Online fashion retailing comes of age

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With the launch of Google’s Boutiques.com and Asos Marketplace, online fashion retailing has taken the next step to usurp the high street – bringing brands even closer to their customers.

News last week that internet giant Google launched its new Boutiques.com platform in the US, while online fashion guru Asos launched its new Marketplace website, means activity in the online shopping world has just turned up a notch.

Google’s new platform – which promises a UK launch is imminent – will act as a fashion hub to direct customers to existing retailers.

It’s unique selling point is that celebrity style icons/latest hot young things such as Carey Mulligan and Olivia Palermo have (or their PR teams have) set up their own “boutiques”, showcasing their pick of different lines. Customers really can emulate their style, and find the exact pieces and brands that they actually wear. But whether most can afford it is another story, which is a strategy that to me seems to contradict Google being a highly accessible, mass-market brand.

But if the nature and evolution of the web so far is anything to go by – following consumer demand and behaviour – the boutiques that spring up on Boutiques.com will become increasingly mass market. Already on the site, you can explore boutiques set up by fashion bloggers, as well as searching by style/genre/retailer/trend, so already we are seeing brands like Asos and Forever 21 displayed next to the more upmarket Chloe and Fendi, despite Google’s original premise of focusing on designers.

It is sure to be a hit with time poor, style and bargain savvy shoppers. And with the brands themselves who sign up to be part of it, as – and here is the most valuable part – users can create their own “boutique”, meaning the retailers who are affiliates of Boutiques.com will have access to these user profiles, and will have a minefield of user insight, trends and behaviour at their fingertips.

As Google itself says: “When signed into your account, Boutiques.com learns about your style and preferences and in turn, provides you better results and recommendations over time. Ultimately, Boutiques.com will provide shoppers with a much richer and interactive shopping experience and help drive traffic to retailers’ websites.”

This is great news for the fashion brands who have yet to invest in making their e-commerce platforms “social”, as Google will have done the work for them in creating the hub for users to engage, and the user profile base to serve their shopping recommendations to.

Meanwhile, Asos Marketplace is a similar proposition, but is currently showcasing smaller, more independent labels and allowing individuals to sell items, akin to Ebay. One would presume this is to prevent cannibalisation of its original online shopping platform, which sells its own brand, designer and high street brands. But it’s also a way for Asos to hold its own against Google, as a pioneer of social shopping through its own community forum.

The social shopping phenomenon is something all retail brands are getting to grips with as they increasingly realise that this puts the customer and their needs right in their hands. According to this week’s trends feature in Marketing Week, written by my colleague Lucy Handley, online fashion retailers still have some way to go to learn about search marketing, with retailers’ bidding strategies for paid for search not always matching user behaviour.

Google’s new shopping platform could be the answer to their problems, as the growth of Boutiques.com could make the web for fashion brands less about paid for search and more about the presence and placing within this portal.

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