cound, former director of new channels at Marks & Spencer, added that the retailer’s research shows customers are also motivated by how much engagement they get with a retailer’s site, which is important when trying to create loyalty. For example, allowing customers to submit product reviews and ranking those who give the most reviews.

Social group

User generated content and social media were other themes the group was keen to discuss. Julia Ewald, senior manager for eBay’s fashion outlet, viewed social media as a “powerful tool to get feedback on your brand”.

Mobile Money Network chief business officer Hosein Moghaddas reflected that marketing using these channels must not be too contrived, but you can use them to help your loyal customers to spread the word. “We can help viral marketing along with Facebook and Twitter, but you have to accept that it happens to us.”

There was some debate over whether retailers should try to make sites such as Facebook directly transactional. The two representatives from womenswear retailer Oasis shared their experience of transacting on Facebook. They said while it’s another talking point, they are not sure that it’s creating additional business.

Emily Zoghob, regional sales manager ecommerce at footwear retailer Jimmy Choo, suggested while the brand has amassed one million fans on Facebook, it’s not reflected in sales conversion

rates. She said one strategy to address this could be to target these fans with low price-point branded items, such as Jimmy Choo perfumes.  

However, Rob Feldmann, chief executive for etailer BrandAlley, said most fashion brands have yet to realise the power of Facebook. He said special Sale events BrandAlley had run through the social network produced phenomenal results by creating the right content to drive sales.

Becoming mobile

The discussion also highlighted how much there is to think about the development of mobile channels, such as providing free Wi-Fi access in stores, to allow customers to use their own devices as part of the shopping experience.

Kevin Binley, fashion and apparel specialist for software provider K3 Retail, pointed out that if you are going to offer free connectivity to the internet, then you need to deliver in terms of content and experience you provide, whether it be through a mobile website or app. “The mobile experience in-store should be pertinent to that time and place to provide the best possibility of increasing sales,” he cautioned. And he adds that ideally retailers will get to a place that their systems will know if a particular customer is in-store too.

Ewald also mentioned it is increasingly important that the experience of using mobile and other channels is seamless. She said shoppers often look at a product multiple times before they buy. For premium and luxury fashion products particularly, customers are likely to have viewed the product in other channels before making a purchase on a mobile.

Mobile results: Very’s Dan Rubel

Mobile results: Very’s Dan Rubel

Rubel agreed that Very’s mobile site is currently very simplified and transactional. As the brand doesn’t have stores, he does not have to worry about trying to create a mobile site that also acts as a personal shopping assistant for customers on their mobile in-store.

About 20% of Very’s user sessions are on mobile, so it’s clearly delivering results. And others agree that making mobile sites transactional, as well as shortening the customer journey in general, is key.

If mobile is quickly going to become more important to the online and offline shopping experience, retailers need to think about what’s going to change. Jim Brigden, chief executive for digital marketing agency I Spy, advised: “There is a big tipping point coming up. It’s only two to three years before more search is done on mobile devices than on desktop PCs.”

Few retailers have begun to consider how to maximise the potential of search engine optimisation for mobile, where location is a new key dimension.

Our research shows consumers are clear about what they seek when they shop online. The development of ecommerce strategies, whatever the size of your business, needs to mirror this. 

In attendance

Shaping the future: retailers discuss their experiences of selling fashion online

Shaping the future: retailers discuss their experiences of selling fashion online

Charlotte Chibani Amanda Wakeley

Amy Sillince Amanda Wakeley

Kate Peters Beyond Retro

Marc Tapping Beyond Retro

Rob Feldmann BrandAlley

Julia Ewald eBay Fashion

Jim Brigden I Spy

Nishma Robb I Spy

Charlotte Livett Jaeger

Dean Taylor Jaeger

Xander Gibson Jimmy Choo

Emily Zoghob Jimmy Choo

Kevin Binley K3 Retail

Tony Bryant K3 Retail

Damian Grogan Liberty

Chrissie Grundy Links of London

Caroline Rolfe Links of London

John Milliken Mobile Money Network

Hosein Moghaddas Mobile Money Network

Suzanne Turner

Valerie Shorten Oasis

Christine Williams Oasis

Dan Rubel

Susan Aubrey-Cound Formerly Marks & Spencer

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