E-commerce continues to grow. By the end of 2021, online sales will reach 22% of global fashion market revenues. Penetration rates of e-commerce in the fashion industry are expected to reach 50%. (source: Statista) Over the past decades, e-commerce evolved from a necessary evil to an essential interface enabling companies to reach customers and increase sales. But can this interface also be leveraged to support responsible consumption and production patterns (UN Sustainable Development Goal 12)?
Sourcing and production managers are usually the ones tasked with bringing transparency to supply chains. E-commerce managers, however, are in a unique position that they can influence customers to make better choices in their fashion purchases. Indeed, by being transparent in the way they communicate product and business information, they can educate and steer consumer behaviour. Thereby, they can take the consumer along in a journey to transform company and industry practices.
In 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate industry trends, with shopping shifting to digital channels and consumers continuing to champion fairness and social justice.https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/state-of-fashion
The challenge of getting online product information right
Since the dawn of fashion e-commerce, the quality and completeness of product information have been recognized as the biggest differentiators for success. The more accurate the visuals and product descriptions, the higher the conversion and the lower the return rates. E-tailers and data enrichment specialists are continuously seeking to optimize these aspects through new technologies and systems. Today, experts in image and content creation have become particularly adept at displaying products engagingly to boost online conversions.
In the 1990s, the internet’s growth as a secure shopping channel was focused mainly on generic products that shoppers don’t need to touch and feel to buy. Products that relied heavily on ‘look & feel’ were initially not ideal candidates for the online channel. Due to new technologies, greater server capacity, widespread internet access, and consumer familiarity with the channel, fashion products are taking up an ever-increasing share of online sales. And, with novel technologies, consumers can browse hyper-realistic fashion products, try them on in a virtual fitting room or even ‘wear’ virtual fashion must-haves in their digital world.
But while visual imaging technologies continue to evolve, written product descriptions seem to have come to a stand-still. SEO specialists are continuously optimizing their SEO strategies to attract more visitors. However, this obsessive focus on drawing visitors to webshops often overshadows the understanding of what it is shoppers actually want to know or should be informed about.
E-commerce specialists know how important accurate product descriptions are. Yet, somehow, it seems a struggle to provide comprehensive information. Today, most written fashion product information reveals just a few facts about a product. Often the product information is created primarily to bring traffic to the product page, supplemented with general promotion texts to boost conversion.
If they want online shoppers to make more conscious choices, e-commerce managers and content creators should also aim to better clarify what products are made of, where they were manufactured, and by whom. Additionally, they should include information about how brands, buyers, designers, and merchandisers selected materials and partners to create collections. What motivated them to choose specific partners? Which criteria do they base their choices on?
Facts & Feelings
The role of retailers is becoming one of entertainers, both offline and online. The longer someone interacts with the brand and its products, the more they feel a connection with it. Sharing the story, in text and visually, on how a collection is created, where it origins and who was involved in the manufacturing will add to the positive experience around a product. It will invite visitors to linger, even in the fast-paced world of e-commerce.Nathalie Dumortier – Studio 360
A closer look at the essential product information.
Brands that provide their visitors with accurate information can count on more engagement and loyalty. Online shoppers are increasingly conscious of the impact of their buying behavior. They value transparency and will reward online stores that dare to share what they know.
Businesses have a responsibility to provide honest, transparent, and relevant product information. Brands (should) know where their products come from, how they were manufactured, and by whom. This information should be shared with their online visitors. Indeed, a growing number of conscious consumers chooses to interact solely with conscious brands that seek to prevent wrongdoing.
By sharing your brand values, the improvements you aim for, and the procedures you have in place to track your progress, you will reassure your customer that you are a trustworthy brand to buy from. Even if not every detail of your supply chain is known yet, customers will respect seeing product information that is transparently shared.
Facts that matter for online conscious customers today
- What materials is the product made of? From outer shell to inner lining, zipper, fillings, and buttons, list every relevant material that was used. Including information on where it was produced and by which company.
- Eg. Leather belt? Specify the type of animal, the tannery, and the production region and country. Include information about the buckle.
- Vegan/ Leather alternative belt? Which material(s) were used, what are the benefits of these, and where do they come from?
- Organic cotton: What was the region where it was grown? Share information about the farmers, spinners and weavers involved.
- Certification and information on dyes and coatings People are increasingly worried about the impact of dyes and coatings on the environment and workers in the supply chain. But also on their own health. Mention how your products meet or exceed industry standards.
- Manufacturing: Who, where, when? What do you know about the workers in your supply chain and how are you working on improving their well-being? Some fashion labels indicate made in Europe; Rather than keeping it vague, why not specify every country your product traveled through and the reasons why you opted for the specific manufacturing locations?
- Environmental footprint: Are you keeping track of product environmental footprints? How much water went into the making of the product? What is the carbon footprint?
Feelings to engage and inspire online shoppers
Most fashion purchase decisions are driven by emotions, so sharing facts only won’t suffice. As opposed to focusing on SEO-advised keywords, e-commerce managers and content creators can choose to strengthen their storytelling. This should be based on clear and honest values. Sharing the ideas and intentions that lie at the base of the collection will enhance the customer experience.
What was the brand or designer’s idea for the collection? Why this theme? Which emotions and references were involved? What drove the choice for the colors, fabrics, and styles? Adding a few more personalized recommendations from the creative team that developed the collection will allow future wearers to better understand and value the product.
Show that you care!
Even if not all materials used are sustainable (yet), it is important to also inform customers on how to care for their garments. Explain how they can store, wash, repair to ensure they can enjoy their purchase as long as possible.
When no longer worn or wanted, does your company offer information on what they can do with the product? Where can they bring the product, to whom can they pass it on, can they potentially sell back the item? Even without a circular business model in place, as a company, you can encourage and support your customer to find places where to donate or resell. Or even better, encourage them to return the item to you! This effort will reflect your commitment to avoid waste and your willingness to take responsibility for the products your company created.
There is a valid business case to invest in accurate product information
They [conscious consumers] are also more likely to trust brands that share details about their supply chain, and are open to admitting where they’ve gone wrong. Most of all, shoppers want to see brands demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice sales to save the planet.BOF on How to Reach Client Conscious Consumers
Of course, many companies are not (yet) ready to reveal and communicate all the details that go into the making of an individual product. Complexity in the supply chain can make it difficult to unravel all the information from the source. Whether the information comes out of a Product Management System, or needs to be traced separately for each product line, it is important to engage in the path to greater transparency.
If carried out well, engraining increased transparency can be good for business too. E-commerce managers are responsible for the financial results of their platforms. Transparency can help to build better, more trustworthy relationships with customers. It can also help to understand which social and environmental values are important for their customers. Today, e-commerce managers keep track of purchase and return data to understand preferences related to style, fit, and pricing. By providing more details and transparency around how products are made, they can also keep track of consumers’ evolving awareness and eagerness to purchase products based on their personal values.
By supporting customers to understand and make more conscious choices, e-commerce managers can take them along in bringing about change within their respective companies. As they turn to designers and production teams to obtain complete information, they will fuel awareness and conversations around the choices the teams make. This will raise questions as to whether or not more sustainable alternatives should be considered. These deliberations can also be supported by new data around value-based purchase patterns. In their unique position between business and customer, e-commerce managers should not be afraid to raise their concerns and emphasize the benefits of transparency. In doing so, they can contribute to driving sustainability internally, growing consumer awareness, and encouraging all to make better, more responsible choices.
So, take up the challenge, don’t be shy and dare to share what you know.
This article was written by Martine Nieuwenhuis, impact consultant for fashion brands, in collaboration with Nathalie Dumortier, co-founder of Studio 360. Both are passionate about fashion marketing and e-commerce. They worked together on this article to inspire retail companies to develop strategic, sustainable solutions for today’s e-commerce practices.
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