British retailers and consumers are leading the field in European e-commerce. Around a third of retail revenue is now earned online, with research by Capgemini indicating that customers spent a staggering £87 billion (approx) online in 2013. That equates to over 10% of sales, with British shoppers spending an average of £725 over the web in 2012 alone. These are figures that no retailer can afford to sniff at. If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now that a bricks ‘n’ mortar outlet alone is insufficient to cut it in today’s marketplace.

A brief snapshot of the UK e-commerce industry today:

Mobility

It’s hardly surprising that the strongest area of growth has been, and will continue to be, in mobile and tablet shopping. Usage has grown massively, by around 400%, overtaking PCs, and many online purchasers have now come to expect a tablet-friendly website. Bounce rates are subsequently on the rise, as shoppers quickly reject the poor navigability of sites that aren’t enabled for portable devices.

Fashion E-tail

ASOSWhy is a focus on e-commerce so vital for fashion retailers? Numbers. Globally, clothing is the second-most purchased item online, after books. The UK online clothing market rose by a huge 18% in the 12 months to September 2013, and that’s only likely to increase as companies continue to develop their offerings around what consumers want.

12 of the UK’s most-visited retail sites are concerned predominantly with clothing, among them big-name brands such as ASOS, M&S, H&M, and Topshop. These are companies that have put e-commerce at the heart of their business plans, and have a firm idea of what British fashion shoppers expect online…

Which is…

Convenience

The majority of online clothes shoppers are women in their 20-30s, who are often juggling careers with young children, and don’t have enough spare time. They want their entire shopping journey to be as easy as possible, from absently browsing on their smartphone when they have a few minutes free, to placing an order, to receiving and, if necessary, returning it.

Shoppers are no longer content to go all the way into town to look through racks of clothes in a store, nor will they happily wait in all morning for a parcel. Successful ecommerce retailers must make the experience of shopping with them a smooth, convenient process.

Free Delivery

Far and away the most important factor for UK shoppers when buying online is whether or not they get free delivery. This is a big part of the reason why ASOS has been so incredibly popular. 82% of fashion shoppers would be encouraged to proceed to checkout if shipping costs are included in the price – and be warned, unexpected costs added on at the last stage of payment are one of the biggest causes of carts being abandoned. People don’t want to pay for something to be delivered if they’re not 100% certain it will fit them. Also, the most common reason people need after-sales support is in returning items they don’t want. So, free shipping, and a hassle-free returns policy, makes impulse-buying much more desirable

Fast, reliable delivery, and times that will suit the customer (same-day, next-day, time-allocated slots, in-transit tracking), are considered essential now in e-commerce. Many retailers now offer click ‘n’ collect, whereby goods purchased online can be picked up later in store – a clear sign that the high street can survive the growth of online shopping. Retailers that don’t currently feature this service, such as H&M, and River Island, are missing a trick.

Also very important to UK fashion consumers – a wide range of payment options – convenience remains the watchword here.

Navigability

Companies that pay attention to the usability of their websites will reap the benefits. Research by eConsultancy indicates that 75% of UK fashion customers would leave a website if it weren’t easily-navigable. Pages need to be fast-loading, to make browsing a pleasure rather than an irritation, and search functions should aim to be intuitive. Stores such as Topshop, Next and House of Fraser rank highly among UK consumers for their navigability.

Personalised shopping is a must today – sites that quickly understand what look a customer is going for, and can provide appropriate suggestions, or guide them to accessories that will perfect the look, are going to be the most successful.

Product Information

Productinformation

The information people want most is about pricing and promotions, and features about the product they’re buying – think information about sizing, how to care for clothes, and  large, clear images (or videos if possible) to demonstrate the cut of fabrics and how they move on a model. Whilst email is the preferred way people like to receive information still, too frequent marketing emails can be a source of irritation. By adding value to their email communications therefore, such as with sales advice, delivery information, suggested next buys, stores can get around this problem.

Shareability is vital – and not just on social media like Pinterest – over a third of young UK consumers seek advice from their peers or family before buying clothing – firms should make it easy for them to canvas opinion. Although Primark have yet to fully embrace e-commerce – quite possibly because their low prices make free shipping and returns a problem, their website is great at encouraging shareability to spread their brand – customers can easily post images of themselves in Primark outfits for review.

Deals

The idea of getting a bargain, or at the very least a better price than would be found in-store, is a major driver for online fashion shoppers. Part of the reason why online marketplaces get the largest share of custom is that they’re so transparently price-driven. So lower price, special offers, and regular sales, should all play a part in e-commerce strategy where possible.

Importantly, people have come to expect a trade-off of sharing personal information and getting better, more specific deals. Crucially taking care not to misuse this data(!), companies can gather massive volumes of useful information on their market, if they go about it the right way.

Conclusions

The successful online fashion retailer will:

Make life easy for its customers. It will make its website a breeze to navigate, with abundant but not intrusive useful information about the products, delivery, payment and returns. It will understand why people are shopping for certain items, and help them meet their goals.

Add value to their offerings. If they can’t be the cheapest, they can still stay competitive by being innovative instead.

Make sure your site is mobile and tablet ready. If this is not already the case, it should be a mission priority.

Collate accurate product information. Standardisation of sizes, and helpful images and videos of how clothing fits, can significantly offset the cost of returns.

Expand their market. There is significant untapped potential in the markets for men and older people, many of whom feel confused shopping for clothing online, especially about what will suit them.

Sources:

ECommerce Statistics Report
EConsultancy
Power Retail