The Key to E-Commerce Success: Treat Clothing as Content

Some shopping experiences are more addictive than others.

The age-old ways brands have drawn shoppers back to their sites and apps is with email prompts, promotions and, most importantly, new stuff people will want to buy. Fast fashion was built on this operating model, and it’s a key ingredient of some of the most-addictive shopping experiences.

The poster child for this approach today is Shein, which regularly uploads thousands of new items daily. But this sort of hook isn’t only found at Shein or even just in fast fashion. Resale sites and apps like The RealReal, Grailed, Poshmark and others have a similar appeal. Theirs is a slower but nonetheless steady stream of novel items to browse — multiple times a day for some users.

These disparate clothing feeds aren’t far off from the social-media feeds that draw us back several times a day. It’s like cute dog pictures, but fashion. It’s clothing as content. And brands are just getting started.

The idea of using new arrivals to regularly draw shoppers back isn’t, of course, new in itself. Late in the 1600s, Louis XIV mandated textile makers produce new designs twice a year, effectively creating our modern fashion seasons and spurring consumption by the rich as they shopped to keep up with seasonally changing styles. A little more recently, Zara-owner Inditex gained fame for delivering collections to stores twice a week so there was always a reason to wander in.

Fast fashion keeps getting faster, more consumers are buying clothes online and they’re increasingly doing so through handheld computers we call smartphones that allow them to shop whenever and wherever they like.

I wrote about these shifts in 2015, and from what I can tell, they’ve only accelerated since. Business models, supply chains and user experiences have been optimised to make retailers faster, more efficient and more engaging to shoppers, often through the use of technology. That could be anything from a digitally integrated supply chain that lets a brand rapidly respond to trends surfacing on social media or AI that allows it to personalise what the user sees so they’re only served items they’ll like.

The boom in online resale has added a curious dimension to the situation, since buying used is arguably one of the more effective ways to counter fashion’s overproduction. But resale sites can still tap into the desire to see new items all the time. I buy most of my clothing used — and find myself checking a few different sites on a regular basis. There’s always fresh inventory, and because there’s typically only one of each item available, with occasional deals to be had, it produces the feel of a treasure hunt. (Grailed, a men’s resale site, told me for another story I wrote in 2016 that users will check it first thing in the morning when they wake up.)

Non-tech trends are contributing. Drops and collaborations provide a regular drip of hyped goods and fashion’s pop-culture appeal has only broadened, fuelling the appetite for clothing.

The result is more shopping sites and apps you can visit daily, or sometimes repeatedly in a day, from your couch or wherever you are. It’s much like scrolling through Instagram, and just looking at the clothes — to relax, to avoid work, to kill time during commercials — is almost as good as buying them. More than just physical products, they’re digital media too.

To read more from BoF’s Technology Correspondent Marc Bain, sign up for our Weekly Technology Briefing out every Thursday, exploring how blockchain, AI, 3D, extended reality and other innovations will change how fashion businesses design, manufacture, distribute, market, sell and resell their products.

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