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Guest comment: Optimise online opportunities

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by Enda Breslin

Until recently, consumers have been reluctant to purchase clothes and accessories over the web without putting their hands on them first, an obstacle fashion retailers refer to as ‘touch and feel’. To address consumer concerns, fashion retailers have made it a priority to make the online fashion shopping experience as interactive as possible. Our annual Multichannel Fashion Report brings to the forefront the success fashion retailers are having in getting consumers to shop for fashion goods online more so than they do on the high street. Nearly half (45 per cent) of the consumers we polled said that they preferred shopping for clothes and accessories online, an increase of seven per cent year on year.

While shopping online is set to rival the high street as the consumer’s preferred method, retailers are still not taking full advantage of e-channel opportunities. Results from our research showed that almost 90 per cent of shoppers felt that retailers could do more to attract them to their websites. With features such as advanced zoom facilities, interactive catwalks and 360˚ rotation options available, consumers now increasingly expect sites to be optimised in a way that replicates the in-store experience.

It is also interesting to note the features that fashion shoppers most interact with online. We found that 56 per cent of consumers prefer online fashion outlets that allow them to filter searches by size and colour. Half (50 per cent) of those surveyed said they liked being able to rotate and zoom in on products, while the same number also found hover boxes that offer additional product information useful. Customer reviews on items were also considered to be important by 44 per cent of consumers. Alternatively, videos and pictures of celebrities wearing products (five per cent); being able to share content (three per cent); and audio descriptions of items (two per cent) offer little incentive for consumers to purchase online.

In addition to inspiring confidence, the report’s results turn the concept of ‘multichannel’ into a reality for the fashion retail sector. We found that almost two thirds, or (64 per cent) of those surveyed, visit fashion retailers’ websites to research items they like before deciding to buy them on the high-street, an increase of five per cent from 2010.

One initiative that 42 per cent of consumers said they wanted to see in multichannel fashion retailers’ stores was more online kiosks. A popular way of allowing consumers to browse a brand’s entire product range and select delivery options and times from the shop floor, online kiosks are already being tested by retailers such as Debenhams, M&S and Oasis. Female shoppers, in particular, echoed this sentiment with only eight per cent saying that they didn’t want to see more online kiosks.

It is now imperative that fashion retailers employ the latest technology to give shoppers the same experience both in-store and online. Brands now have everything at their disposal to make sure that their customers’ shopping experience is completely synchronised, regardless of how they choose to shop.

Enda Breslin is vice president of strategy and client services at GSI Commerce

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