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Fashion names compete for share of UK online market

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Fashion retailer Zara   is the latest big fashion name to open online in the UK.

The retailer, owned by Inditex, launched an online store here today, as it also opened its virtual tills in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The site, www.zara.com, offers delivery to a Zara store for free, while standard delivery to any address costs £3.95 within three to five working days, while express delivery, arriving in one to two days costs £9.95. Orders can be tracked through the website while returns by post or through a Zara shop are free.

Shoppers can choose to browse in any of six languages, Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and German, while site features include behind the scenes videos, catalogues, and lookbooks. The range stocked online includes adults and children's clothes.

Retail consultant Simon Chinn, of Verdict Research, says there is “clearly demand” for Zara online, and he expects that internet sales will soon overtake the turnover of a typical Zara store. He said: “Zara’s core customer base is a tech savvy bunch epitomized by its over 4.5m fans on Facebook and its highly popular iPhone app, which has been downloaded more than 3.5m times.”

He believes Zara will work well as a multichannel retailer, offering the same prices and ranges as its high street stores. “Its lenient returns policy will extend to online orders, allowing customers to return goods purchased online to stores.”

The opening comes soon after Gap opened its European store for UK sales, and at a time when high street UK retailers are moving quickly to go online. H&M is also expected to open to UK online retail on September 16.

The move also comes as eBay launches what it describes as an “assault on the fashion world” in order to increase its share of the retail market.

Its Fashion Outlet, which now sells 30 clothing brands from Superdry, Karen Millen, Ted Baker, and Office at prices which it says are up to 70% less than high street prices, is currently eBay’s fastest-growing sales channel. So far, says eBay, the Fashion Outlet has generated sales of £4m for the brands who sell through the site in the three months since May.

Angus McCarey, director of eBay Enterprise, said: “Over the last year we have seen a 25% increase in the number of fashion-savvy shoppers who are choosing to shop online at eBay instead of the high street as we are able to provide direct access to a wider range of well-known, high end brands and at lower prices than are currently available elsewhere.”

Brian McClusky, chief executive of Office, said: “Office’s online business model has been one of the big success stories of the last four years and eBay’s global presence has played a major role in helping us to achieve our ecommerce ambitions and reach a whole new customer base.”

Our view: Time was that fashion was the area of retail that shoppers couldn't quite imagine buying online. But improved presentation of goods online, delivery and returns policies have meant a change of heart - now it's almost easier for consumers to buy clothes over the internet and try them on in the comfort of their homes. No wonder then that there's now such speed among retailers to get online, alongside their shops. It's a recognition that multichannel retail, where there's currently particularly fast growth, is a key way forward for retailers in the future.
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