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GUEST COMMENT How online fashion can inspire millennials in the Amazon era

How fashion retailers can better cater to millennials shoppers in the Amazon era?

Amazon is yet to really rock the world of online fashion. Only 18% of UK millennials purchase high-value clothing items on the online marketplace, for example, despite 1 in 5 ‘always’ starting their online shopping there. And fast-fashion websites dominate, accounting for 66% of all fashion traffic.

But Amazon has growing fashion ambitions and is raising the bar when it comes to setting consumer expectations – something that’s impacting every fashion retailer. Here I explore how fashion retailers can better cater to millennials shoppers in the Amazon era.

Why millennials are fashion’s biggest opportunity

Millennials will become the mainstream consumer within a decade and they’re set to represent 35% of spending as soon as 2030. They’re moving the goal posts when it comes to customer experience, and they’re hooked on the Amazon proposition of value, convenience, and product inventory, with a massive 79% having made a purchase on the platform in the past month – more than any other demographic.

New research from digital consultancy Inviqa casts new light on millennial shopping habits and expectations. Here are the headline findings and what they mean for fashion retailers:

1. Price is king for UK millennials

Price is the leading consideration for millennials when it comes to online retail. The number-one reason millennials would choose Amazon is the perception that its products are usually cheaper than other ecommerce sites.

Price is also the primary reason why millennials would shop with any ecommerce website again, and a massive 87% of 16-36-year-olds are very likely (41%) or likely (46%) to look at several different websites or apps to see where they can get the best price for a product.

Amazon has catered to this well through its very transactional platform, but especially through Prime, a sticky pay-to-play loyalty programme that helps customers get the items they want, when they want them, at a competitive price, with ‘free’ delivery as standard and next-day delivery included for millions of items.

The price of their loyalty, according to millennials themselves, is discounts; loyalty programmes are primarily seen as a way to save money. But while discounts can be a useful starting point, transforming millennial shoppers into brand ambassadors is about understanding how to offer real value to the individual shopper.

Younger shoppers tend to be more loyal to brands offering personalised interactions, for example, and emotion is a strong loyalty driver, so understanding what customers are thinking, feeling, seeing, and hearing across every step of the customer journey is key.

The true goal behind loyalty schemes must therefore be to continually learn more about individual shoppers and apply that insight to add value and provide compelling, personalised experiences.

2. Convenience counts

Fulfilment has a strong impact on customer experience for millennials. Technology firm Radial, for example, found that delivery-related dissatisfaction rates are 12% higher for millennial and Gen Z shoppers compared with the over-55s.

For this reason, fashion retailers can’t afford to treat fulfilment as an afterthought and need to be reviewing their internal and third-party logistics capabilities to understand where they can drive efficiencies and offer more flexibility to the consumer.

When asked about the most important thing a website can do to make it more convenient to shop with them, the majority of millennials (27%) chose ‘a choice of delivery options’, for example specific time slots for delivery, click and collect, and so on. The second-most popular choice (22%) was ‘a convenient and easy returns procedure’.

We know that millennials are the demographic most likely to purchase several items with the intention of returning all but one. But it’s essential that retailers try to prevent these behaviours by understanding why millennials are buying several items and returning all but one. Is it because the product information isn’t adequate? Is imagery not showing the true colour? Size guides not instilling confidence?

That said, there will always be a select demographic that wants to try before they buy, and not enabling these sorts of tactics will simply result in those customers going to other brands that do.
Amazon is doing this, for example, with its Prime Wardrobe ‘try before you buy’ offering, as are other retailers offering ‘buy now, pay later’ models (which 1 in 10 millennials say is the main thing a retailer can offer to make online shopping more convenient).

Retailers such as Asos and Amazon and have set the bar high when it comes to convenience, and innovations with technologies such as visual search (ASOS’ Style Match, for example) and voice (Amazon’s Echo Look, for example) are adding to rising consumer expectations. But in a shrinking retail space, no fashion retailer can afford to sit on the sidelines, because providing a convenient service has become as important as the very brand a retailer is selling.

3. Millennials shop with the intent

The top characteristic of positive ecommerce experiences, according to 16-36-year-olds, is where they know what they want and can ‘find it quickly and simply’. That’s why fashion brands, even those selling luxury or higher-inspiration products, need to cater to millennials that land on your site with a strong idea of what they want to buy.

Even for millennials arriving on a website with the strong intent to buy, that website’s ability to instil trust and confidence is key to conversion. But online shops are making life difficult for these types of shoppers by failing at the basics.

The most common ecommerce problem millennials encounter is the ‘lack of product information and/or reviews’, despite the fact that a staggering 93% of millennials are very likely (56%) or likely (37%) to read product reviews before making an online purchase. The second-most-common challenge they face is where the site is too slow or has errors.

Thankfully, the likes of usability testing, multivariate testing (MVT), and heuristic evaluation are fast, easy approaches to understanding where existing features of a site or app can be improved, helping to establish what’s needed to create fast, pain-free journeys.

4. Millennials shop for inspiration

Amazon may be the default ecommerce destination for millennials, with 59% ‘always’ or ‘often’ starting their online shopping there, but 1 in 10 millennials say the reason why they wouldn’t shop with Amazon in some cases is because they don’t always know what they’re looking for and ‘it’s hard to find inspiration on Amazon’.

Amazon has made a success of being transactional and catering to those shopping with strong intent to buy, but this isn’t the only way millennials are looking to shop. Millennials are also interested in enjoying the discovery of new products, rather than simply the fulfilment of what they know they want, and this is the greatest opportunity for fashion retailers struggling to connect with millennial shoppers.

Rather than Amazon, millennials’ search for product inspiration seems to increasingly start on social media networks, and with the time spent on these platforms still on the rise there are even greater opportunities for brand discovery, and to gather user data to help drive personalised, curated product discovery.

Of course, you don’t need ASOS or Amazon’s budget to inspire and delight. Any retailer can use small, focused digital experiments to achieve differentiated experiences that speak to millennials shopping for inspiration.

Establishing a ‘learn fast’ digital culture that supports this experimentation is key to creating products and services that continue to delight and inspire. It’s been key to the phenomenal success of fashion pure-play ASOS, for example, which isn’t afraid to relaunch product categories that fail the first time, and which is pushing industry expectations on how fast retailers can innovate.

And there are great lessons to be learnt from retailers in other industries. Etsy, for example, which is not predominantly a fashion retailer, has turned product search and discovery into an art form with a focus on curation, expertise, and specialist purchases. It’s the most user-friendly UK mobile website, according to Google, and capitalises on the fact that millennials use mobile more than any other device to search for products online.

Capitalising on the millennial opportunity

Millennials care about price, convenience, and how well a retailer fits with their individual perceptions of value. They frequently shop with a clear idea of what they want, and they expect detailed product information, balanced reviews, and a frictionless path to purchase.

But they also have individual needs and requirements, and they’re in the market for inspiration and the enjoyment of discovering new products. Herein lies the biggest opportunity for fashion retailers: to surprise, delight, and inspire, and make online fashion as much about the enjoyment of product discovery as it is about fast fulfilment.

Author: Brett Lawrence, business consultancy director of Inviqa

Image credit: Fotolia 

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