Guide to E-Commerce Solutions for the Apparel Industry
It’s becoming more and more crucial for apparel companies to have a presence online. E-commerce is continuing to grow in popularity. In 2018, global online fashion sales reached $484 billion, or 27% of total fashion sales, according to Forrester. These firms forecast that they’ll bring in $765 billion, or 36% of total fashion industry sales, in 2022.
To keep up in the online fashion retail scene, you need a strong e-commerce solution that you can use to reach new customers and make sales online. When choosing an e-commerce platform, you need to look for one that allows for the necessary integrations and has the features you need to succeed. Here’s a guide on what to look for in an e-commerce solution for the apparel industry.
Important E-Commerce Integrations
Your e-commerce solution should be powerful on its own, but integrating it with your other business systems can make it even more valuable. Here are some of the e-commerce integrations that provide the most benefit.
1. Point-of-Sale Systems
If you have brick-and-mortar locations in addition to your online store, integrating your e-commerce solution with your point-of-sale, or POS, system can be extremely beneficial. When you combine these two systems, you can pool the sales data from the two sources, which can help you keep track of your inventory. You can also combine customer data, giving you an improved understanding of customer preferences and enabling improved sales, customer retention and special programs such as loyalty programs.
2. Content Management Systems
Content management systems are used to help you manage the media you post online through your website and other channels. Integrating your e-commerce platform with your content management system, or CMS, can help you organize the content on your online retail site and improve how it ranks on search engines.
This process is important since managing apparel e-commerce content can be a complicated task. The large volume of similar pages on an e-commerce site can also make it hard for search engines to index them. Using a CMS integrated with an e-commerce platform can help so that it’s easier for people to find your site when they’re searching for clothing online.
3. Warehouse Management Systems
Keeping close tabs on inventory is crucial for customer satisfaction. Doing so, however, can be complex, especially if you run both an e-commerce store and brick-and-mortar locations. A warehouse management system, or WMS, can help you keep track of your inventory, especially when you integrate it with your e-commerce solution. When you link these two systems, your inventory will automatically update anytime someone places an order on your site.
4. Enterprise Resource Planning Systems
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems deal with data on a wide range of core business processes, including sales, inventory, order processing, purchasing, manufacturing, accounting and more. It incorporates many of the capabilities of a WMS and CMS as well as those of other systems. Integrating an ERP system with your e-commerce solution is beneficial in many ways, as it can help you to quickly process orders from your site, automatically track inventory and more.
5. Marketing Automation APIs
You can also integrate your e-commerce solution with marketing automation APIs, which can automatically complete tasks such as recording customer information and organizing customers into groups based on their purchasing habits, preferences and demographics. Marketing automation programs can then help with sending emails or serving ads to customers based on the groups they’re in. Connecting your e-commerce solution to your marketing enables the customer information collected in your online retail store to flow directly to your marketing software and vice verse.
6. Social Proof APIs
Integrating social proof APIs with your e-commerce solution can also boost your company’s credibility and help customers decide which products to buy. If you integrate these APIs with your platform, you can feature social media feeds, product reviews and more. Showing celebrities, experts and customers enjoying a certain product may encourage others to purchase it. If a product appears to be trending, it may create a sense of urgency. When integrated with your e-commerce platform, social proof APIs can increase traffic to your site and, ultimately, improve sales.
Important E-Commerce Functions
Modern e-commerce platforms come with a variety of features that make the shopping experience more enjoyable and convenient for customers and also help businesses manage their online stores. When you’re choosing an e-commerce platform, evaluate the functions each product has and determine whether those functions meet your needs. Some important features included in e-commerce solutions, such as ours, provide the following.
1. Product Review Functionality
Product reviews can help customers choose which items to purchase from your site, and they also provide an excellent opportunity for you and your customers to interact. Replying to reviews and thanking customers for their input and purchases can help build brand loyalty. Reviews will also help your site rank better in search engines. Our e-commerce solution comes with product review functionality and features back-office review maintenance capabilities.
2. Social Sharing
Our platform also enables you to add social sharing tools to your pages. You can incorporate buttons that make it easy for site visitors to tweet, pin, like, email or otherwise share a product page. They can also add products to an online “wishlist.” When shoppers share your pages and products online, they increase your visibility and may help you reach new customers. That’s why it’s beneficial to make it as easy as possible for customers to share your content.
3. Shopping Cart
Having an easy-to-use shopping cart feature is another critical function of an e-commerce site, as it helps customers keep track of the items they want to purchase while they shop. With the FDM4 e-commerce solution, adding an item to the cart doesn’t put an end to the shopping session. Customers can continue browsing while items wait for them in their cart.
4. Payment Gateways
The payment options your site offers are also crucial for a convenient shopping experience. Credit card processing should be seamless, and you may also want to let customers use PayPal and other similar online payment services. For B2B customers, you should consider offering different payment options, such as purchase orders.
5. Gift Certificates
Another payment option you may want to offer is the ability to use a gift certificate for your store as payment. The ability to sell gift cards on your site is another useful feature that can encourage customers to give a gift certificate as a gift, helping to spread the word about your clothing.
6. Track Order Status
Offering customers the ability to track their orders is another way to make the customer experience more convenient. With the FDM4 e-commerce platform, you can let customers track the status of items they’ve recently ordered as well as initiate and track returns. This feature enables customers to plan around when their items will arrive, and it keeps them engaged even after they’ve made their purchase.
7. Product Images
An important part of fashion’s unique site experience is the images on the site. They let customers see what the items look like and help create the overall aesthetic of the brand. Our solution includes a high-resolution zoom on product pages, which allows customers to really get a good look at the products they’re thinking of purchasing.
8. Account Functionality
Another beneficial function for an e-commerce site is the ability for customers to create accounts they can use to streamline the ordering processes and personalize their experiences. B2C customers can add information to their accounts such as their name, shipping address and payment information. Once they’ve entered this information, the checkout process will be much easier.
If customers create an account, it can also enable you to offer product recommendations based on their past purchases and further personalize their shopping experience.
9. Checkout Options
While the account function is beneficial, you may also want to offer the option for customers to check out as a guest. Providing numerous checkout options, including the ability to check out with a new account, a previously generated account or as a guest, will help you appeal to all of your customers.
10. Suggested Products
Suggesting products can help to boost your sales and improve the customer experience by showing visitors products they’re interested in. You can build product relationships using data on items’ styles and features, as well as sales history, to enable automated product recommendations.
11. Unavailable Products
If you run out of a certain item, you don’t want customers to place orders for it without knowing it’s out of stock. If they do, they may be disappointed by the long wait. If you don’t plan on restocking the item or the customer cancels their order, you’ll also have to refund their money. By integrating with your WMS or ERP, our e-commerce solution can automatically make a product unavailable for selection when it’s out of stock.
12. Stock Level View Option
You can also choose to show customers the stock level on product pages so that they know how much of the item is left. This information can help boost your sales by encouraging customers to purchase items they’re on the fence about. If they see that an item might sell out, they may be more likely to buy it right away.
13. Product Categorization
The ability to categorize your products is an essential e-commerce platform function. It helps customers find the items they’re looking for, enables the search function and allows you to place products in sales and clearance categories as needed.
14. Freight and Tax Calculator
Having a solution that quickly and accurately calculates shipping costs and times, as well as tax, helps the checkout process go smoothly. It also helps ensure that you get paid the correct amount for tax and shipping. Our e-commerce solution provides real-time freight and tax calculations using information from an integrated FDM4 ERP application.
15. Site Search
The ability to search your site is crucial to site functionality. Site search enables customers to quickly find the products they’re looking for. If you don’t have an accurate, easy-to-use search function, many customers will go elsewhere in search of a site that’s easier to use.
Differences Between B2C and B2B Needs
The basics of a B2B and B2C e-commerce apparel site are similar, but there are some differences in the functionalities that B2B and B2C companies require. Here are some of those differences and what to look for if you’re a B2B or B2C company.
1. Order Size
If you’re a B2B company, you need to be ready to handle orders consisting of large numbers of items and sometimes many different kinds of items. It’s especially important for you to connect your e-commerce site to your WMS or ERP. Doing so will enable you to ensure that your inventory counts are correct and consistent across your systems. You may also wish to display inventory levels to your customers on your site.
2. Payment Options
B2C and B2B fashion businesses may also need to offer different payment options. Often, B2C sites provide the option to pay with a credit card or an online service such as PayPal. B2B customers may need other options, such as purchase orders, and advanced checkout solutions like order approval functionality and budgeting workflows. If you have special arrangements with B2B customers, such as bulk order discounts, you also need a platform that can handle these kinds of situations.
3. Checkout Options
In addition to advanced payment options, B2B customers may need advanced checkout processes. For instance, they could need to ship or bill to multiple addresses. You may also need to offer specialized shipping options for certain customers. While you want to provide a lot of options to your clients, you don’t want to make the user experience too complicated and cumbersome. Your e-commerce platform should enable you to create a seamless, user-friendly experience while also providing the options your customers need.
4. Site Search
Every e-commerce site needs a strong search function, but B2B sites may need more advanced search capabilities. B2B apparel companies may want to customize the search for different types of users or even for specific customers. For B2B customers, it can be useful to search using multiple identifiers, measurements and part numbers. If you’re a B2B customer, you may want to look for an e-commerce solution that makes it easy to customize your search functionality on the backend.
5. Multi-Site Capabilities
As a B2B company, you may even want to provide customer-branded ordering portals or microsites for your key clients. These custom pages and sites may feature a customized catalog or just a branded experience for the client and their employees. Such microsites and personalized pages can be a competitive advantage for a B2B apparel seller.
6. Digital Catalog Functionality
Another especially important e-commerce element for B2B companies is the ability to recreate their physical catalogs digitally. Online, however, customers have the added ability to search for specific items and check the specifications for any product. This digital functionality lets B2B customers browse items in a format they’re familiar with and helps them easily find the products they need without spending too much time or effort doing so.
E-Commerce Solutions From FDM4
If you’re looking for a stylish, functional, flexible e-commerce solution that’s engaging and easy for your customers to use, look no further than FDM4. We offer two e-commerce platforms — one tailored to the needs of B2B apparel companies and one for B2C clothing retailers. Our solutions include various built-in integrations and a wide range of functions that you can customize to meet your needs. With features such as product suggestions and smart carts, our platform will encourage your customers to stay and shop.