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Online apparel retailers struggle with the devil in the details

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Retail |STUDY

Online shopping for clothing has become a staple for the majority of European consumers which has brought on the rise of online pure-players such as Asos.com, Net-a-Porter.com, Very.co.uk, Zalando.de, Wehkamp.nl and LaRedoute.fr.

Although these fashion e-tailers have managed to set themselves apart from the ever increasing number of competitors and are largely established as the leaders in their field, they still failed to pass the 'Website Functionality Benchmark' methodology created by Forrester, global research and advisory firm.

According to the new report ‘Website Functionality Benchmark 2014: European Online Apparel Retailers' none of the websites reviewed, which include Asos.com, Net-a-Porter.com and Very.co.uk reached a total passing score of 58 or better, despite the strengths in their core categories, such as purchasing and site navigation. The research mainly focused on the usability of each site, as well as the layout of the online store as the service and the functionality.

All the websites scored well on functionality that helps customers locate and purchase products and promoted cross selling efficiently, whilst informing potential customers about the current stock levels of the product shown and offered clear delivery options as well as incorporating customer feedback and reviews, with Very, Wehkamp and Zalando offering this information on their products pages.

Europe's top online apparel retailers score below average marks for consumer usability

However, all the online apparel retailers tested had shortcomings in customer service, community, and merchandising capabilities. Under the merchandising sector, the presentation and searchable of the products were tested and fell short of the bar. "This is a central part of the shopping process, but none of the retailers scored high here," according to the study.

The report also found that although online retailers studied made "subtle and overt efforts to improve merchandising and remote clienteling online proactive live chat, 2D size guides, personal shopping style guides and complete the outfit suggestions on product pages," they failed to take their sites to the next level.

"To get to the next level of best practice and differentiation online apparel retailers need to keep refining their website functionality in order to succeed in a competitive and increasingly crowded category," noted Michelle Beeson, analyst and main author of the report. The European retailer to come out with the best overall score was Dutch apparel retailer Wehkamp.nl, with a score of 38, followed by Very.co.uk with a score of 35 and Asos.com with a score of 30. The average category score for the online retailers tested was a mere 23.5 out of 58.

The retailer to score the highest when it came to online social interaction was Asos.com, which encourages its users to create inspiration lists that can be shared with other customers. Although, the study found the sharing option could be better implemented with it's website, as the social inspiration list is separate from the webshop and contains links to potential competing retailers.

"Empowered customers are using multiple devices to shop online helping to drive forecasted online retail sales growth of 12 percent in Europe (2013 to 2018). To secure their chunk of this growth, online apparel retailers need to constantly evaluate, test and implement new and improved functionality to support merchandising and drive consumers through the path to purchase," added Beeson, pointing out that additional innovative features, such as curated shopping and style guides, help break down category-specific barriers and support consumer purchases.

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