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Fashion retailer logosWith the continued growth of online shopping, and with new pureplay retailers entering the market looking for new opportunities, I would expect that the biggest players would be leading the way in terms of customer experience.

With the upcoming Online Fashion 100 event in London that I'll be attending, I have taken a look at some of the biggest players in the fashion industry, both pureplay retailers and high street retailers.

I was particularly interested to look at key areas of their online customer experience to find out:

1) how well some of these brands are are delivering intelligent and meaningful cross-sell and up-sells to drive higher average order values, and...

2) which retailers are potentially losing sales due to a lack of focus on the full customer experience, right through to the end of the checkout process.

The pureplay fashion retailers I've taken a look at are:

  • ASOS
  • Net-a-porter
  • My Wardrobe
  • The Outnet
  • Koodos

The high street fashion retailers I've taken a look at are:

  • Harvey Nichols
  • Miss Selfridge
  • Topshop
  • Next
  • New Look

The five questions I posed to each of these retailers are:

  1. How seriously are they taking cross-selling and up-selling in order to encourage higher average order values?
  2. Do they make standard delivery costs clear before you get into the actual checkout process?
  3. Are payment options and cards accepted clear prior to checking out?
  4. Have they enclosed their checkout as a way of potentially reducing checkout process abandonments?
  5. Do they provide clear customer service contact details during the checkout process?

So, on to the first question...

1) How seriously are they taking cross-selling and up-selling in order to encourage higher average order values?

In the first instance I've looked to see whether each retailer is actually providing these types of recommendations on their product page. If they have I have then looked closer at how relevant the suggestions are and whether it is clear to a shoppers which products are complimentary and which are alternatives. In my experience when retailers use a generic header of 'you might also like' or 'may we suggest' they are less likely to encourage visitors to actively consider the suggestions than if they had used a heading such as 'complete the look' or 'wear it with' for instance.

Pureplay Fashion Retailers

ASOS and Net-a-porter are leading the way for the pureplay retailers, but at the other end of the scale are My Wardrobe, The Outnet and Koodos. All of these three brands could be doing a lot more to encourage shoppers to consider either purchasing a similar item that may cost slightly more, or more importantly consider buying more to compliment the item they are considering purchasing.

In the extreme case, The Outnet haven't implemented any cross-selling, unlike parent company Net-a-porter.

Comparison on pureplay fashion retailers - cross-selling and up-selling

High Street Fashion Retailers

Both Miss Selridge and Next have certainly looked at ways of encouraging visitors to consider completing their outfit or looking at similar items that they may be interested in. Once again, as with the pureplay retailers there are some of the high street retailers who either don't provide cross-selling (Topshop) or if they do, they aren't delivering as relevant suggestions as they could be (Harvey Nichols and New Look). It will be very interesting to see whether improving cross-selling to encourage heavier shopping baskets will be something that retailers will begin to pay more attention to, or whether it will remain only a small part of the customer experience.

Ratings and Reviews To Improve Conversion Rates

Next also integrate reviews into some of their products, and the importance of ratings and reviews can't be underestimated for online retailers. Of all the 10 fashion sites I looked at only Next provides this, although I fully expect that over the next 12 months more fashion retailers will look integrating ratings and reviews (especially for the pureplay retailers who are working hard at building up online communities for their customers).

Highstreet fashion retailers - cross-selling and up-selling benchmark

2) Do they make standard delivery costs clear before you get into the actual checkout process?

The time at which a shopper is presented with the standard delivery costs they can be the difference between a completed purchase and an abandoned checkout process. It is widely accepted that retailers should make it absolutely clear to visitors what they will pay for standard delivery before entering the checkout process. There will sometimes be occasions where choices made during the checkout process ie. a visitor chooses a special delivery option, will mean that the delivery cost is more than what was provided at the shopping basket stage. Providing the wording on the shopping basket makes this clear to the visitor, this is much better than not applying any form of delivery cost at the visitors shopping basket.

Using free delivery offers to increase shopping basket sizes

One way in which retailers can encourage visitors to consider buying more than what they were intending is by heavily promoting free delivery offers ie. 'spend over £80 for free delivery' in a prominent place near to the 'proceed to checkout' button.

Pureplay Fashion Retailers

Net-a-porter, The Outnet and Koodos all make it completely clear to visitors what they will be paying for the delivery of their goods. In comparison both ASOS and My-Wardrobe don't provide a total cost you will pay at the checkout process - for standard delivery costs if you haven't reached a free delivery order value, you have to find this out yourself, or risk getting a surprise when you are checking out.

ASOS in particular, with its FREE delivery offers when you spend over a certain amount, could look at promoting this within their shopping basket. At the moment if visitors haven't seen the free delivery offers, there is no indication at the shopping basket either what standard delivery costs will be, or that they can get free delivery if they increase the size of their order.

Pureplay fashion retailers - clarity of delivery costs

High Street Fashion Retailers

As with the five pureplay retailers I've looked at, not all of the pureplay retailers make delivery costs clear prior to checking out. Once again there are free delivery options available based upon you spending over a certain amount, but as this isn't as well promoted in the shopping basket this is a potential missed opportunity for retailers to encourage visitors to spend more than they planned.

Highstreet fashion retailers - clarity of delivery costs

3) Are payment options and cards accepted clear prior to checking out?

Another way for retailers to frustrate potential customers is to not make it clear to them which cards are accepted for payment until they arrive at the payment page of checkout. This is particularly true for first-time online shoppers for a particular brand, and for visitors who don't have one of the more widely available credit or debit cards.

To save visitors the potential frustration of arriving at the payment page only to find that they can't pay with their particular card, retailers simply need to clearly promote which payment methods are accepted on the shopping basket page.

Paypal and Google Checkout as alternative payment options

Along with providing the different payment cards accepted at the shopping basket, more retailers are also providing alternative payment methods such as Paypal and Google Checkout, although of the 10 retailers in this article these alternative payment methods weren't provided. In particular for less confident online shoppers and first-time online shoppers, these highly-trusted payment options can be the difference between an abandoned checkout process and a completed purchase.

Pureplay Fashion Retailers

Only ASOS and Koodos make it clear to visitors prior to checking which cards are accepted for payment. Net-a-porter, My Wardrobe and The Outnet all fail to provide this simple but important piece of information to visitors. An interesting test for these retailers would be to add in a graphic showing which cards are accepted on the shopping basket, and then looking at how this impacts on the drop-our rate during the checkout process, in particular the page where the cards accepted are usually first displayed.

Pureplay fashion retailers - clarity of payment options

High Street Fashion Retailers

As with the pureplay retailers, not all of the five high street retailers provide this clarity of payment options prior to a visitor checking out. New Look is the only retailer to provide clarity on both delivery costs and payment options, and these areas contrubute heavily to how well New Look performs overall when it comes to shopping basket usability and best practice. Due to the length of this post already I won't be providing full insights unlike a previous post when I benchmarked both Amazon and The Book Depository in these areas.

Highstreet fashion retailers - clarity of payment options

4) Have they enclosed their checkout as a way of potentially reducing checkout process abandonments?

Checkout enclosure, and its impact on checkout conversion rates, is something which I've written about previously, and the reasons and benefits for taking this approach are significant. For retailers yet to move towards this approach, this is something I would highly recommend is trialled by conducing split tests. Fully enclosure isn't for every retailer and therefore by carrying out testing the results will tell you which version (or combination of elements) will deliver a better conversion rate.

Pureplay Fashion Retailers

Only ASOS currently provides an enclosed checkout process, and it will be interesting to see whether any of the other pureplay retailers look at adopting this approach going forward. Along with them implementing improved attribute navigation in recent times, I suspect that ASOS's implementation of an enclosed checkout process was the result of things like customer feedback, user research and testing.

Pureplay fashion retailers - enclosed checkout

High Street Fashion Retailers

In complete contrast to the pureplay retailers, four out of the five high street retailers featured do enclose their checkout process. Only New Look has yet to adopt this approach and again it will be interesting to see whether this is something that it introduces following tests.

Use of social media and online communities

What is interesting to compare is the use of social media and online communities for the pureplay and high street fashion retailers. Whereas as you might expect the pureplay retailers have a much stronger focus in this area, the high street brands are less active in the social media arena.

In comparison, the high street retailers that - give or take - have been trading online for longer than their pureplay competitors are in certain areas more advanced when it comes to following best practice for checkout processes. I expect that over the next 12 months the likes of Net-a-porter and The Outnet will look at moving more towards an enclosed checkout route, therefore catching up with some of the high street rivals such as Miss Selfridge and Topshop.

Highstreet fashion retailers - enclosed checkout

5) Do they provide clear customer service contact details during the checkout process?

Providing this is one way for retailers to try and help visitors through the checkout process, who may otherwise abandon their visit for any number of reasons, some of which are explained above. Providing contact details did use to be seen by some retailers as encouraging shoppers to buy over the phone instead of online, when in fact the reason retailers should do this is to help the small percentage of visitors who will have a question as they are checking out.

Even if the visitor ends up not ordering online but instead over the telephone, at least the retailer has saved a potential lost sales opportunity through an abandoned checkout process.

Live shopping assistance

Although this isn't something that is provided by the 10 fashion retailers I have looked at here, research in the US in particular has shown that live shopping assistance is most used often whilst a visitor is checking out. Once more this type of addition to the customer experience can mean the difference between an abandoned shopping visit and a new customer order.

Pureplay Fashion Retailers

Compared to the comparison of which retailers provide an enclosed checkout, roles are reversed for all but Koodos, which - as well as not enclosing its checkout process - doesn't provide a visible contact number during checkout. If ASOS was to provide a customer support telephone number during their enclosed checkout this may well help it rescue some sales when shoppers do have questions during their checkout process.

On the other side, although Net-a-porter, My Wardrobe and The Outnet don't use an enclosed checkout, they do at least make it much easier to contact them during the checkout process.

Pureplay fashion retailers - visible contact details in checkout

High Street Fashion Retailers

Only Harvey Nichols and Next provide visible contact details during the checkout process of the five retailers I looked at - this isn't to say that there aren't customer service contact numbers available for all these brands, they are just choosing not to make these details visible to the shopper (without clicking in to a contact page).

Although it is such a simple addition to a retail website, it is surprising why more retailers don't provide this information as one way of supporting particular visitors who have questions during the final stages of the their shopping journey.

Highstreet fashion retailers - visible contact number

Pureplay Retailers - Overall Usability Ratings

Taking all the above and more into account, below is benchmark of all the five pureplay retailers when it comes to overall usability of their customer experience. Although no one retailer stands out as following most best practice recommendations, My Wardrobe is very much bottom of the ratings by some distance.

Pureplay fashion retailers - overall usability rating

High Street Retailers - Overall Usability Ratings

As with the pureplay retailers, no high street retailer stands out with their overall rating, but interestingly these five retailers do, on average, follow a number of best practice recommendations.

Highstreet fashion retailers - overall usability rating

Summary

So what is this article highlighting? On the one hand it highlights that all the retailers featured are doing some things well and other things not so well when it comes to providing a customer experience that removes as many potential usability obstacles as possible.

My recommendation to all of these retailers would be to ensure they look at the full customer journey when it comes to providing both an enjoyable shopping experience but more importantly, doing the essential things well in terms of clear delivery costs, payment options and customer support. Through on-going split and multi-variate testing there is no reason why each retailer cannot improve overall conversion rates. In addition, for the retailers who aren't providing intelligent cross-selling product suggestions, this should be one area they look at to try and improve their average order values.

If you are interested in gaining a much more detailed understanding of the areas I have covered in this article then you may like to consider coming along to the training course I deliver for Econsultancy which focuses on usability and best practice for online retailers.

What will be interesting will be to look at how these retailers progress and improve their customer experience as the online fashion sector becomes even more competitive. On a final note I expect implementation of new social media strategies will continue to drive traffic and improve customer engagement for each of these brands, with the pureplay retailers taking the lead in most cases.

Paul Rouke

Published 15 June, 2009 by Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

37 more posts from this author

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David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

There is also other elements of how they drive buyers back to their store, some are using other mediums like email marketing to drive more sales better than others.

over 7 years ago

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Andrew Curran

Paul, I read your post with interest back in June and have made some subatantial changes to the site, to some extent as a result of your research. It's also fair to say that we recognised the customer journey was less than optimised on my-wardrobe.com and conversion had room for improvement. Having improved many of the areas where we fell short of the mark, I'm happy to report we have seen an uplift in the ecommerce conversion rate of approaching 20%. There are further improvements still to make over the coming weeks - I hope to post similar results here once we have had opportunity to measure the impact of the forthcoming changes. We've also added Feefo to site, allowing for independent customer reviews. It's proved very popular, and no doubt helped improve conversion also.

over 7 years ago

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Philippe Oger

@David

You're right, e-mail marketing and CRM is not mentioned in that post. However, I think Paul focused more on the on site experience, and how to increase the Average Order Value (partly). Therefore e-mail marketing and CRM should not be on that post.

This was a great post Paul, thanks for the read.

over 7 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

@Andrew - thats great to hear, and your almost 20% improvement to conversion rate is a superb achievement. I presume you are carrying out the likes of split and multivariate tests when implementing some of the changes?

In addition, do you have an understanding of which improvements had the biggest impact on your conversion rate, or is that difficult to judge if you have been doing many changes throughout the customer journey?

As you say sharing some of the business insights from My Wardrobe is a great testament to usability and customer journey improvements - I suspect there could be case study in the pipeline as well?

@Philippe - you're right, my post was all about the on-site customer experience, although on David's point about traffic mediums, its true that there will be fluctuations in the likes of conversion rates dependant on which traffic source a visitor has come from, and whether they are a returning customer (as two top level examples). Thanks for your words about the post, I'm glad you found it useful.

over 7 years ago

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Sarah Spurgeon

Hi, just to clarify, what is the definition of a "pure play" retailer?

about 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi - in the context of this post, a pureplay is a retailer that sells online only.

about 5 years ago

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWDSmall Business Multi-user

Cheers Graham you beat me to it!

about 5 years ago

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