Digital, experts say, will be the greatest opportunity for the fashion industry. The two main assets for competing in a market that could be worth $710 billion by 2022 are: images that convey the values of companies and the trends of the moment, supported by technology that puts the customer at the centre
Let’s start with a concept: “Making a purchase is an emotional action”. And in sectors such as fashion it is even more so. E-commerce, therefore, must ‘capture’ the user with captivating images, as well as with an increasingly personalised experience similar to that of the physical shop. If in the past online shops were characterised by photos that were all the same, in which the models were ‘cut’ at neck level so that customers could identify as little as possible, to appear neutral and highlight only the garment, today everything has changed.
The fast fashion brands have made the difference. Important online players such as Maches, Ssense, MyTheresa, Net A Porter have created editorial sections to support e-commerce. Zara was one of the first to transform the still lifes of e-commerce into real campaigns, one for each garment, with set photos and famous models. Shots that fully reflect the lifestyle, values and personality that the brand wants to associate with itself.
The success of e-commerce is pushing brands to reinvent their identity
With the pandemic, e-commerce has become the number one sales channel for fashion and everyone, even brands that were not strong online, have had to adapt. 30% of executives surveyed by McKinsey for the McKinsey Global Fashion Index Analysis 2021 say that digital will be the biggest opportunity for the fashion industry. According to data from The Fashion and Apparel Industry report, global e-commerce sales are expected to increase from $481.2 billion in 2018 to over $710 billion by 2022. It is not retail sales that will grow, but digital sales. This is why it is becoming increasingly important to work on the online and coordinated brand image: starting with photos, all brands are finally creating cross-channel content that communicates the company’s identity.
Those who first captured this change of pace, and created the image of multi-brand e-commerce first and then of brands such as Zara and Mango, not only used a very high quality of photography, but above all conveyed in the visual values in which users can reflect themselves. Now everyone follows them. This is why the image for digital commerce has gone from static to editorial, engaging and ambient. In short, fashion evolves as society evolves, and in an increasingly digital and interconnected world, the difference lies with those who manage to be the first to grasp – and transmit through image – the sensitivity, always new and surprising, of an audience passionate about fashion.
So what can you do to stay at the forefront of the brand competition?
Following demand: from size inclusivity to gender fluidity and personalisation
In order for an online shop to be truly effective, it must not only be able to represent the garments in the collections in an excellent manner, but it must also strike a chord with the consumer’s imagination and be credible in terms of the company’s brand values. Fashion, including online fashion, has to meet people’s reality. This is why the most successful e-commerce sites are customising the shopping experience to the maximum, creating micro-categories. Take Asos, for example, which has different clothing lines based on height and physicality, promoting a concept of size inclusivity. Other examples are Revolve, Good Americans, Shein, Fashionova. Today it is essential that the online gallery of fashion brands gives all bodies equal dignity of representation.
Think of some brands, from Nike to Zalando, which began to open up the fashion imaginary years ago through a more inclusive casting of models, or brands such as Levi’s, Mara Hoffman and Dove, which fearlessly recount all the various types of physicality. Or companies such as Gucci, whose online shop increasingly promotes a genderfluid body, telling of an increasingly “fluid” fashion, which is unhinging the concept of masculinity and femininity in clothing, allowing everyone to dress what they want without this implying a definition of gender.
In short, the aim is to get closer to the reality of who will actually wear those clothes. Photos are retouched less and less, leaving the “defects” of the wearer in evidence, allowing customers to identify with them. Images are increasingly real and inclusive: women with hijabs, people with physical disabilities, stretch marks in view.
To capture real consumer demand promptly, technology is key
There is no denying that what really makes the difference, apart from the ability to meet market demand, is the speed that must characterise the response of brands to changing consumer tastes and habits. Think of the race made in the last year to follow the “atheleisure” trend, thanks to the pandemic and confinement at home. Many brands have adapted almost in real time – see Gucci, Dior, Armani – to the idea of comfort that has dominated the lives of all consumers during the 2020s, riding the wave of the “stay at home” that has accompanied us during the long periods of lockdown, and therefore re-proposing in a fashionable key garments that were previously buried at the bottom of the warehouse (tracksuits, sweaters, oversized sweaters, pajamas).
What can make the difference in the consumer race? Predictive analysis, which, thanks to artificial intelligence, makes it possible to know the tastes of customers at all times, proposing an offer that is always personalised. NLP systems, such as chatbots and virtual assistants, capable of constantly improving customer interaction, or innovative platforms such as the one created by BOOM, capable of identifying the best performing visuals for each occasion of use, then producing them in a systematic and scalable way at a global level. All this in order to intercept changes and re-propose them online almost in real time. In short, technology must be seen as a horizontal trend that will inevitably help redesign the entire fashion industry supply chain.