Let me start with a question.
When you shop for something online, be it clothing, groceries, or anything else, do you sometimes buy things that you don’t want and intend to return straightaway, purely so that you can meet the minimum charge for free delivery?
If you do, there’s no need to feel especially guilty about it – you’re one of many.
This is an established trend that the large online retailers are well aware of, and are actively seeking to avoid. In fact, such is the extent of the problem, some companies now publish trading figures that deliberately exclude anticipated returns costs, to pacify investors.
Although online shopping has been with us since the 90s, there are various problems that have been there since the start and still persist, – and issues around the delivery and return of goods are among the most fundamental.
There was an 18% rise in online spending on clothing, footwear and accessories between 2011 and 2012, indicative of the progress that many e-tailers are having with innovative techniques to boost their conversion rates, and reduce the amount of products that get returned.
Probably the greatest challenge facing online fashion retail is the difficulty of buying something when you can’t try it on to see how it fits. Nor can you feel the fabric, or be 100% sure the colour is right for you.
This is also probably the single biggest contributory factor to the high returns rate that is rife across the clothing industry.
Various, and increasingly successful.
The one thing no clothing e-tailer should ever neglect is large, clear images of its products – the more people can see, from every angle, and with close-ups, the more likely they are to make the right purchase decision. Videos of the product being worn by models are even better, so customers can see how the clothes fall in motion.
Many of the big brands, such as Nicole Fahri, Ecko Unltd, Boss and Superdry, use technology called Fits.me (See image. Source: fits.me), which takes personal information from each user to give a very accurate depiction of how clothing will fit, using overlaid silhouettes. ATOS uses 2D technology, while H&M allows customers to mix and match items on models, so you can see whether the outfit being assembled will actually work.
Another interesting solution is offered by a site called Dressipi, which scours the big e-tailers for personalised clothing recommendations based on the (currently only female) user’s physical details and preferences. This counters another of the big issues around online clothes shopping – the lack of standardised sizes between brands.
It’s still far from perfect, but these online changing-room ideas are getting more precise every year.
Awkward Delivery Options
People are no longer content to wait at home for a package. They want it delivered to the office, or the store where they can pick it up when they nip to the supermarket after work. They want to know when it will arrive to the nearest half hour, and most important of all – they don’t want to pay for any of this.
British e-tailers are getting proficient at solving delivery issues. Click ‘n’ collect is possible through many of the major brands, while others are able to offer next-day, and even same-day delivery in some instances. The days of waiting a week for a package to arrive are pretty much over, which is good because the thought of that is enough to make considerable numbers of online shoppers abandon their carts.
Including delivery in the price is another matter. Some are happy to arrange free delivery – ASOS for example has built a powerful reputation on it, and offers a range of free delivery options (See image. Source: ASOS). If someone is paying for an item to be delivered, one theory goes, they are more likely to take time to choose carefully and not return it. That however, negatively affects impulse purchases, which many brands thrive upon.
This is one problem – a split between what customers want and what retailers are prepared to give, that looks fairly intractable for the time being. It can be helped, though, by making returns policies as uncomplicated and inexpensive as possible. There is growing interest in communal local returns centres, which will be a very interesting development if it takes off.
Handing over your personal details, whether it’s your email address, your phone number, or your credit card number, to a large organisation often causes a flutter of worry in some minds. What will the data be used for? Will it be passed on to other companies? Is it at risk of theft? Around 63% of people feel that personal security is compromised when shopping on the web.
Resolving security issues is a never-ending battle for e-tailers, one that rarely leaves the front pages for more than a few weeks. This could also be part of the reason three-fifths of the over-55s market rarely if ever shop online.
Expect to see greater use of secure E-wallets such as PayPal (See image. Source: PayPal), and clearer assurances of the way your data is protected and used by companies eager to reassure their customers.
The reality is that there will always be risks with online security, just as there are offline. All e-tailers can do is be upfront with people if there is an issue, and seek to minimise the fallout.
Pages that take forever to load, websites that don’t work on your smartphone, ages spent trying to find a particular pair of shoes on a site with a confusing menu.
A whopping 67% of British shoppers say they are prepared to abort a purchase if pages are slow loading.
Virtually all of the household names in fashion now have websites optimised for tablet or mobile browsing. This is where boomtime will be in the future of online retail and you can expect even the smallest of brands to soon have their sites ready for people who browse on the move.
Continuous checking to ensure pages load properly, and deal with any server or coding issues, will continue to be a pressing need for site managers. Ironically, lots of large images can cause pages to load slowly, but these are essential for clothing e-tailers.
The future for online fashion retail, most especially on tablet and mobile devices, and for those brands with a physical presence, is extremely bright, although growth is now beginning to peak. Ironing out some of these problems will see online revenues become an ever larger percentage of the overall for most e-tailers.