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GUEST COMMENT Unisex retailing

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In the early 2000s, the world opened its arms to the metrosexual male. A then-confused and largely misinterpreted term, the classification of metrosexuality now holds a resounding significance to ‘female only’ fashion labels; that is, that men are interested in fashion too, and they expect to be part of your target market.

As astonishing as it may seem, fashion now accounts for around 83% of young men’s online spend, an indication of just how big this market has become. This, supported by the fact that 31% of online traffic is generated through mobile devices and that one in two males aged 18-35 have access to fashion apps on their personal devices, suggests that snubbing male audiences is the equivalent of committing retail suicide. After all, maximising your online presence is at the core of driving sales, and cutting your market in half is hardly going to help, particularly if a significantly higher number of men are accessing content via digital means. This is one of the reasons why recently decided to extend its customer base, with the launch of their first in-house menswear collection, BoohooMAN.

The phrase: ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars’ rings true for online fashion retailers because the navigational habits of each sex are vastly different. As such, the first big mistake a retailer can make is to assume that men want a replicated experience from female offerings, because they simply don’t. Of course, one of the biggest challenges here is to assess the differences between male and female storefronts and the only way to do this is to look at their behaviour.

Accessing analytical site data is vital as it can provide invaluable insight when defining this difference. More specifically, it can help identify the type of content that will engage with a specific gender, why a particular page is converting for one and not the other, or when peak times of activity occur.

The problem then is attracting both audiences whilst avoiding the issue of catering to one sex more than the other. Often, the best approach to avoid this situation is to develop a single and solid ecosystem but offer individually targeted portals. A few sites that do this particularly well are TK Maxx and Fat Face, which create a balance between storefronts by incorporating male and female targeted banners, ‘hot spotting’ each audience to the gender-specific departments and linking to relevant promotions, such as seasonal offers and new ranges. and LN-CC each offer a similar experience, targeting men and women in distinctive ways, but from one single portal. Both literally divide content into separate ‘MEN’ and ‘WOMEN’ tabs, much like physical stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, which helps to direct customers to the products that they want to buy. This format has become the standard for in-store layouts, consisting of two paths: ‘left’ for women, and ‘right’ for men. This results in a focused experience that targets both male and female audiences that at the same time, dispels the complication of asking users to travel to a different site.

In many ways, these types of design exemplify just how thin the line between online and offline has become, with online stores now closely resembling the physical separation of male and female isles and sections seen in high street stores. For modern shoppers, going into a store remains a largely ‘upstairs’ or downstairs’ decision and this is exactly how online retailing has evolved. That said, this reveals something even more crucial about the industry and that’s the method behind a successful unisex storefront. Closely defined, this is an outlet that is inclusive to all but exclusive to each individual sex. Given the large number of brands that are now dipping their toes into wider markets, modern retailers simply cannot afford to ignore this trend. If they do, they may well come to regret it in the future.

Steve Uren is group creative director at Venda

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