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Style notes – Increase online fashion sales

Alex Christie

19 March 2009

Stories of record losses and plummeting profit margins are making the headlines on an almost daily basis, serving as a constant reminder of the difficult times the world's economy is facing. The online retail sector however appears to be bucking the downward trend by seeing a positive growth in sales over the past 12 months.

Thriving over the Christmas months, there have been a number of reports from various market research companies, making predictions of huge growth in the sector. In a Hitwise report published earlier this year, online fashion was the fastest growing area across all retail segments with a 34% growth in sales. This growth accounted for €59bn in online sales in the UK during 2008.

With such promising figures, competition is becoming fierce which makes it all the more important for retailers to stay ahead of the game. Below I have listed a few points I feel retailers should think about when looking to maximise the profitability of their online stores.

Know your target market – despite the trend amongst other retail sectors (books, electronics, etc) to converge around just a few players, it is expected that diversity will thrive amongst the fashion industry. Personal taste is a big factor when shopping for clothes, however so too is the human need to 'belong' to a social grouping. It is therefore important that retailers are fully aware of the segment they are targeting and to make sure this is echoed through the product offering as well as site design and marketing campaign.

Embrace social media - there is a very strong social aspect to shopping for clothes which can easily be replicated and transferred online. Introducing the ability to share outfit selections amongst friends in store and through social networks and incorporating a type of forum or community within the store allows users to discuss customer experiences, product reviews and current trends…almost bringing the changing room chatter online.

Integrated marketing campaigns – not specifically targeted to the fashion industry, but important all the same, when offering a product or service it is essential that the message conveyed is consistent through all marketing channels in order for it to be fully understood by the target audience.

Enhance the user experience – as mentioned above, competition within online retail is becoming fierce. Technology offers retailers the ability to differentiate their offerings between the many stores by enhancing the user experience. As technology is continually improving, the options become almost limitless, however some stores are already embracing online catwalk shows, virtual wardrobes, multiple image shots etc. By knowing the target market, retailers should know what is important to their customer to make their in-store experience akin to their online experience.

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