As two of fashion’s biggest brands launch e-commerce sites to serve their European consumers, one question remains; what took them so long?

The success of fashion e-tailers like ASOS suggests that going online is a win-win proposition, but Gap and Zara have only done so in the past week. And while Swedish retailer H&M intends to follow suit later in the month, Primark has made no such noises.

So why the hesitation? Well, Gap actually moved into the UK online market last summer, through a third party agreement with Asos, while Zara owner Inditex Group told just-style last week that it was simply waiting for the right time to launch.

There is certainly an element of ‘if we’re going to do it, do it properly’ about both launches.

Zara shoppers in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and UK were given their first peak of the new site today (2 September). The ranges are presented clearly, with defined product categories to one side.

A significant area of the Zara homepage advertises the Spanish retailer’s forthcoming Iphone and Ipad apps, and to its Facebook page – a growing community for some time. Indeed, if the company can convert a fraction of its 4.5m Facebook fans then e-commerce will represent a serious revenue stream.

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Simon Chinn, retail consultant at Verdict Research says: “Zara’s core customer base is a tech savvy bunch epitomised by its over 4.5m fans on Facebook and its highly popular iPhone app, which has been downloaded more than 3.5m times. There is clearly demand for Zara product online.”

Zara Online will offer the same prices and ranges as its physical stores and its lenient returns policy will extend to online orders, allowing customers to return goods purchased online to stores, Chinn adds.

Gap, meanwhile, piloted its European site in the UK last week, ahead of a wider rollout in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. It follows a Gap e-commerce launch in Canada, and by the end of the year the company expects to have stores in China, Italy and Australia – representing 80 countries altogether.

Together with obvious revenue potential, Gap also sees online expansion as a means to assess new markets from a distance. “Online is an efficient way to reach new international customers and test the waters for our brands,” Toby Lenk, president of Gap Inc Direct said earlier this year.

Therefore, it would seem that both Zara and Gap have worked out exactly what purpose online retail serves to them, rather than rushing on board. Both launches should provide sufficient sales and brand exposure to prove that patience is indeed a virtue.