Business Technology

What high-street retailers can learn from ASOS

8 min read

30 October 2018

Reporter, Real Business

Fashion e-commerce is booming, but the chancellor has since vowed to save the high street with a multi-million pound cash injection. Real Business investigates the war being fought for the heart of British retail.

We all know that the retail e-commerce business is booming, and it’s booming right here in Britain.

We’re the third largest e-commerce market in the world, that’s worth an estimated 533 billion pounds a year.

In fact, it’s more than booming, it’s completely revolutionised the way people shop for goods – and clothing in particular.

E-commerce is so influential it also creates celebrities and ensures their longevity, cue this year’s winner of Love Island Danny Dyer, who’s signed a £500,000 contract with online retailer ‘In The Style’.

These online labels can offer brand ambassadors such extortionate sums of money because they know the value of consumer engagement online, where the fusion between online shopping, celebrity ambassadorship, and social media platforms such as Instagram, make for a lethal, and profit winning combination for digital retailers.

But how about the humble high-street? Well, it’s been given a potentially life-saving cash injection from Philip Hammond to the tune of 650 million pounds.

So considering the ever-increasing success of online retail, and the on-going quest to save British high streets, what’s the future for the UK retail industry at a time when retail seems to be more divided than ever?

ASOS is pioneering retail technology

Real Business looks at one the most successful digital retail platforms, ASOS, to find out what high-street retailers can learn to move forward.

ASOS is not content with being a leading online retail brand, it’s going even more digital-focused (if you thought that was possible), – and collaborating with tech firms abroad to do so.

Not content with allowing customers to simply buy items from ASOS remotely, company CIO Cliff Cohen wants to accelerate and innovate the way consumers look at their goods online, including being able to visualise clothing items on different body types.

An Isreali innovation hub called Re: Tech is the retail-tech organisation they’re working with:

“Israel is renowned for its cutting-edge tech startups, many of which are developing solutions across retail, fashion and e-commerce. With Re:Tech’s help, we’ll be able to plug into this thinking to solve challenges and potentially foster long-term partnerships.” – Cliff Cohen

It seems that the consumer appetite for e-commerce retail brands is insatiable the world over, but Cohen says ASOS continues to be a leader because they continue to differentiate the marketing of their items to stand out in a saturated market, included in this is avoiding gender-specific clothing and relabelling products:

“We’ve taken an all-inclusive approach, exchanging ‘beauty’ for ‘face+body’ and removing gender specified sections for clothing and accessories.” – Cliff Cohen

These changes have clearly paid off as the online brand reported a 28% increase in annual profits from 2017 to 2018.

The brand’s ever-increasing emphasis on online retail technology to hold their finger to the pulse not only across fashion but social and political trends, such as body positivity, diversity, and inclusivity in terms of the size of clothing produced and the types of models used.

Conducting a fashion brand online means ASOS marketers can quickly tap into consumer sentiment in terms of the ‘shopping experience’ and react accordingly.

“This includes integrating the work of bloggers and influencers that command traction with audiences, as well as including models of all weights and ethnic backgrounds to fit the post-baby-boomer environment where consumers value diverse and ‘realistic’ models as retail ambassadors, as they look more like them, – the consumers.” – Cliff Coehn

Being ‘all-online’ also means digital retailers can make other important brand values and disclaimers clear and easy to access, such as statements about valuing diversity or being ‘cruelty’ free and refusing to use animal fur in their retail products.

Digital platforms make articulating brand values easy

Simply put, physical high-street shops cannot compete with the instantness of the online retail experience, not only in terms of access to goods and choice but in terms of identifying brand values too.

So how can high-street retailers work to be as punchy about their brand values?

How can they ensure that when customers walk into their store space that they are instantly going to grasp that a brand is environmentally ethical, cruelty-free, and supports other contemporary social goals?

It’s certainly not going to be easy, as their online counterparts manage to articulate them all, and consumers don’t even need to leave their homes to know what they are.

High-street retailers must use their physical spaces to their benefit

It’s clear that consumers are looking for an ‘experience’ when they shop for clothes online.

This includes engaging with who’s representing a brand, such as a celebrity, and what extra-sartorial elements the brand is engaging with, such as blogging.

Whilst the physicality of retail spaces doesn’t allow for all these elements, the high street can make their version of the shopping experience more attractive to consumers.

This includes stellar customer service, and a clean, attractive and comfortable shop environment.

Whilst all these elements may seem obvious, for too long, high-street retailers have ignored the small details of the physical shopping experience as they were used to being the only method of retail purchasing consumers could access.

Retailers must invest more money into staff training and refurbishment to realign the digital-highstreet imbalance.

There will always be consumers, such as those that live in cities, where it is just as easy for them to go to a shop as it is for them to order clothing online.

They must also remember that physicality is one of their USPs, namely, their consumers can see how their items fit, something that digital buyers will probably never know with absolute certainty ( at least not right now!).

Furthermore, physical shopping is also a key recreational activity for city dwellers in their free time, so why aren’t high-street retailers capitalising on this opportunity to ‘re-fashion’ the high-street experience and re-engage customers in the process.

No doubt, online retail will be a big winner this Christmas, like it was last year.

However, if high-street retailers reassess their customer approach at a physical level, Christmas retail trading figures in 2019 could be something very different.