Leon Bailey-Green works as a consultant to the online fashion industry advising retailers on marketing, partnership and business strategy.
He was also behind the Online Fashion 100, which lists the influencers in the industry, and is launching his agency later this year.
I’ve been talking to Leon about the latest trends in the online fashion sector…
How do you see the online fashion sector at the moment?
There is still only 6% of the fashion retail market online, a smaller percentage than some other retail sectors. This means there is still huge potential to get more people shopping for fashion online.
Offline retailers need to do more to get customers online too. For example, Uniqlo has an offer in its stores for customers to get 10% off in they sign up to its newsletter.
This was a good offer, but the problem is that they have to do this online, so many customers will buy in store and forget to sign up online, whereas their data could have been captured in the shop there and then, which is a missed opportunity.
With retailers like TK Maxx and Matalan recently launching e-commerce sites, why do you think some fashion retailers still not selling online?
The biggest examples are H&M and Zara, but a lot of boutique brands and independents are going online as the see it as another way to sell their goods at little extra cost compared with opening other stores.
Others, like TK Maxx have the right idea in selling just their range of handbags to test what is going on online and see what the demand is and the kind of products shoppers want to buy from them.
It’s good to build up intelligence in this way, so I think it’s a smart move.
Is a preference for offline shopping, especially the desire to try clothes on first, holding back the online fashion market in any way?
I’m not sure that this should be a problem, as home shopping through catalogues has always been a big market. People get used to these brands and know the sizes, so they are comfortable in ordering without having to try clothes on first.
People also use the internet for pre and post offline shopping, seeing what is on offer on the website before going a store to purchase. The reverse is also true, and many will browse offline to get ideas of looks and styles before buying online.
Everyone is different, and retailers need to make it easy for shoppers to use whatever channel they want.
Do etailers have to work harder to sell fashion online than other sectors?
Things like product photography are very important, the quality has to be good enough to let shoppers see detail and get a good enough idea of the clothes.
A lot of retailers are now also using blogs to give shoppers ideas about the latest trends and celebrity looks to help them decide what to buy.
Video content is another way to achieve this, and sites like Shudoo have videos showcasing the latest trends.
This is also good for SEO purposes, as it provides more content for the search engines to index.
There are also hurdles to get over in terms of sizing. For instance, lingerie retailer Oola does well by providing a guide for shoppers to measure themselves so they feel more confident about buying from the site.
Is there a shortage of skills in online fashion retailing?
There is definitely a shortage of skills in merchandising. Anyone who understand the technical side of e-commerce as well as someone that understands the seasonality of the business and stock ordering is worth their weight in gold at the moment, as there are not enough of them around.
Merchandisers in online fashion need to understand online marketing and SEO, as well as having knowledge of how people use websites and the ability to learn from analytics and make changes.
It’s a new industry, and it will take some time for enough people with that full spectrum of knowledge to become available.
Are more fashion retailers getting into blogging?
A lot of the high street stores have been setting up their own blogs to talk about trends and styles. As mentioned, this is good for SEO, and driving traffic to the site, but it also allows them to talk to customers about the brand, something which can’t be done offline.
Koodos’ Bargainista blog is a great example of this, recommending the best fashion bargains, and even linking out to competitor’s websites.
There is room for more mainstream fashion bloggers; many talk about catwalk trends and styles, but this may not appeal to everyone, and I think there is a gap there.
Which fashion retailers do you think are getting it right online?
MyWardrobe, which launched recently, is a great example. It gives users the option of seeing clothes as they are, or on a model or mannequin, and provides a good customer path, as well as blog content. Lipsy is another site which is doing well, and I can find little fault with it.