10 Most important trends in online fashion retail

What makes a good online fashion store? What features does it need to have and what trendsetters are there? FashionUnited has asked an expert.

New (fashion) web shops are needed and they should be functional and easy to use. These were the first adjectives that customers came up with when asked to describe their shopping experience in an online store. But that is changing. It is not just about having a webshop where you make purchases any more. Today, the focus is on a holistic shopping experience; Maike Verkuehlen is sure of that. And she should know because she is the designer and fashion specialist at Agentur Kommerz, an agency focused on the digital customer experience. It has just been named Design Agency of the Year by the Shop Usability Award. Customer centricity is the key to success, from product search and inspiration to presentation and service. In an analysis of online fashion stores around the world, she has identified ten key design trends and put them together in her new book, "750 Impulses", which will be published by Kommerz in the coming weeks. Here is a summary of the ten most important points.

1. Online shops are becoming more distinctive

In the past, the branding of an online shop was little more than embedding the logo in the top left corner of the home page. Without a logo, hardly any customer would have been able to tell whether he or she was with Esprit, s.Oliver or Marc O'Polo - design as well as product descriptions and images were simply interchangeable. In the meantime, leading online fashion retailers have been experimenting with features and design elements that make them online as unique as they have been offline for a long time. The luxury fashion shop of LVMH, 24Sevres.com, for example, has developed its own, very high-quality picture language that makes the shop unmistakable. In the online shop of eyeware brand Ditto, effects are triggered by movement throughout the shop and thus, shopping becomes a special experience. At Benefitcosmetics, brand-specific expressions ensure a recognition effect, for example when bestsellers become "benebabes love most".

2. Online shops are becoming more inspirational

So far, online shops have been little more than digitised catalogues, which - in the best case scenario - quickly led customers to the products they were really looking for. Though this gave need-based customers a feeling of being well served, retailers missed the potential purchases of customers who just wanted to browse around or find inspiration online. But the huge success of influencers on Instagram shows that especially fashion is predestined for online inspiration, or even better, mobile inspiration. Accordingly, almost all online fashion retailers are now trying to inspire their customers in their shop. "Shop-the-look" offers, which almost all major fashion stores are now promoting, are just the first step in the right direction. Another extreme is luxury fashion shop Net-a-Porter, which publishes a weekly online fashion magazine and a daily editorial newsletter in addition to the six print editions of its fashion magazine Porter. But even simpler means can inspire customers: At Görtz, styling experts present their favourite products, brands and styles and give the anonymous online shop a personal look after all.

3. Selections are more personalised

Online retailers score points with customers when they offer products and brands that they are interested in. Because tastes are different, online retailers work hard in the first few years to build selections that are as large as possible. However, it has been found that large selections overwhelm customers; they want to find products that are relevant to them as quickly as possible. Accordingly, Zalando and About You are investing millions in the development of intelligent algorithms that tailor their selections to the individual preferences of their customers. The result is individualised product lists that show only styles that match their preferences. But even filters and well-maintained product data go a long way when curating a selection. US multi-brand store Totokaelo, for example, uses cross-selling to feature characteristics that suggested articles have in common with those that have been viewed, i.e. stripes, the same brand or the same material. Anthropologie lets their customers filter their desired jeans by cut. Netshoes follows a similar approach and also lists occassions, for example, for which a product can be worn, and offers more product suggestions for the same occasion via just another mouse click. At Esprit, customers can see more items with the same fit on each product description page. And Farfetch filters all product groups with specific product characteristics, such as sleeve length or neckline. Thus, customers do not get lost in large selections and quickly find what they are looking for.

10 Most important trends in online fashion retail

4. Online shops are developing their consultation services

Personal shopping providers like Outfittery, Zalon and Modomoto have shown that good style counselling is not limited to bricks and mortar stores. There are online retailers who put themselves in their customers' shoes - quite literally - and try to simplify the online shopping experience for them as much as possible through intelligent consultation services. Plus size retailer Navabi, for example, has developed suitable product suggestions after collecting data about body type and problem areas. Bonprix has tried to replace their instore trial rooms with a bra consultant. Enamora suggests suitable underwear to its customers for particular outfits, which adds value for customers especially for special occasions and extravagant outfits. And at Zappos, product consultants show shoes via video presentations that focus on the details. Much experimentation is currently being done when it comes to online size consulation as an accurate assessment guarantees lower returns rates. For example, Bloomingdales and Revolve Clothing offer size recommendations based on size experiences with other brands. HSE24 explains via video how to correctly measure one's body circumference and how to correctly interpret size charts. And in the Stayhard online shop, customers can enter their own products and compare them visually with the current product description page. This gives customers a better idea of the fit so that they can make a more informed purchase decision.

5. Products are presented better

When it comes to product presentation, new technologies such as VR and AR offer completely new possibilities. Luxury label Valentino is currently working with Alibaba subsidiary Tmall on a virtual 3D shopping experience. Those who do not want to tackle the topic with as much ambition can present fashion with a moving image. Italian high-fashion retailer Moda Operandi, for example, shows products in a runway environment. The new shoe shop of former Mytheresa founders, MarthaLouisa.com, presents each shoe per video, that too worn on the foot of a model. Beauty also presents products via video, which can be ordered directly via shopping cart through Quickshop.

However, there are no limits to creativity when it comes to product photos as well: on the product description page of Edited, customers can decide for themselves if they want to see the articel as a close-up or on a model. Nasty Gal not only lists the models' sizes but also shows their personal preferences on their profile page. This provides a better identification with the model, which then translates to better identification with the product. Zara presents each product individually on the product list, which brightens up the usually boring tile look. And retailers like Madewell or Rent-the-Runway encourage customers to upload photos in which they wear the selected articles. Though all focus is usually on the images, product descriptions also ensure high-quality product presentations. At Aritzia, for example, product descriptions are written in such a way that they could stem from the designers themselves. And even at The J. Peterman Company, product descriptions are lovingly enhanced by stories that make you dream.

6. Products are customised

The trend towards a personalised customer experience does not stop at the customisation of products. This not only ensures a unique and emotional product offering, but also a lower return rate. At Netshoes, for example, customers can customise selected products at no extra charge; for example have their name printed on a T-shirt, and Adidas lets customers create their own sneakers online. And Gucci has recently launched a do-it-yourself customisation program for its Ophidia tote and Ace sneakers.

10 Most important trends in online fashion retail

7. Omnichannel retail gets fine tuned and optimised

By now, customers expect omnichannel retail as the new standard. The fact that online orders can be picked up and returned at a store or that stores are mapped online is now one of the basic features of every retailer who sells online and in-store. Customer-focused retailers even add to this in terms of service: At Neiman Marcus, for example, customers have the option of chatting with an in-store salesperson in various ways; Topshop books online personal shopping appointments at its stores, and shoppers at Zumnorde can arrange an appointment with their favourite shoe salesperson.

8. Fashion stores conquer social media

Social media channels are now a significant source of traffic for online fashion stores. Accordingly, retailers, online shops and social networks are motivated to interlink. This is particularly easy on Instagram, where there is now also a purchase function for the products shown. However, there are no limits to creativity: At Michael Kors, for example, registered customers who like a particular product on Instagram receive an e-mail with matching product information. Macy's encourages its customers to share products from the shop with the hashtag #Macyslove. Seafolly customers will find an extra section in the online store where they can find products posted on Instagram. Build presents and links community articles that are liked by the community with the number of likes on the homepage. Coolstuff's product description pages will also show Facebook comments and in the Netshoes online store, customers can share and comment on product reviews on Facebook without having to sign up for the store.

9. Customer service is most important

"More customer centricity“ is the first thing online retailers mention when asked about the expansion plans of their online shop. And in fact, customers used to the pampering by Amazon & Co. expect first-class customer service in all other shops as well. Outstanding are shops that offer a tad more than their competitors. That's how Lands End adapts trouser lengths for its customers at no extra cost; Asos offers its customers delivery options according to their own personal preferences and Flaconi adds a signed thank-you card to each package. And at Stayhard, the e-mail addresses of the management are mentioned on the company page, which signals that customer service is a top priority even at management level.

10. Mobile First is mandatory

An ever-increasing proportion of orders is generated on mobile devices in online fashion shops. A stand-alone mobile appearance that is not just an adapted version of the classic webshop is therefore mandatory. In addition, fashion retailers need to be aware that their products are increasingly being bought online outside of their online stores. Instagram Buy is just one example of where the path will lead in the future. Even smart speakers like Alexa or Google Home - helpful when used with a screen - have to be considered in the future, because customers are increasingly present there.

Photos: 24Sevres; Esprit; Magazin Cover: Net-a-Porter

This article has been originally published on FashionUnited DE and was translated by Simone Preuss


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