Making online business sustainable for the fashion and lifestyle industry is about accelerating digital for the business as a whole
By Sabiha Khan and Sahil Shah
We’ve all come across Darwin’s famous quote on change – “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” When you think of the fashion and lifestyle industry, especially among current times, this quote is accurately applicable. An industry which has thrived on the ‘physical’ experience it can provide, and which often acts as a differentiating factor, is now having to rethink its ways of functioning. Till date, e-commerce was a key but small aspect of business till date when compared to offline sales, however, the year 2020 will pave the way for a seismic shift where the previous balance between online-offline will be reversed. And that change is definitely worthwhile, but it needs an evolution of minds, technology, and practices for it to be sustainable and truly beneficial.
So how can one make e-commerce a sustainable shift for the fashion, retail & lifestyle industry?
Let’s look at this from a Now, New and Next perspective wherein Now looks at using existing capabilities to improve e-commerce efforts, New looks at incorporating new avenues, channels, markets and Next looks at the creation of new capabilities to respond to the disruption in the market.
Now: Using Existing Capabilities
Begin with the basics: Analyze your digital presence, social platform presence, offline customer data, marketplace associations, promotional materials, operational efficiencies and then look at scaling each to build a cohesive plan of action around these. Each of them has an important role to play and when all of them move in tandem – the effect is significant.
Amp Your Digital Presence: If you are not selling online, start selling. If you sell through marketplaces only, think of building your own website too. If you have your own website, put more effort into scaling it and think of a hybrid app, if you have an app; think of data-driven/personalised marketing. If you already do all of this, then think of driving more innovation by going omnichannel, hyperlocal, virtual try ons and more new things to lead the change. Use your offline customer data to drive customers online and showcase collections/ drive sales.
Think about Social Retail-tainment: Social platforms are key when it comes to shifting the needle, especially for the fashion & lifestyle industry. This is why leveraging them to facilitate e-commerce is a no-brainer. Think live fashion show streaming. Think gamified shopping through stories – be it Instagram, Facebook or YouTube. For example: Lakme Fashion week has already hosted a series of collections using Facebook Premier.
Cultivate the Influence: Arguably so, the influencer revolution began in India with the makeup & lifestyle influencers doing what they did. Till date and into the future too, it will continue to stay relevant and important. More and more brands are benefitting from influencer collabs across mega to budding influencers, thus adding more to social commerce in a big way. In fact the proof of the pudding is SPOYL which is a fashion unicorn company born out of influencers and their influence in fashion buying. It started as nothing but an influencer led fashion clothing platform targeted to Tier 1 & Tier 2 cities is doing considerably well overall. Here’s a moonshot of an idea: Use influencer content (static + filter-based videos) on the PDP sections of your eCommerce website to increase more consideration.
Tackle the predictive UI on marketplaces and integrate on owned sites to enhance discoverability: Most algorithms on marketplaces adapt to how people shop on a website, where they click and what search terms they use. While this is definitely effective as it is based on visitor behaviour, it can lead to a reduction in discoverability for some brands that may not be classified as per the defining traits for a consumer cluster. To tackle this, one can leverage advertising options provided by marketplaces to enhance discoverability. On the other hand, integrating predictive UI on your owned website is a great way to facilitate upselling and cross-selling and helps one understand consumer preferences better.
New: Extending Capabilities to New Avenues
Get Smart about leveraging Local and Vernacular: It is no secret that India is home to many languages and yet English is the dominant choice in the fashion & lifestyle world especially where “brand imagery” and “premiumisation” is a concern. One way to circumnavigate this issue is to appoint official re-sellers and then enable selling on social platforms like Meesho (has a network of over 2 million social sellers), Bulbul (multi-language live-video ecommerce platform), etc. which have a tremendous reach in the ‘WhatsApp-first’ India. This would be a great way for liquidating inventory as well.
Go Fast Fashion, literally: If you have a wide reach of store presence in the country, don’t think of shutting down or descaling. In fact, use them as a warehouse as well as lifestyle stores to enable faster delivery by setting up a robust logistics practice. And of course, connect all inventory, online + in store, to get a single view. This is going omnichannel + hyperlocal in the truest sense and one of the biggest differentiator you give to the consumer is the promise of a super-fast, 2 hour delivery.
Marketplaces acting as Media Owners: Flipkart has its audience available to target on Hotstar too, Amazon has come up with its DSP where one can run campaigns across the internet (of course not onto walled gardened platforms). Plus, there is a fair amount of eComm audience integration available with DMPs for sharper targeting. All of this and more is going to be extremely important now and from here on all spending into fashion & lifestyle is going to be, in fact should be, looked at from a ROI point of view. And no, there is no need to worry about brand building as that can happen simultaneously while you drive BOFU; the trick is how you find a fine balance in the digital communication that enables ‘brandformance’ across different types of audiences.
Repurpose: COVID19 has disrupted consumer demand into fashion & makeup brands by a huge margin. One of the ways to deal with the onslaught is to create new demand by selling the same old wine, in a new bottle. For e.g. a #SlayAtHome collection that could be launched by a brand which covers various types of home occasions like exercise, party, yoga, work; requiring various types of attires and makeup to buy into.
Use Virtual to Make it Fit: Size-related returns are extremely high and a key issue for most brands online. If consumers are presented with an authentic representation of themselves, analysts say, they are more likely to buy and less likely to make a return. This is where mixed reality comes handy. While AR is already being used successfully in the makeup industry, virtual try-ons could be the next big thing for the fashion world. Gucci successfully did this recently with its mobile shoe try-outs on Snapchat. Additionally, think of virtual showrooms which are going to increasingly become relevant with a lot of fashion houses investing in them.
Next: Creation of New Capabilities
3D Commerce: Think of a complete photoshoot that happens for your entire collection of SKUs digitally. Not only is it far more accurate, it also saves a lot of time, effort and money! Also, to add to this, technology has come a long way in showcasing products in 3D, which opens up a whole new ball game for fashion & lifestyle products as well.
Advent of AI into Future Commerce: Right into the future (2-3 years from now) AI will become a lot stronger in understanding, reacting to & predicting what consumers would want or might need. For instance, a first-time makeup buyer could very well land up on a chat module that is aided by AI & ML to collect more info about the prospect, to then suggest the best makeup products to go for. Simply put, if we start collecting data about a consumer which is not just demographic but also psychographic in nature there’s a lot more personalisation that we can drive for both outreach and onsite experience purposes.
To conclude, better prices, selection and convenience have always been the cornerstones for retail success. From an online lens, these worked fine until now. However, given the disruption in the market caused due to COVID 19, these demand generation levers can no longer work in isolation. They need to work in tandem with operations for them to generate sustainable success now and also into the future. Making online business sustainable for the fashion and lifestyle industry is not just about implementing or accelerating e-commerce. It’s about accelerating digital for the business as a whole.
This article is written by Sabiha Khan (vice president – strategy, planning and new business) and Sahil Shah (executive vice president – operations and media) from WATConsult.