Consumer shopping has trended away from brick and mortar stores towards online shopping. Free returns becoming standard practice, Amazon growing its own private apparel label, and Gen Z getting older have greatly reduced in-person shopping. And as always, trying on clothes at home is undoubtedly a more pleasant experience than undressing in a scuzzy changing room while being pressured by sales associates trying to make their commission.
Big box stores such as Nordstrom’s, Saks, Neiman Marcus in addition to smaller luxury boutiques have floundered in the digital age. Many industry experts (ahem, old timers ahem) clung to the fantasy that large storefronts held a place in the future. These stores lured in consumers with collabs and pop up shops and window displays. However, their efforts have largely been in vain, and COVID has seemingly nailed the coffin shut on in-person shopping in retail stores.
Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic. We are not at a point where online shopping is the only option. Some stores are arguably worth the experience of going to the location. But to continue our metaphor, it’s as if in-person shopping is being buried alive. Pop-ups and experience-centric stores are like the reanimated corpse. Eventually, stores and brands will find ways to have brick and mortar locations work again, but the age of huge malls and giant luxurious stores with marble floors and snobby staff (Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, Saks, etc) is long done for.
With e-commerce taking over, it’s shocking how few stores have invested time and money into standing out in the online market. Brands can’t expect sales conversion by sending daily emails and posting pictures of their products. They need to adapt by attracting new customers and creating more intimate online experiences.
Here is our round up of some brands that have stand out online store experiences and what the emerging top strategies are:
Filtered Shopping Experience
Stores that allow the consumer to filter by body type, color, event and shop on their terms.
ASOS is the model for this strategy. Clicking on their drop down menu, consumers will be pleasantly surprised by the different ways to shop. Main categories include Product type, Fit, and Edit (aka occasions such as wedding, work, modesty, etc)
“ASOS PLC is a global, internet, fashion, retail business aimed at a client base aged between 20-30 years. The Company offers branded and own label products across womenswear and menswear. ASOS operates and distributes their product globally.” -Bloomberg Markets
Revolve is another store that offers a dynamic customizable shopping interface. Admittedly, Revolve is much more of an influencer brand and their model representation is not groundbreaking. Their customizable shopping options and curated shopping topics are still impressive.
What really makes ASOS stand out is their multiple-sized models and their ability to help the consumer picture themselves in the clothes without actually wearing them. Customers can clairvoyantly see themselves at the event wearing the piece. This also speaks to their dedication to a variety of merchandise, something speciality stores or smaller stores would not be able to compete with. However, average stores need to step up their interface to represent different people.
What would incentivize you to shop online if you saw no models that looked like you in the clothing, or if it was impossible to tell the size range or colors an item came in?
Personalized Shopping Experiences
Stores with a Filtered Shopping Experience let you navigate the site at your will. You can choose an event, a color, a size range or just scroll through products. This gives consumers “calls to action” (Shop here for weddings or shop here for petites). And while tempting, these calls to action don’t sell the clothing so much as make it easy to find. It helps that clothing is easily returnable, so consumers can take more chances buying pieces they are not sure they will love.
However, consumers will not make the same compromises with beauty products, undergarments and other more personal products. For these, online retailers have had to develop personal shopping experiences.
It has become common practice to have a live chat feature with a representative to email/chat with you while shopping to answer questions. Other online retailers have taken custom shopping experiences a step further still.
Stores such as LoveURCurls (a brand selling hair products specializing in curly hair), Persona Nutrition (a vitamin service), and ThirdLove (a bra company promising a better, more supportive fit) all require consumers to fill out questionnaires or answer a series of questions to point them to products to fit their particular sets of needs.
To investigate these tests, we took the LoveUrCurls the ThirdLove questionnaires. Aside from their different product focus, both tests were similar. They ask a series of questions using pictures, graphics and scales (on a scale of 1-10…) to help narrow down what problems they can solve for you. The ThirdLove site was one of the most in depth we have experienced. They have interactive digital models that change to match the information you fill in and as you adjust the sliding bars about different aspects of your bra fit (such as: does this cup gape here, is it too tight there, how much do your straps slip) the digital model responds and adjusts to match what you fill in.
Disruptor E-Retailing Strategies: Shopping Services, Online Consignment, and Innovative Business Models
Stores that act as disruptors to the classic shopping experience have secured a niche in the future of e-commerce. These stores are reinventing online shopping and slowly being accepted by the general public. Examples include online consignment shops, box subscription services, and online rental wardrobe services.
Subscription box services range from the previously mentioned vitamin companies to perfume samples to having a personalized shopper send you outfits monthly, yearly, or for special occasions. These services hybridize the Personalized Shopping Experience while adding other enticing elements.
For example, Scentbird, a perfume subscription service, sends you multiple sample size perfumes to try every month. Incentivizing consumers with the promise of multiple new things a month for their dollar keeps them engaged and allows the subscription service to work with other brands and operate as a middleman. If a consumer enjoys a specific scent they can then purchase a full size container. ScentBird gets subscribers, the brands that work with ScentBird get exposed to new audiences to try their product, and the consumer gets variety and low commitment for their dollar as well as a monthly “gift” to themselves.
Subscription services have become overwhelmingly popular in every sector from candy to perfume to beauty to socks.
Online consignment shops, most notably the RealReal have opened the resale market on luxury in a way that had never been previously done. The RealReal takes people’s luxury goods, certifies their authenticity, performs a quality check, and lists them on one site. Instead of having to scour resale sights with different sellers (eBay, Poshmark, Depop), shoppers can buy a variety of luxury goods second hand through one site. The seller remains anonymous, and the site only collects a small commission on sales. This makes a safer and easier resale market that is environmentally conscious, something luxury companies severely suffer with despite their high prices.
Of course, problems arise with this model such as fakes slipping through the RealReal authenticators processes and lawsuits with luxury brands such as Chanel that feel their brand’s prestige is being diluted. The Fashion Law does an excellent job tracking the volley of lawsuits and rebuttals between Chanel and the RealReal (HERE).
Online rental services like Rent the Runway have had a somewhat difficult time gaining traction due to consumers wanting to own their clothing and accessories. Honestly, they may be the most environmentally friendly and social media friendly brand of the future. Consumers can rent a piece or an outfit for a specific amount of time for an event and then return it. The consumer gets to wear a ton of different designers without a massive financial commitment and do not have to worry about being caught “outfit repeating,” which Instagram culture has made a cardinal sin. Potentially, if enough people adapt the renting system, it could lower the amount of clothing consumption and waste that consumers send to landfills. This concept is really only accepted for special occasions, but even for these, many people will end up buying, not renting. Think of how this service would have saved you from having a $300 prom dress hanging in your closet never to be worn again!
Considering the capabilities of the internet marketplace, it is imperative as consumers that we demand more of online retailers. These brands should, and in the future they must, make technological advances in order to stay competitive and attract consumers.
What do you want to see stores start to do? What do you think of these shopping practices and brands?