Amazon has caused great uncertainty for the apparel industry. Just when the coast seems clear, another article pops up about the company’s next apparel innovation. With 100+ in-house brands, and services like Amazon Prime Wardrobe and a new virtual fitting room, Amazon gains more traction as a formidable competitor for fashion brands. In the face of COVID-19, the company has even been rumored to be the future savior of luxury, and the possible new owner of bankrupt JCPenney.
Luckily for apparel companies, there is still ample room for fashion retailers to differentiate themselves from Amazon and strengthen their own niche in the fashion world.
1) Create Amazon Community
Many consumers who use Amazon still shop elsewhere. According to an Amazon consumer survey, 53% of consumers ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ look to other sites to compare prices against the marketplace. Another 28% don’t even shop on Amazon. That means there is space for brands to connect with new consumers and deepen relationships with existing customers.
While convenience and omnipresence certainly help big marketplaces like Amazon, people are also making purchasing decisions based on more personal criteria. Today consumers are choosing brands that represent their own values, aspirations, and unique needs.
Have a clear brand vision. Toms is committed to social responsibility. The North Face is a tireless protector of the environment. Stella McCartney marries luxury with sustainability, and isn’t afraid to make noise about it. Be clear about who your brand is and what it stands for. Give the company vision a place in your communication strategy. Just as people want to be seen as more than consumers and target audiences, smart brands leverage their company visions to gain identity and community as more than just a company.
Foster mutual relationships. The difference between a one time customer and a lifetime brand loyalist is an emotional connection. In today’s digital world, the feelings associated with brands go beyond the traditional “how they feel while consuming” products. With social media, online reviews, and visible customer feedback, companies now have a direct line to individuals. Utilize this direct communication channel to talk to your customers. Loyalty comes from direct emotional investment in the brand.
Some ways to build customer relationships:
- Go beyond classic celebrity influencers and models – showcase your apparel as worn by real customers.
- Incentivize brand advocates who are giving your brand a voice in their own communities by offering them special deals.
- Engage the people making YouTube haul videos, tagging brands in their vacation pics, and including photos in their online shop item reviews by liking, commenting, reposting, and giving shout-outs to loyal and vocal customers.
Engage in democratic branding. Ridestore is one of our favorite examples of how an apparel brand goes above and beyond with engaging their community. The Swedish outdoor retailer sees itself as a democratic brand and joined forces with its customer base to co-create the fastest growing snow brand in Europe – Dope Snow. The brand uses direct customer feedback to develop seasonal collections for its in-house lines. Not many brands can boast such a co-creative relationship with its customer base.
2) Give Customers Every Reason to Convert
It goes without saying that offering an excellent, relevant apparel assortment is imperative in ensuring online success. But great clothes aren’t the end of the story. Even with stellar products, a brand can lose customers for a variety of reasons – and Amazon is not immune to the draw of competing retailers.
Personalize. Shoppers have come to expect seamless online experiences and with so much apparel available across brands, people are quick to look elsewhere if they are uninspired to buy. Because of its business model, Amazon can’t personalize products without sacrificing some of its mass-market efficiency. This offers apparel brands a chance at differentiating themselves. Use innovative technologies such as Fit Finder, Fit Connect, and Product Suggestions to create personalized, inspiring experiences so your customers will quickly discover apparel and footwear they love, and that will fit them well.
Make checkout easy. According to the Baymard Institute, 50% of surveyed consumers abandoned their carts because of hidden fees, 37% because they were being forced to create an account to finish the sale, and 21% due to an overly lengthy checkout process. Not even Amazon has ironed out all the issues, still requiring people to open an account. These reasons and more can be easily addressed by online retailers.
Easy checkout checklist:
- Eliminate financial surprises by showing the running tally (including fees).
- Allow your customers to check out as a ‘guest,’ making it especially simple by only asking for information critical to the sale.
- Give your customers an overview of their checkout process by using a progress indicator.
- Offer a diverse array of payment options like Klarna or PayPal – in today’s economy, not everyone has a credit card.
- And most importantly, make it all mobile-friendly.
Offer free returns. The 2016 State of Shipping survey lists free returns as a factor for 87% of consumers when deciding to buy, with one-third only buying if returns are free. Amazon has set a plethora of online standards, but the marketplace doesn’t always offer free returns. Free returns will be low risk for companies who have taken measures to personalize their products and optimize the user experience for each customer.
3) Make In-store an “Experience”
A quarter of the global population purchases goods online, with the global fashion industry projected to reach a value of $713 billion by 2022. As e-commerce increases and consumers grow accustomed to the ease and convenience of browsing online, retailers will need to revamp their in-store environments to bring people through the doors. Despite its online dominance, Amazon is still gaining experience as a brick and mortar retailer. Apparel companies can leverage their vast experience to create amazing in-store experiences which draw customers back again and again.
Get involved in immersive retail. “Retailtainment” is gaining traction amongst stores looking for new ways to draw customers in. Many companies are already pioneering immersive shopping. Farfetch launched an Augmented Retail Solution which links the online and offline worlds to enhance the retail experience with data. Vans melded art, music, BMX, street culture, and fashion in the House of Vans in London. Cycling brand Rapha Racing has club houses all over the world where cycling enthusiasts meet, take workshops, and plan group rides. All of these companies also offer the opportunity to shop within the experiences. The interesting environments add value to the customers’ lives, offering something beyond a transaction.
Invest in omnichannel. In our recent blog post, we talked about the importance of a robust omnichannel strategy. As online shopping becomes the norm, consumer expectations for efficiency and accuracy will inevitably make their way into the brick and mortar experience.
Other omnichannel strategies to implement:
- Enable a customer to order an item in-store and have it shipped directly to their home or office.
- Use your online size advisor in-store to help shoppers find the right size while browsing.
- Connect your POS system to your native app, enabling customers with accounts to pay with pre-saved payment methods.
Despite Jeff Bezos’ drive to be a major player in the fashion industry, there is still ample room for apparel companies to succeed. The steps listed above will go a long way in helping brands establish exciting, compelling value propositions to win loyal customers.
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Image credits: Christian Wiediger, Josh Rose, Fit Analytics, Jonny Swales
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