H&M has been regarded as a fast fashion leader for some time, with its agile supply chain enabling it to offer the latest trends at affordable prices – a winning combination for consumers.
But difficult trading conditions – including reduced consumer confidence and spending on the high street, and a ratcheting up of competition from fast-paced digital-first competitors like ASOS, which saw international sales up 31% in the six months to February 28th 2018 – have led to H&M reporting its biggest profit dip (20%) in six years.
Its latest results, released earlier in March, revealed that the retailer continues to face difficulty, with shares falling 44% over the past year.
H&M cited several reasons for its ailing results, including a sub-optimal product mix, reduced footfall in its bricks-and-mortar stores and slower-than-expected growth in online sales, and has announced that it is adjusting its strategy to focus on optimising its ecommerce operations to address the latter issue.
But if H&M hopes to drive a meaningful increase in online growth, it will need to concentrate its efforts on improving the overall multi-channel customer experience, both through shopping journey enhancements (e.g. by offering the ability to reserve items online for pick-up in-store, a service offered by competitor GAP) and through optimisation of its pre-purchase online content.
Although all-too-often a neglected area, a retailer’s online content – particularly that which users engage with near to the point of purchase – is a vital tool for driving organic traffic, increasing conversion rates and basket size, and reducing product return rates. Here are three ways that all retailers (including H&M) can utilise content to maximise online performance – and survive and thrive in today’s ultra-competitive ecommerce market.
1. Best practice product descriptions
The perennial challenge for consumers shopping for apparel online is, of course, the inability to try on, examine and touch the products in question. That’s why online product descriptions (in combination with product photography) are a critical driver of conversions – providing the information the customer needs to make a confident purchase decision.
Despite this, many retailers still treat this content as an afterthought, publishing cursory descriptions that lack detail and expansion on the fit, feel and benefits of the garments.
Taking H&M as an example, the below description of a summer maxi dress largely discusses basic garment features that are visible from the photography – failing to expand on the tangible benefits of these features, convey any styling tips, or describe the fit and feel of the dress:
Compare the above to an example from Boden (full disclosure: a client of ours at Quill), which describes, in specific terms, the cut and fit of the dress (e.g. ‘cinched waist’, ‘finishes at mid-calf’), whilst also persuasively and evocatively conveying the benefits of the product features (e.g. ‘flattering fit and flare shape’, ‘feminine swish’).
- Our research at Quill reveals 63% of consumers are more likely to buy a garment http://www.quillcontent.com/2017/07/12/create-product-descriptions-convert/ if the product description describes its cut and fit,
- 90% of shoppers are more likely to buy an item if the product description includes specific dimensions or measurements,
- and 71% of consumers prefer descriptions that explain the benefits of the product,
This is not an area that online retailers should ignore: it’s part of protecting conversion rates and reducing basket abandonment.
2. Fully optimised category pages
Against a troubling backdrop of diminishing returns from advertising and increased ad blocker uptake, the importance of maximising organic traffic through search optimisation becomes all the more pronounced.
In particular, improving the search engine results page (SERP) visibility of category pages for high-value, non-branded, long-tail product terms (e.g. ‘women’s cardigans and jumpers’) should be an obvious priority – with Page 1 results on Google still attracting around 95% of all search traffic.
Enriching these pages with high-quality, relevant, authoritative content is one of the best ways to boost their visibility (with content being one of Google’s core ranking signals), yet in spite of this, our research at Quill indicates that only 15% of online retailers have implemented fully-optimised category page descriptions across their ecommerce stores – representing a huge missed revenue opportunity.
Again, taking H&M as an example, the below category description is unlikely to confer much SEO value, as it lacks detail, a broad range of relevant vocabulary for semantic search and internal links to other category and sub-category pages.
By introducing more detailed and rich category page content, H&M could increase its rankings and organic traffic to these lucrative pages.
3. Inspirational buying and how-to guides
Engaging buying and how-to guide content serves the dual purpose of being beneficial for SEO – when aligned with commonly searched user queries – and also in emulating the role of the sales assistant in a physical store.
Buying and how-to guides, when surfaced at relevant points along the customer’s purchase journey, can help users by providing education around products, narrowing down the available options and offering cross-sell recommendations – all of which are particularly valuable to consumers when browsing in the technology, electricals and home & DIY verticals.
A Quill survey of UK consumers found that 22% would be more likely to make a purchase if offered how-to guides that helped them make a decision, and a further 36% would consider a retailer to be more trustworthy if it provided great advice around product ranges.
Whilst the emphasis for fashion brands like H&M may be less around product guidance and more around style inspiration, shoppable editorial (with intelligent product recommendations and optimised around commonly searched terms), product guides could still form a part of the brand’s online content strategy.
As H&M’s March 2018 financial results have shown, even the largest global brands can’t afford to rest on their laurels in this increasingly competitive, digital-first retail landscape. Businesses need to fight hard for every sale – because if the online experience they offer to consumers is sub-par, they will simply take their custom elsewhere.
Having high-quality website content is critical to capitalising on all marketing investment made further up the funnel (whether through ATL advertising, display ads, paid search or email campaigns), ensuring that once a customer lands on your site, they are effectively pulled through to purchase, and not simply dropping off at the all-important final stage of the shopping journey.
Getting this right – and maximising online sales as a result – will help retailers to stay afloat in the tough conditions many face at present.