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Is fashion delivering the perfect experience?

It has been some years since online fashion retail really took off, enabled by better content and, crucially, better returns policies. Joe Tarragano, Director, Transform examines the sector’s position today.

Innovation in fashion retail online continues aplenty and best practice remains ever evolving. For some, such as Boden which has no mobile offering, this means that their once-leading offerings have started to fall behind. Shop Direct has seen its digital transformation lead to a great customer experience. While others have simply carried on as they always have done, with John Lewis’s rock-solid experience and Schuh pushing the boundaries.

Today’s truly successful omnichannel retailers need to have a customer experience that is aligned end-to-end. With an expanding range of fulfilment options, channels and global markets, knowing your customer well in order to identify your brand’s points of differentiation is key. We see this in our research study, with some of the variations reflecting conscious customer, commercial and operational choices.

Click & collect will be one of the defining elements of peak 2015. Expected to be the fulfilment route for up to 65% of some retailers’ online orders, its impact on store operations will be huge. Surprisingly, 28% still don’t offer this service including Jack Wills and Hollister and they need to be prepared for the impact on business if they introduce it.

The commercial analysis and customer context also explains why neither Burberry nor Net-a-Porter need to cluster around the standard delivery fee of £3.99 (figure 1). Given the product price points, the postage charge is less material, and more expensive packaging is not just affordable but also a key part of the experience. Some retailers though are clearly off the mark, and one can presume that their customers will come to recognise, and potentially resent, the disparity.

Internationally there is much greater variability in fulfilment charges. While it is easy to point to Clarks or Superdry and laud the free delivery, again one must consider the commercial context and wonder if money is being left on the table.

Along with mobile, international is a core pillar of many retailers’ growth strategies, and 91% sell internationally (52% in more than 50 countries). Some lead the way on the number of countries served, the localisation options developed and the propositions in place. However, there is clearly much to be done before the baseline is at a reasonable level: only 63% sell to China (figure 2), almost a quarter take more than a week to deliver to the US and almost half have no country-specific website.

The mobile pillar also displays less consistency than might be expected, given how long it has been on the digital agenda. Whether a native app is required is specific to the retailer, but where they have been built, 59% don’t support Android. Apple may be more popular amongst the older and more affluent consumers and users evidence greater levels of online purchasing, but globally Android is used by 3 times as many as iOS. App development is also at an early maturity stage, with users scoring iOS apps just 3.3/5 on average. With only one third of the retailers in our survey scoring more than 70 on Google’s mobile speed performance tests, we must hope for greater focus on the underlying architecture.

Leadership on any of these factors today may not ensure leadership tomorrow. Reviewing the product detail pages, one would have anticipated that trailblazers such as ASOS would have scored more highly. There is very substantial variation in design treatments and, in our opinion, very significant variation in usability, but this study has tried to avoid subjectivity by focusing on clear, factual analysis. What is obvious is that not all retailers make readily available the types of content that fashion buyers need at point of purchase: reviews, returns policies, size guides, recommendations and images for each of the product’s colour variants.

Also, for some retailers, the search experience hasn’t been kept current. Best practice is now focusing on great use of the search bar, adding type-ahead that includes images and product information, ever expanding (and more usable) facets and better use of screen real estate for the results sets. Not all retailers have embraced this.

Social sharing is also less prominent than might be expected and indeed retailers’ social media strategies are quite different. Absent data, one could argue on the demographics (eg an older, more male audience might value social less). However, there is scant evidence for this and limited explanation for the choices made, eg Burton (little social activity), Next (significantly more social activity but limited sharing options) and Moss Bros (little activity, significant sharing).

These are a few of the insights from the research. This study reviewed 93 different components across the 10 major categories, and if there was one over-arching conclusion it would be this: no one retailer currently has a perfect experience and for most the changes needed are significant. With standards continually advancing, it remains the case that the truly successful multichannel retailers will be those that understand their customers’ priorities, have the culture and agility to do something about it, and are able to execute on it efficiently and in a commercially robust way.

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