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The marked and continuing growth reported by online fashion retailers demonstrates the potential e-tailing holds in times when the high street is suffering. 

The e-commerce industry body IMRG reports that online sales of clothing, shoes and accessories were up by 18% from Dec 2008 – 2009, and that fashion e-tailers were the leaders in the UK online market. 

By taking the notion of online retailing one step further and going international, the opportunities for growth for the retailer are taken to a whole new level.

Cross-border e-commerce has proven to be hugely successful for online fashion retailer ASOS. Launched ten years ago, ASOS (As Seen On Screen) now sells to 150 countries. From France to Fiji and from Ireland to Iran, ASOS reports having 2.9 million registered users worldwide. 

The company states that it increases its multicultural usability of its website by sticking to the guidelines set out in the Plain English Campaign, keeping the English language on the site clear and concise. It also features a currency converter for all of the countries it markets to. By making the website as culturally ‘friendly’ as possible, ASOS broadens it potential customer base. 

By using these tools effectively, ASOS managed to up their international sales by 102 % last year alone. In fact, the site has done so well in the USA that the company plan to start up a US-specific site later this year, a project fellow retail giant Topshop has already taken on, and is currently reaping the rewards of.

However, cultural ‘friendliness’ isn’t the only factor that needs to be considered when opening up an online fashion retail site to an international customer base.  Potential new markets need to be researched thoroughly, with each local market looked at distinctly. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Does the brand already have presence in the targeted country? A brand that already has stores overseas, or features in media coverage (think Topshop) is going to be more successful online than an unheard of brand.
  • Check out the competition. Are there similar, cheaper brands already doing well in the region you want to target? If so, how can you ensure your brand works successfully?
  • Look at cross-border sales figures for each region. There are some countries that are more open to buying from overseas than others.
  • Look for any potential growth in overseas markets. For example, the CRR predicts a 36% growth in online shopping in Poland for 2010.


With such a globalised fashion and celebrity culture, now is the time for online fashion retailers to take full advantage of international e-commerce. Statistics show that shoppers are gradually becoming more confident when buying products from abroad, with cross-border purchasing having more than doubled since 2003.

And while both businesses and customers have expressed concerns over fraud, payment problems, and logistics when it comes to overseas online purchasing, with today’s advanced security software, safe payment options such as PayPal, and with the benefits of selling internationally being so evident, now is the time to reach out to the global fashion community.

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Published 11 March, 2010 by Greig Holbrook

Greig Holbrook is director of Oban Multilingual and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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