Fashion has become one of e-commerce’s most successful verticals. But what’s lead to this rise, and how should burgeoning fashion retailers ready themselves for success? We asked consultant Oliver Rhodes about his extensive experience with fashion brands. The answers to these five questions will reveal why so many entrepreneurs are drawn to fashion e-commerce, and what they need to do to establish steady foundations.
What do you think draws entrepreneurs to fashion e-commerce?
Fashion was really the first vertical to create standalone brands which have gone on to become massive organizations. ASOS started as a lifestyle brand which ended up focusing on fashion and grew the fastest. Then you had Boohoo and Missguided just behind it.
Now, it’s possible to build a successful brand from seemingly nothing - just from having a £100 a month Shopify store and an Instagram presence. From that one photoshoot that shows off the product, and some video, you can build that following. Then you just need to work out how to build the trust so that people actually go to the website and buy.
The cost to entry for a minimally viable fashion brand (including buying material, creating a product and shipping it to customers) has dropped significantly. These brands don’t need buyers going out to department stores anymore. They can create a niche brand and find consumers very easily via Instagram, other social media or even through organic means.
What would you say is one of the main barriers to success?
The margin to sell a product has been reduced; it’s more difficult to buy someone else’s branded dress, for example, and sell it on because you don’t own its intellectual property. And you’re opening yourself up to other vendors selling it for less.
The companies which I see are growing the fastest are the ones who are building their own intellectual property, their own brand and owning their product lifecycle. That’s right from design all the way through to shipping and the overall customer experience.
What else could catch a fast-growing retailer out?
It’s difficult for someone who’s started a brand to think about and imagine how other companies are doing what they’re doing. Even when you meet a brand that’s been around for a couple of years, you might have 2 founders who have done a similar thing before but haven’t worked for a load of brands...they’ve only got knowledge of how they’re doing things. Unless you’ve got the right connections or mentors, it’s really difficult to how a company a few years beyond yours is working. You’re always kind of guessing what the future looks like.
This hurts people the most in terms of technology. A lot of companies think in terms of what they need next, instead of thinking about what choices they can make now that can help them to scale in the future.
What’s perfect for a company today likely won’t be perfect a couple of years down the line because needs will change. A product that does 8 things really well often isn’t set-up to allow other products to plug-in; this is something that will likely be needed. And if you buy the wrong e-commerce system and then have to rip it out 18 months later, it’s incredibly inconvenient.
You want SaaS products that take you from where you are now to where you need to go.
What should a fashion retailer get in shape first?
If you don’t get your product file correct from the start, it catches you out. Particularly when you try to connect to 3rd parties like Amazon, or even when you try to integrate with e-commerce systems. Having a SKU unique to each product and each size is crucial.
The other thing that you need to think about is barcoding. Even if you’re not going to use it, put a barcode on each product. Then, if you’re selling to retail, you already have a barcode to scan on their till. Even basic barcode scanning - which might just involve scanning the right items at the point of despatch - will save you a huge headache.
And how about storage - what’s the best approach?
The biggest mistake that people make when storing fashion is buying wide bay racking and just sticking the products on the shelves in the cardboard boxes that they arrive in.
The problem with these boxes is that you can’t see how much product is in them. That, and the cardboard takes up a lot of space. Which is fine at the start, but as soon as this cardboard starts to completely take over your warehouse space, leaving little room for additional product, it’s far from ideal.
Start with choosing the right picking bins; pick out the smallest practical shopping bins. At the start you can have different products in multiple product bins, then you can simplify. This approach actually works out cheaper than bringing in wide bay racking.
If you're a few steps down the line from this and want to talk about scaling your warehousing operations for growth, get in touch.
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