Apparel brands need to sharpen up their web presence

Martin McNulty, Client Services Director, Forward3D, explains why ecommerce means so much more than just a website for apparel brands

Martin McNulty
Martin McNulty

Mass market apparel brands face a dilemma. Historically, their marketing efforts have been focused on two key areas – brand and product awareness and selling their latest collections to retailers. In recent years, brands like Levi and Nike have begun to establish their own retail outlets helping to further enforce brand values whilst being a showcase for innovation and driving direct sales. However, the situation online is much less straightforward, particularly the battle for traffic – namely search marketing.

Many apparel websites are designed to give users product information and an increasing number now offer e-commerce. Moving to a direct sales solution online poses a challenge. How do you promote your own store without displacing retail partners and damaging relationships? As your share of direct sales grow, how does that impact commitment from retailers? Will it ultimately contract sales? Is every retailer a trusted partner? What about discounters? Should own brand websites ever discount their own stock or should that be left to partners?
Taking control of your customers and your online presence is therefore complicated. The approach needs careful planning and rigorous metrics if Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are to succeed in driving direct sales whilst keeping a network of partner retailers happy.

Here is a useful checklist of considerations that retailers need to address when planning an online presence:

1. Do customers search for your product directly or do they search for retailers only? If there’s significant demand for your product expressed as searches, then you have some idea of what the potential might be

2. What is your planned offering? Do you only carry new lines? Or will you also carry old season stock? If you plan to focus on new season only, you may face challenges from discounters and leave consumers confused

3. Who is selling your product right now? Are they all partners? Are they adhering to brand guidelines?

4. How does a direct offering help the customer? Will a direct sale give the customer something they cannot get from a third party retailer? E.g. exclusive ranges, better prices or a more favourable service

5. What is the long term value of owning the customer? Do you have direct response programs in place that can capitalise on repeat sales and cross sells?

If the opportunity is big enough, then OEMs need to take on the challenge of direct supply.

If apparel brands or any retail brands for that matter decide to sell direct online, they need to be constantly aware of consumer activity and what is impacting search behaviour. There are hundreds of external factors affecting this behaviour – not just how much you bid for your key terms. The weather, the time of year and current affairs all impact how consumers use the internet and when. Most importantly, you need to track what the competition is up to. If the discount store or your key competitors are changing prices, promotions and search tactics it will significantly impact sales. This 360 degree view is required to track, amend and update your search marketing campaign on a daily basis.

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