As someone who makes a living selling outdoor clothes online, I know the unique roadblocks that fashion presents to eCommerce. People often want to see, feel and try on clothes before they buy them online. As far as eCommerce has come, it’s still yet to emulate this experience.
Despite these challenges, however, selling clothes online remains big business. Whether you’re a teenager, a millennial, or a multi-millionaire, there are ways to minimise the disadvantages and maximise the advantages of eCommerce for fashion.
How Does That Dress Feel?
While it’s been said many times before, it’s worth saying again: young people are spending more money on feelings and experiences than on things. This change in attitude has completely changed the shape of the high street, with banks and shops being replaced by cafes, restaurants and gyms.
It’s the experience which keeps people going back to the high street, and creating an “experience” or a “feeling” remains the biggest challenge for online clothing businesses.
To overcome this challenge, eCommerce websites need to use the tools they have at their disposal. While visiting a website is never going to be as exciting an experience as skydiving, it has the potential to be as exciting an experience as visiting a physical shop. All it takes is imagination.
Personality Goes a Long Way
A strange trend is emerging of ugly, brutalist, functional websites. Clicking through them is often unpleasant, but it’s also memorable and different. In short, it’s an experience in the way that scrolling through your Facebook feed just isn’t.
So, does this mean that eCommerce websites selling clothes need to be hideous to succeed? Not necessarily. However, it does show how important creating a website with personality is.
This is something which the high street has long understood. The layout and design of Topshop is completely different to that of Hollister because the pricing of the clothes — and the personality of the brands — are completely different.
The same mentality needs to be applied to online clothes shops. The layout, the font, the colours and the path which your potential customers will use to navigate the website all need to be created in a way which optimises sales, but also exudes personality.
Copy is a great place to start in this regard. While there are many ways to write copy which encourages people to buy, you also need to remember that your copy is an extension of your brand voice. The words on your website need to be as carefully crafted as the words in your advertising campaign.
What are you trying to say about your clothes? Who are you? Why should I buy from you and not someone else? Your copy should tell your visitors this in a way consistent with your brand’s image.
Innocent Smoothies is often hailed as the king of copy. This doesn’t mean that its copy is better than yours, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should just do what they do. Bland imitation of Innocent Smoothies’ brand voice doesn’t work. When a smoothie company called Innocent talks to you in a cutesy way, it works. But when a bank or a tech company does it? Not so much.
The reason Innocent Smoothies’ copy is so effective is that every aspect of it — from vocabulary to sentence structure — fits perfectly with the brand’s personality. In order to make your online clothes shop stand out, in order to make buying from there an experience, your brand’s copy will need to match your brand’s personality. This is the lesson brands need to learn from Innocent Smoothies.
When you use your brand’s personality properly — combining copy which fits with a memorable design — the result is a website which is uniquely yours. This is more art than science. Ling’s Cars, for example, is a website which doesn’t play by any of the rules on how an eCommerce website should look. Yet, it’s because of this — not despite it — that the website is so charming.
Ling Valentine is “Britain’s biggest individual seller of cars”, and a huge part of that is down to her loud and tenacious personality. This personality explodes onto the screen. As such, the website does something which so many other websites don’t; it delivers an experience. There’s no reason why a clothes website couldn’t succeed by expressing its brand’s personality as proudly and openly as Ling’s website does.
Clothes Brands Spin a Yarn
Personality is one thing, but to really sell create an experience online, you need to tell a story. Clothing brand North Face released a video earlier this year which focused on the inspiring adventure of three US Army veterans and their attempt to climb the tallest mountain in Iraq.
Adventure Not War is a seven-minute video which tells a story. North Face is part of that story, but it doesn’t need to be the main character. Rather, the story is more about the things which North Face clothing and equipment can help you to achieve.
Stories like these are more than just advertisements. They are videos which people choose to watch and share with their friends. The brand can be part of the story, but it doesn’t need to be a big part.
YouTube is the second biggest website in the world and the average teenager watches twice as much YouTube as they do television. When brands properly engage with this medium, they can reach consumers on their own terms.
Of course, if making a YouTube video means using time that you don’t have, you can always start a blog on your website. Writing a blog post once a week is by no means easy, but it’s certainly easier than writing a script, recording it and then editing it in order to publish a video once a week.
Use your blog to tell a story. The aim is to sell an experience that other clothes shops, online or offline, just aren’t delivering.
Customer Service Isn’t Dead; It’s Just Moved
According to Salesforce, customer service is dead, and it’s been replaced with our old friend “experience”. In the case of online clothes shops, it’s certainly true that customer service has changed. You can’t replicate customer assistants for the internet, but you can offer something different.
A website which is easy to navigate and where help is always available: this is the internet equivalent of customer service. You need to imagine every possible question your customer might have — every hurdle which might be stopping them from buying — and address this in the design of your website and its features. Engaging FAQs are a big help here and, once again, there’s a lot we can learn from Ling’s Cars in this regard.
However, for real-time interaction with another person, you need something more than a navigable website with decent FAQs. This is where chat windows come in. They can also be installed on websites and manned by staff so that customers can have a live talk with someone if they have a problem.
For clothes websites, this can be a great opportunity for customers to ask questions about styles, materials, and outfits. In other words, it’s a great place for a customer to ask all the questions that they would ask a shop assistant in a physical shop.
Share The Wealth
Clothes from a traditional clothes shop are expensive. After all, not only does the cost of your shirt have to cover the cost of making it; it also has to cover the cost of the staff, their training, their uniform, the shop design, the shop layout, the rent for the shop, the electricity, and so on.
When you buy a shirt from an online clothes shop, however, the eCommerce website can and should sell it to you for a lot less. Remind customers of this. You might not be able to allow them to try before they buy — as a shop can — but you can offer a significant discount on the final price of the product.
In the fashion world, the extra cost certain brands tack onto their clothes is often due to prestige. Online, without the overhead costs of running a shop, it’s quite easy to slash the costs of prestige and focus on giving the customer what they want for a smaller price.
If you are selling high-end or prestigious brands, your website can still exude luxury. Even still, it costs significantly less to run a premium website than it does to run a premium shop. As such, no matter how prestigious the brand is, you should still offer some kind of saving.
A website is never going to be able to capture the exact experience of going to a physical shop, but that’s okay. So long as your online clothes business recognises the benefits of online clothes shopping, and so long as you are able to pass those benefits onto your customers, you’ll make money.
Remember that the offline shopping experience isn’t necessarily better or worse than online shopping. It’s just different, and you can even run a successful online clothes shop alongside a physical one. The key is to hone in on what makes online clothes shopping different and to celebrate it.
About the author: Andy Clark from e-OUTDOOR is an expert on all things related to selling clothes online. e-OUTDOOR sells clothing and equipment online for people who love the great outdoors, along with a physical shop in Rugby.