It has been a difficult year for the apparel and footwear market in the UK, but there are several online only retailers, such as Pretty Little Thing, Public Desire and Finery, that stand out for their strong performance. This has been driven by the development of business models that are attuned to online shopping behaviour, and while many factors have contributed to their success, we believe that there are three key areas that other retailers can learn from:

Online brand communication
It can be difficult to build a connection with consumers online, and the ability to develop a strong visual identity helps to stand out in a crowded marketplace. For example, Finery uses colour as a core part of its visual identity, and products are photographed against purple, yellow and green backgrounds, instead of white (seen above), helping the brand to stand out against the multitude brands that use black and white designs around their imagery.

Online retailers that are adept at using social media channels to communicate their brand image have successfully grown loyal customer bases. For example, shoe retailer Public Desire works closely with influential fashion bloggers and started using Instagram even before its website was launched and now has over 900,000 followers. The brand launched in September 2014 and reached £9m in sales by January 2016.

Investment in mobile sites
Almost one quarter (23%) of UK consumers now purchase clothing with their mobiles, but the smallest of inconveniences when using a mobile site can be the difference between making a sale and losing a potentially loyal customer. Investment in the constant enhancement of mobile sites is key to making them easy for consumers to use. Successful online retailers are careful to have the right online channels available for different customer groups. Apps can work well for retaining existing customers who are more engaged with a brand, but an easy to use, engaging mobile site is required for acquiring new customers and for serving less frequent shoppers.

Differentiated product offering
Online retailers are using their platforms to stand apart from what consumers see on the high street.  For example, Finery offers an alternative to fast fashion through its collections of affordable luxury items that focus on material quality and attention to detail. They are aimed at women in their 30s who have outgrown high street brands, and will not buy luxury brands but want to invest in pieces that will last.

In contrast, Pretty Little Thing sets itself apart from its competitors through its ability to identify emerging fashion trends and have items on its website in only a few days at very affordable prices.

Frances Skrokov