A new report benchmarks the best online apparel retailers

A new report benchmarks the best online apparel retailers

As one of the fastest-growing sectors in the retail market, online apparel shopping has consistently bucked the fluctuating performance of the high street - even managing to book higher spending last year despite the recession.

But what constitutes best practice on the internet, and why do some sites stand out more than others, keep customers interested, able to find what they are looking for, and ultimately make a purchase? And keep doing it time after time.

A just-published report benchmarks the best in the business, offering a new insight into those companies who provide customers with a truly great online experience.

"By highlighting what we believe to be best practice, we hope that we can contribute to achieving great merchandising in the UK apparel market," explains Juliet Lecchini, marketing director of recommendation technology specialist Peerius.

The Online Apparel Merchandising Index is a joint collaboration between Peerius and IMRG, the industry association for e-business.

Based on the top 50 UK fashion sites, it compares one site with another on the three key ingredients of online merchandising:

  • Discovery - how customers find what they are looking for;
  • Visualisation - how the products are presented; and
  • Engagement - how a site keeps a customer interested.

"These are the top 50 sites in the UK," Lecchini told just-style, "but even within the top 50 there are a lot who are significantly behind the leaders and a lot of sites out there that don't even come up to that mark."

She added: "It's all about setting the standard, and what we've done is point out where the bar should be, and really it's about looking towards that bar.

"Some of the things can be out of scope for some players, but a lot of the things aren't. For example, it can be very expensive to have all your products on the catwalk [like Asos does], but it's not particularly expensive to put good shots on your site or have reasonable navigation on your site."

Among the highest scorers, footwear retailer Schuh came top for discovery, allowing users to filter by options including brand, price, size and heel height. And a search for "red shoes" did just that - rather than pulling up everything "red" and everything "shoes".

For visualisation, Asos was the overall category winner, with a mix of imaging options including 360°, model and catwalk, as well as consistent product information.

Asos again won for engagement, along with Figleaves, with both praised for interaction tactics like community groups, review centres, editorial content and video to allow users to get inspiration and seek product advice.

The results suggest there are still opportunities for firms to raise their game, especially with merchandising innovations that make products easier to find. And just a minority of retailers are managing to retain customers and safeguard their lifetime value.

Peerius and IMRG say they intend to make the merchandising index an annual report. "As sites develop and introduce new innovation we want to track and highlight them and bring out the best," Lecchini notes.

The top 10 apparel sites in the UK according to the Online Merchandising Index are listed below:

  • 1: Asos
  • 2: Figleaves
  • 3: Additions Direct
    -  Schuh
    -  Warehouse
  • 6: Watch Shop
  • 7: Boden
    -  Net-A-Porter
  • 9: Next
    - Office