The fashion industry has been experiencing a huge change recently. Major retailers and brands have witnessed repercussions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading many to close their doors and manufacturing facilities. This has been partly due to the large decrease in footfall in malls and high streets, as well as the global impact on supply chains and logistics.
As the long-term effects of this disruption are still yet to be seen, one of the vital lifelines many fashion retailers have looked to is ecommerce. Already a burgeoning component of the sector, ecommerce is driving sales for many brands on multiple digital platforms as a way to supplement falling revenue through brick-and-mortar.
We take a look at some of the major trends taking place at the moment when it comes to the fashion industry and its pivot to online sales.
What’s Been Happening Recently?
Even before the current pandemic, more people than ever in the Middle East have been looking to online retailers for their fashion purchases. Following a global trend, the traditional consumer purchase model has been evolving into a more complex system of both offline and online mediums.
Nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken advantage of widespread internet usage and developed logistics infrastructure to lead the way in ecommerce. And while there’s no doubt that malls and traditional markets are still a staple for shoppers throughout the region, signals show that openness to online shopping is increasing across many demographics.
As urban populations grow and access to the internet spreads with rapid uptake of smartphones across most regions in the Arab world, ecommerce will continue to expand the reach of many fashion brands while providing an important tool for businesses who have seen a recent drop in sales through their physical outlets.
The #StartUpStayUp Initiative
To help our merchants during this situation, including a number of our fashion ecommerce partners, Payfort recently implemented the #StartUpStayUp Initiative.The hope was to offer some support in the way of an integrated digital marketing package, and we’re happy to say it has helped to significantly increase online traffic and sales for many of the campaign’s participants.
More importantly however, we’ve witnessed how crucial digital channels and online ecommerce presence has become at this time. Whether it’s simply letting your existing customers know they can shop online, or reaching out to new potential shoppers, ecommerce has undoubtedly proven to be a lifeline for many fashion and apparel businesses over the last few months.
What Are Online Shoppers Looking For?
Online shopping offers customers a new world of opportunity. Whether it’s rewarding experiences and personalised recommendations, or increased convenience through reliable deliveries and customer service, buyers are influenced by a number of factors leading them towards online shopping over in-person purchases.
Personalisation is a crucial factor in the e-commerce industry, with 75% of consumers preferring brands to personalise messaging, offers and experiences. Many companies now see personalisation as an important differentiator between themselves and their competition, providing them a way to achieve success within saturated markets.
By tracking user behaviour and payment analytics, fashion retailers can integrate personalisation within their platforms and focus on targeting higher yielding individual customers rather than a broad market.
2. A Better Customer Experience
This places a high level of pressure on brands to make sure their customer’s needs are being met. It also requires more attention paid to the overall online customer journey through the various different stages of the sales funnel, from promotions and brand awareness to the final checkout experience.
3. Peer Reviews
Most fashion buyers believe reviews are an important stage during their purchasing journey. Regardless of convenient returns policies and better product descriptions, people want to know that what they’re buying has been approved by other buyers before they make a commitment.
4. Seamless Payment Experiences
Providing a seamless payment experience shouldn’t be underestimated. With so many resources invested in other areas of the online journey, such as appealing product imagery or a sophisticated online store, it’s only right that the final hurdle to conversion is treated with the same reverence.
The average shopping cart abandonment rate is around 68.8% and preventing potential sales from falling by the wayside is all about making the online experience easy, rewarding and reliable. This means providing logical navigation and ensuring the checkout experience is smooth and painless.
Current and Future Challenges
As the current situation continues to limit the potential of brick-and-mortar shopping, people around the world will turn to ecommerce as an alternative way to get the items they want and need. However, this doesn’t mean the fashion industry isn’t facing a number of challenges.
Many brands are still reporting issues with inventory and supply chains, especially with products that are made abroad and imported. Delays caused by this can have a serious impact on both operational success and customer satisfaction levels.
As more people buy online, we’re also seeing some businesses suffer from the increased strain on their online services, including their payments networks and their customer service centres. This is felt the most by small and medium sized businesses who don’t have the sufficient online infrastructure to handle a surge in online activity.
Weakening brand equity in the online landscape is also an issue for companies who don’t already have an established presence. With more merchants going digital, this will only increase competition and force many to compete on price. For brands who are not well-known in their segments, this could lead to lower returns as shoppers search out the best value deals.
Essential Ecommerce Tips for Fashion Brands
- As shipping times may be delayed, make sure you convey to your customers with transparency that their deliveries could potentially be impacted. Also, check with your shipping carriers frequently in case capacity, local restrictions or staff issues may cause fluctuations.
- Consider adding financing options to your online payment system. Many shoppers might find it harder to make purchases on more expensive items, but allowing them to spread the cost over a set period of times could help shoppers get the items they want more easily.
- Review your fulfillment and returns policies and update them with important changes to your internal processes. If there will be expected refund delays for example, make sure this is stated clearly for all customers to see.
- Focus efforts on delivering aesthetically pleasing and easy to use online experiences, making sure your site’s navigation, presentation, and payment processes are convenient and reliable. Customers will quickly be deterred by websites that are clunky or confusing.
- Leverage social ecommerce as much as possible. Around 55% of Gen Z users said that their clothing purchases were influenced by social media posts.
In already established markets, sellers will increasingly strive to drive growth through the use of automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) features. For instance, virtual dressing rooms, where shoppers can piece together entire outfits on digital models that resemble themselves, are becoming increasingly popular today.
As well as streamlining processes for greater efficiency, these key drivers will help to deliver relevant and highly personalised customer experiences. Customer data will also become even more critical as brands try to learn as much as they can about their online shoppers to enable them to edge out the increasing competition. Ultimately, there are ample opportunities for fashion brands migrating their business models to online sales, with widespread internet usage and smartphones expected to contribute to the expansion of e-commerce sales in multiple markets. However, fashion companies will need to focus on crafting the best possible online experience to keep their customers happy.