How to Select an Online Platform for Your Apparel Business
Whether you’ve been selling in a brick and mortar store for some time and are looking to expand, or are interested in launching your apparel product line exclusively online, you likely have many ideas. You know how you’ll market your products and who your target audience is. You understand how to take advantage of social media marketing and how to stay ahead of the competition. Your plan is set.
But, before you get to that point, you’ll want to start with something more basic, the foundation on which you will build your online sales strategy: your online store and the platform on which you create it.
Your online apparel business platform could be the difference between reaching sales goals and falling short. It could determine your target market’s interest level in your products.
How do you select the right online platform for your apparel business? Start with the tips and ideas listed below.
Online Shopping Statistics
It’s easy to jump into a project based on what you think is best. Or to assume that because one platform seems to be more popular than others, that it will do what you need it to do, even if it’s not a perfect fit.
Instead of falling into that train of thought, understanding just how prevalent online shopping is and how much it can impact your business is critical. The statistics below from Pew Research Center highlight the prevalence of online shopping:
- Roughly eight in ten Americans shop online, compared to just two in ten in the year 2000.
- 15% of American’s make at least one purchase a week.
- 65% of online shoppers compare purchase prices before buying anything.
- 84% of shoppers like to be able to ask questions about purchases before completing the process.
- 82% of online shoppers check out reviews before making online purchases.
- 39% of Americans have shared purchase experiences on social media platforms.
These statistics give a brief overview of the online shopping habits and experiences of Americans.
In short, the majority of Americans shop online, many on a weekly basis. These shoppers want to be able to compare prices, to check out reviews posted by others and to communicate with the retailer they are doing business with. If an experience falls short of their expectations or exceeds it, it is very likely to become public knowledge via social media.
These statistics show how important selecting the right platform to meet the needs of your average online consumer is. Finding the best possible platform for your business is more important than ever before.
Consider Your Needs and Goals
Before researching actual solutions, think about the goals you have for your online apparel store. Will you be focusing on selling to individual customers or to businesses and organizations? Will you be marketing several products or a single, flagship product? Do your styles allow for customer customization or are they sold “as is?”
Other considerations include:
- Payment capabilities: How do most of your customers prefer to pay? What methods do you hope to allow through your online store? Credit cards? PayPal? Venmo? Checks with deferred shipping options? Your online platform should be able to accommodate various payment forms.
- Hosting: How much time will you have to put into updating your store? Are you familiar with basic HTML or are you hoping for a simple drag and drop functionality that requires little-to-no expertise. Understanding your capabilities and time constraints are critical before starting to research various options.
- Budget: What’s the budget you have in place for your online store? Each platform offers different services at varying fees and set costs. Being clear about your budget from the start will help you narrow down options once you begin to look closely at different platforms.
- Inventory size: If you offer multiple products in various styles, colors and sizes, you’ll want a platform that can accommodate a large number of products. Come up with an approximate number for how many items you’ll be selling at any given time in your online store.
- Integrations: What other systems and solutions will you have running behind your online platform, that you’ll want it to communicate with? ERP solutions? SEO tools? Understanding what you’ll need your platform to integrate with, without manual data entry will help your new site run smoothly from the very beginning.
Consider the questions and specific needs above, and start writing them out. By having an understanding of the exact capabilities you need your online platform to have, you’ll be better prepared to rule out options that might not function exactly the way you need them to.
Having a plan for your platform before you make a choice is just as important as creating a business plan before you start to manufacture products. Planning is always beneficial.
Scope Out the Competition
After you have an idea of the features and functionality you’ll need your new online platform to have, start looking at your competitors.
You don’t want your site to look the same as the competition’s. Instead, you want to stand out. However, understanding what your customers have come to expect during their online shopping experiences might help you focus in on what you’ll need to build a successful online apparel store.
As you browse, look at key features that stand out. If you see something that appeals to you or may relate to your brand, take note of it, screenshot it and file it in an idea folder. As you move forward, you’ll have a better idea of what to include in your online store.
Likewise, if you come across features that seem cumbersome or layouts that don’t sit well, take note. You’ll want to avoid these aspects as you begin your research process.
Convenience Vs. Control: Find a Happy Medium
Earlier, we touched briefly on outlining your needs and capabilities relating to setting up and operating your online apparel platform. It comes down to convenience versus control.
Some options will focus on convenience. These platforms offer simple solutions, like drag and drop interfaces that make it easy for those with little coding or online platform knowledge to set up professional webpages.
Other options offer more control and customization options. These allow those working behind the scenes to create the exact look and feel they’re searching for, but may require more advanced knowledge and more time to set up and manage.
There’s no right or wrong, but there are a few considerations that might help in the decision-making process.
The more convenient, simple options may be best for apparel companies operating on a strict budget, relying on in-house resources. They make it easy to add images and text and to work within specific confines, even if you’ve never worked “behind” a website before.
If you have a specific vision for your site, a lot of products and styles or customization and integration needs, a self-hosted, customizable platform might be a better choice. With these, you will have the ability to add the integrations you need to help your site operate behind the scenes, to include specific features and to create the layout that you have in mind. These require more time and may be best if you can work with a web design or HTML expert, due to the detailed knowledge needed to create and maintain them.
By understanding your needs and your available budget, along with where you may be able to acquire extra help along the way, you’ll be able to start researching options that fall with the right amount of convenience and control.
Image idea: line with convenience on left/control on right. Benefits of each:
- Simple interface
- Drag and drop or “fill in the box” options
- Lower cost
- Less time to maintain
- Higher levels of customizations
- More integration options
- Free form style and display options
- Higher cost/time to maintain
Research Online Platform Options
As you begin your research, you may be surprised at the staggering number of e-commerce platforms available.
If you’ve done your work up front, by identifying your specific needs and the look you are hoping to achieve, narrowing down your options will be less confusing and challenging.
We recommend looking specifically for solutions that allow your business to meet customer demands, optimize inventory levels and improve your overall visibility in your market space. The solutions you consider should connect and integrate with the tools you need to keep your business running, while integrating with vendors and collecting the data you need to leverage growth opportunities in a simple, easy-to understand dashboard.
As you research options, focus in on integrated platforms that fit your criteria. Look at sample sites and visit those sites. Look for features you like and those you could do without, just like when you researched your competitors. If possible, contact the vendors to ask any questions you may have to gauge your level of comfort before moving forward.
If you are working with a team of developers and designers, gather their input as well. They may work with specific platforms, which could cut down the amount of research you have to do on your own. Or they may be able to provide expert research based on their own experiences that could be invaluable as you move forward.
Narrow your options down to two or three platforms that meet your budget requirements, provide the features you’re looking for and will allow you to integrate with the solutions you need to keep your business running day in and day out. We’ll discuss this topic more shortly.
Take Advantage of Online Platform Trials — Determine Your Comfort Level
The best part about looking at online options is that you don’t have to decide without any experience using the platform. Most online platforms, especially those in the retail and apparel spaces, allow users to set up free trials or to take part in live demos.
Gather the team you have in place to work on your online store – if applicable – and jump in. Take note of the features you think would be most beneficial for your online store, and pay attention to any frustrations that crop up. Remember, regardless of the platform you select, there will be a learning curve. You’ll need familiarity to move forward with confidence, so, instead, focus on the bigger picture.
Does the platform provide the functionality you need? Can you include the features you need for your store to be successful? Do you feel a basic level of comfort with making changes, adding new inventory and inserting specific design features inside the platform? Does your team feel comfortable working with one solution more than another?
You cannot stay in trial mode forever. You’ll eventually have to make a decision. But taking a reasonable amount of time to determine which platform will work best for your apparel business is crucial.
After you’ve made a decision, you will be able to move forward with confidence to create the online clothing store that meets the needs of both your business and your customers.
Features to Include on Your Online Apparel Platform
Once you’ve selected your online apparel platform, you’ll want to be sure to include the features your customers are most interested in and those most likely to lead to conversions. Remember, your ultimate goal is a transparent shopping experience that ends in customer satisfaction and repeat customers.
The features below may help accomplish this goal.
- A welcoming landing page: A welcoming landing page. Your welcome page, or landing page, is likely the first thing your customers will see on your site. This is your opportunity to introduce your company, to share your value proposition and to encourage them to stick around and shop. Keep it simple – the average customer decides whether to continue shopping in 15 seconds or less, according to Adobe.
- Concise, descriptive language: Customers want to know the most relevant details about their prospective purchases, but don’t want to read a book. Find a happy medium. Include sizing information and materials in your product descriptions, along with easy-to-follow purchase instructions, no scrolling required.
- Purchase options such as available sizes, colors and styles: Your product pages should make it easy for customers to select the sizes, styles and design features they need, without clicking through multiple pages. Include drop down boxes that allow for multiple selections to ease frustrations.
- Professional images with multiple views and zoom features: Your images could be the difference between a sale and a bounce. BigCommerce’s 2017 study found that 78% of online shoppers rely on images to make purchase decisions. For apparel, images should feature plain, white backgrounds, the ability to zoom in for clarity, realistic color and consistency. When possible, include images of models wearing the apparel you are retailing in addition to flat images.
- A clear, easy-to-work-with shopping cart: Your customers’ shopping cart should be featured prominently on each page. Inside the cart, it should be simple to make changes, to delete items and to move forward in the purchase process.
- Multiple payment options: Visa, Mastercard and PayPal are among the top three preferred purchase methods according to HitWise. This means your customers should be able to make a purchase using a variety of payment methods. Allowing split payment methods may also be beneficial.
- Clear shipping times and descriptions: With the rise of two-day shipping options and quick turnarounds, online shoppers expect their orders with relative speed. Be sure to share shipping policies and expected shipping dates on your site to avoid dissatisfied customers. Remember, working with the right ERP solution behind the scenes may also aid in this area, but we’ll discuss that later.
- A contact page: As previously discussed, up to 84% of your customers will want to be able to ask questions about their purchases before moving forward. Be sure your contact information – including a phone number, email address, online contact form and chat bar, when possible – are clearly displayed to make communication as simple as possible.
- Your returns policy: Do you accept returns? Is there a time limit customers should be aware of? Who pays for the return shipping? Outline these guidelines on your site to protect your business and your customers.
- A size guide: For apparel, accurate sizing is critical. Because customers are purchasing products online, without the ability to try them on, your size guide should include specific dimensions and any other relevant information to make the online even more convenient than a brick-and-mortar store experience.
- User reviews: Also discussed in the first section, up to 82% of online shoppers check reviews before making a purchase. Make it simple, allow customers to leave reviews on items, and display those reviews on the product pages. Transparency is always beneficial.
- A wish list: Allowing customers to build wish lists could help drive future sales. Send reminders from time to time to those with items on their wish lists or look into functionality that could notify customers when their wish list items are on sale or inventory is running low.
- Transparent price conversions if retailing internationally: If you sell internationally, online currency converters could aid in simplifying the process for customers.
- Special offers/coupon codes: If you plan to share special offers, selecting an online platform that allows customers to enter coupon codes that you generate could be beneficial.
- Social sharing features: We live in a society that depends on social sharing. Therefore, making it easy for customers to share purchases on social sites – and providing discount codes in return – could help you generate additional attention online.
- An active blog: Regular content will help your site stay active, and could help draw in potential customers through search engines and social media.
Regardless of the features you include on your online apparel-shopping site, focus on customer experience. Run a few trials and ask those who take part to share any hold-ups or frustrations they encountered that could hinder the shopping process once you go live.
Clearly explain the products you offer, make the process as simple as possible and try to engage customers when possible through short “thank you” emails and shipping updates. The more enjoyable the online shopping experience is, the more likely a customer is to return.
Focus on Integrations and Compatibility
As you select an online platform for your apparel business and start to set it up, be sure to focus on integrations that could aid the online shopping experience even further.
Specific integrations and tools – like FDM4’s ERP solutions and B2B e-commerce solutions for apparel companies – could help in this area. By helping with inventory tracking and management, you can ensure your site is up-to-date, preventing out-of-stock issues that could add unnecessary frustrations and costs to the online shopping process.
Our modular ERP solutions cover every aspect of retail, from manufacturing to order processing and returns management and beyond. We design them with apparel companies in mind with features that are useful for the retail industry.
Selecting the right online platform and working with ERP solutions that keep the process as smooth as possible will help you move in the right direction, growing profits, reducing the bottom line and increasing levels of customer satisfaction.
Use the tips above to make the research and selection processes enjoyable and successful.