Most eCom advice leverages features and benefits for a small assortment of products. Fashion brands have none of those things. Here is what to do instead.
“It’s not on brand” and “we can’t do that, we’re a fashion brand”.
If you do eCommerce or marketing work for fashion clients, these two phrases are the bane of your existence. But in some cases, they’re actually right!
There are certain strategies and tactics that simply don’t work for fashion brands. It has nothing to do with aesthetics and brand positioning, and everything to do with the nature of a fashion business compared to a typical consumer business.
What Is A “Fashion Brand”
Fashion brands typically sell clothing, shoes, handbags, accessories or all of the above. But not every clothing brand is a fashion brand.
What sets fashion brands apart? Very few products are carried over from season to season in exactly the same color, fabric, etc. Unlike your typical DTC brand, there is very little evergreen product. The newness is the point, and it (hypothetically) keeps customers coming back each season.
A denim brand that carries three core styles in two washes isn’t a fashion brand. They’re selling the same product throughout the year. When a given SKU sells out, the brand orders more inventory. But if that brand is successful selling jeans, they may launch a fashion component of the assortment–perhaps a line of tops that pairs with the jeans and changes from season to season.
This makes things even more complex, because some businesses carry both a core assortment and a fashion assortment. For the purposes of this post: if the majority of your brand’s SKUs are only carried for a single season, you’re a fashion brand.
The fashion designation has nothing to do with price point, brand positioning or target market. It’s all about the mechanics of the assortment. Businesses in other categories can operate this way, but few do.
What Makes Fashion Brands Different From A Typical Brand
Think about some of the recent DTC brands that have gone public–Warby Parker, Casper and Allbirds. All three of these brands launched with a hero product that they still sell today, many years later.
Similarly, most consumer brands across categories are founded on a hero product narrative. The assortment is relatively narrow and gradually branches out from the hero product. Most of these brands carry fewer than 50 SKUs at any time.
Fashion brands take the polar opposite approach to assortment management. They typically launch based on a concept. It could be a target customer (“our woman”), a certain aesthetic, or just the goal of providing trends at a low cost. There is no hero product, and the assortment easily exceeds 50 SKUs when color and fabric variations are factored in. The entire product range turns over at least twice a year, often much more frequently.
The other major difference between fashion brands and the average consumer brand is the core value proposition. Most brands offer tangible features and benefits. They might focus on “cutting out the middle man”, creating the best version of a certain product that has historically been overlooked, or offering the lowest prices.
On the other hand, most fashion brands have no tangible value proposition. You either like what they’re selling or you don’t. Some brands speak to quality manufacturing or timelessness, but if they turn over the assortment frequently, those sentiments ring hollow. Some fashion brands have a broad use case that unifies the assortment– “we sell party dresses”.
5 Best Practices That Don’t Work For Fashion Brands
The key differences between fashion brands and most consumer brands are, unfortunately, the foundational principles of a lot of eCommerce and digital marketing advice. Take away the foundations, and the advice no longer applies.
Best Practice #1: Copy Driven Sales Landing Pages
The Concept: Create a custom landing page to flesh out the features and benefits of a specific product in more detail than a PDP can provide. These are typically used as landing pages for paid ads to quickly warm up and (hopefully) convert prospects.
Why It Doesn’t Work For Fashion: Landers usually focus on 1-3 hero products. Building out these pages is time consuming. Sometimes they require multiple rounds of testing to perfect.
For a fashion brand with 50+ SKUs that each have a lifetime of 3-6 months, building out landers for each SKU isn’t feasible. You can try to build out landers as best-sellers become apparent, but you may run out of inventory before you hit on something that works.
What To Do Instead:
- If you have a best-selling style that is brought back each year in different colors/fabrics, use email to iterate through big lander ideas before you build out a webpage version.
- If you don’t bring back styles each year, focus on developing a PDP/PLP hybrid as a landing page for paid prospecting. Feature a condensed version of the product in the ad with a grid of related products right below it.
- If all else fails, the best sellers category typically makes a good landing page.
Best Practice #2: Educational Blog Content To Drive SEO Traffic
The Concept: Write blog posts answering common questions your customers have around the product you’re selling and related topics. This will (eventually) bring high intent traffic into your site, helping to fill the sales funnel at a low cost.
Why It Doesn’t Work For Fashion: Fashion product doesn’t solve a problem in the traditional sense. If people are searching for advice related to fashion, their search engine queries don’t give their budget away, so you’ll generate a lot of false positives.
“How to dress yourself” content won’t be evergreen for trend-based brands. This type of content may truly be “off brand” for the higher end of the market, where it is assumed the customer is sophisticated enough to know his/her personal style.
What To Do Instead:
- Ensure your eCommerce site is SEO-optimized, especially category and product pages.
- Develop a strategy around SEO for out of stock/last season’s product, because these pages have the potential to drive a lot of long tail traffic.
- If your brand does have a well defined target customer or lifestyle component, write about non-fashion topics that the customer would be interested in.
- Strategically work SEO into your PR strategy.
Best Practice #3: UGC-Style Product Testimony For Paid Social
The Concept: An influencer, amateur actor or real customer gets in front of his or her iPhone and talks about why they love the product. Graphics and text are added in Tiktok, IG stories or another app. The video is then used as advertising creative. “Ads that don’t look like ads” generally drive higher CTR because people are less likely to immediately skip them.
Why It Doesn’t Work For Fashion: This ad type typically focuses on features and benefits. Fashion product doesn’t usually have tangible features and benefits. You would also need to produce a high volume of these videos to cover your assortment and each product would sell out quickly. It’s less cost effective. For some brands with higher price points, this format may be “off brand”.
What To Do Instead:
- Facebook/IG product feed ads work really well for some brands, especially if PDP photography closely resembles UGC. You can split your catalog by category or price point to find different audiences.
- There are other UGC formats that are more fashion-focused. Get lost down the rabbit hole of fashion TikTok for ideas. This is a good example.
- Capture iPhone footage of your next eCom or campaign shoot. This “raw” footage of the models moving in the clothing can work just as well as a testimonial video.
Best Practice #4: Loyalty Programs & Other High-Cost Retention Tactics
The Concept: Incentivize customers to come back and shop by offering perks for spending more. Some of these programs are points based–spend a dollar, earn a point–and others offer different tiers of rewards based on a customer’s annual spend. These programs typically require a relatively costly software platform to implement.
Why It Doesn’t Work For Fashion: The average year-on-year customer retention rate for a fashion brand is 25-30%. Due to the nature of the category, it’s challenging to get that rate any higher than 35-40%. You can achieve a lot of this benefit with lower-cost tactics that take less time and money to maintain than a loyalty program.
What To Do Instead:
- Develop and test post-purchase email and SMS flows.
- Think about ways to differentiate your post-purchase experience. Can you include a hand-written note or small gift with purchase in the package? Can customer care reps call select customers to confirm that they were happy with the purchase?
- Identify customers with multiple high value purchases and test a loyalty/benefits strategy without software. More on how to do that here.
Best Practice #5: Non-Branded SEM & Shopping Ads
The Concept: Bid against generic terms that people search for when they are looking for a relatively specific item, but don’t have a particular brand or model in mind. Depending on the specificity of the query, you may be able to convert some of these people on their first site visit.
Why It Doesn’t Work For Fashion: There are a few factors that limit the scalability of this strategy. The first is that more specific searches are closer to the bottom of the funnel, so the return is better. But matching those searches to a constantly changing inventory is time-consuming work.
The second is that search queries don’t reveal anything about a person’s willingness to pay. So if you’re a higher-priced brand, it will be difficult to find an audience this way. Check out the range of price points that appear for the search “red cocktail dress“.
What To Do Instead:
- Small caveat: non-branded shopping ads can work if you’re selling at lower price points. It’s worth trying if your AUR is under $150, and on the low end of your category.
- Pinterest is a “visual search engine”, so it’s more suited to fashion brands. Try targeting search terms that align with your aesthetic, like “boho outfit ideas”.
- Lyst and Shopstyle are fashion-focused search engines that run on an affiliate model. If your average AUR is under $250 and your brand aligns with what’s trending in the mass market, these two sites could be a good fit.