In the UK, more than 46,000 retail employees were either made redundant or affected otherwise by their employer going into administration or liquidation in 2018. This is the highest figure since the height of the financial crisis in 2012.
Retailers have struggled in the face of reduced consumer spending and high street footfall, with the fashion industry bearing the brunt of this crisis. The rise of online fast fashion brands such as Boohoo, ASOS, and Misguided has seen traditional retailers struggle to keep pace with rapidly changing trends, along with the challenge of delivering the seamless omnichannel experience expected by today’s shoppers.
2018 figures from the ONS reveal that £1 in every £5 is now spent within an online store. As the number of transactions taking place online continues to rise, it has never been more crucial for retailers to offer a frictionless online customer journey. We only need to look to former high street giant Debenhams to see the consequences of getting ecommerce wrong. However, according to research conducted by Applause during 2018’s ‘Golden Quarter’, fashion retailers, particularly within the UK, are failing to meet these standards.
Applause’s report assessed the functionality, user experience (UX), and omnichannel experience of 52 top global retailers across the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany. Each country was judged based on a maximum score of 10: five points for functional stability and five for UX optimisation.
The company also discovered over 3,000 bugs in production, 35% of which occurred on fashion brand/ clothing store websites. Bugs were discovered within every element of the online shopping experience, ranging from faulty product searches and account login difficulties to issues surrounding payment methods and the shopping cart.
The cost of such bugs should not be underestimated. Just a four-second delay in payments processing is enough to drive 40% of customers to abandon their shopping carts, and over three quarters of consumers would abandon a brand entirely after a poor mobile shopping experience. In monetary terms, a single severe bug can cost a top retailer upwards of £750,000. For a struggling fashion retailer, that could be the difference between profit and loss, or worse, administration or liquidation.
Whilst online fashion retailers scored poorly across the globe for both user experience and the number of bugs discovered, averaging a UX rating of 3.39 out of a possible 5, the UK lags behind its German and US counterparts when it comes to delivering seamless digital experiences.
UK ecommerce fashion retailers had 84.5 bugs per website on average, including within core elements such as product pages, personalisation, and the shopping cart. In comparison, US fashion websites had an average of 50.8 bugs per retailer, whilst German retailers had just 40. From these findings, it’s clear that UK retailers are not yet meeting consumer expectations in a digital-first world.
Perhaps more worrisome is the approach of UK fashion retailers towards mobile or ‘mcommerce’. This sector has exploded within the last ten years, largely due to the increased capacity of mobile devices to facilitate almost every aspect of our lives. With research carried out by USwitch in 2019 revealing that spending on smartphones has now overtaken shopping centre spending, the quality of a retailers’ mobile offering is now a vital predictor of success.
Many of the bugs found by Applause occurred within the fashion retailers’ mobile app offering. For the UK, these bugs had a drastic effect on the user experience, with a score of only 2.3 out of 5. This score represents the frustrations of consumers when using these apps, ranging from issues when switching between devices, to a lack of notifications regarding deliveries. When compared to the ease with which we can use our devices to do everything from booking a holiday to getting a ride to the airport, it’s no surprise that consumers have little time for fashion apps that are slow to deliver.
Considering the evidence above, it’s clear that UK fashion retailers need to make drastic changes if they are looking to thrive in today’s competitive landscape. High-quality digital experiences are the bedrock of today’s retail environment, and retailers must understand and improve the whole customer journey in order to succeed.
This can be achieved by taking a human-centric approach to development and placing the customer back at the heart of the business. By utilising tools such as in-the-wild testers to provide real-time, real-world feedback, retailers can work with customers to identify and resolve pain points within their digital offerings.
This includes minimising common areas of frustration by providing relevant product search results, offering speedy checkouts with minimal clicks, and ensuring consistent recommendations based on previous purchases and interests.
While there are undoubtedly tough times for fashion retailers ahead, those that work to improve and consolidate their digital offerings by incorporating consumer feedback into their development process will stand a far greater chance of succeeding.