Futuristic fabrics and high-tech garments are just one way technology is affecting the fashion landscape. Another, e-commerce, was the topic of discussion at Fashion Digital Los Angeles, a recent day-long conference in Hollywood.
Some 450 registrants gathered for a range of discussions with such titles as "Beating Amazon With Inspiration-Based Commerce? Yes, It's Possible!" and "Turning Small Screens and Fat Fingers into Big Opportunities" that underscored that the fashion side of e-commerce is big and getting bigger.
One speaker, Roy Rubin, co-founder of an e-commerce company called Magento (now owned by EBay), shared the following global statistics from the fourth quarter of 2012: One dress sold every six seconds, a pair of shoes every five seconds and a women's accessory every three seconds online — and that's just through EBay.
The conference also underscored that for all the technological advances in behavior-tracking, data-mining and payment processing that have made it easier and quicker than ever to buy online, the key to successful fashion e-commerce lies in solving a singular problem: how to re-create the feeling of shopping a bricks-and-mortar store to a digital storefront.
Some efforts focused on the immediate gratification aspect of the in-store purchase (such as EBay Now, which is testing a one-hour delivery service in a handful of markets); others, such as flash-sale sites, try to leverage scarcity into an impulse purchase. And, let's be honest, what is Gilt Groupe or Hautelook but a high-end, high-tech Kmart Blue Light Special?
There was an entire panel discussion called "Content + Commerce = More Sales" that focused on creating a customer connection through editorial content such as blogs, how-to videos and styled photo shoots. The take-away? As one panelist put it: "Good content is expensive."
Lubov Azria, chief creative officer of Los Angeles-based BCBG Max Azria Group, pointed to the importance of creating that inspirational and emotional connection in her morning keynote. "Nobody needs more clothes," she said. "We shop to change the way we feel."
One way of creating that emotional connection is through cause-based e-commerce such as Toms Shoes, which donates a pair for every pair purchased, or Warby Parker's similar approach to selling eyewear. Another is to go "narrow and deep" on a particular category (an example is Dollar Shave Club's e-commerce razor blade business).
One of the more novel approaches comes from a site called Little Black Bag, where, for each item ordered, one to three additional "mystery items" pop up in a virtual shopping bag. Once the contents are revealed, customers are encouraged to virtually swap and trade the various items among themselves (via a "chat widget") before the final assortment of each bag is shipped. "We truly are social commerce," said Little Black Bag's president and co-founder David Weissman. "You can't do Little Black Bag by yourself."
Whether these efforts are ultimately successful in making online shopping feel more like offline shopping remains to be seen. And at least one panelist seems to think success will ultimately not come from one or the other but a combination of both.
Jon Provisor, chief information officer of Guidance, a Marina del Rey e-commerce and website design company, noted that a good e-commerce website will see about a 2% conversion rate (two out of a hundred people who come to the site will actually purchase something), while the comparable rate for a destination bricks-and-mortar retail store is 20% to 30%.
"If you combine those into what's called an 'omni-channel' [approach] where you buy online and pick up in-store, you see something like 300X improvement," he said. "That means the person who bought something for $100 online might walk out spending $300, so there's really a lot of opportunity."
In other words, the future of fashion commerce is likely to be about bricks and clicks.