Understanding fashion ecommerce: from purchase to fulfillment to returns

Whether it’s a sales, fulfillment, unboxing or returns challenge you’re facing, learn how to overcome it by embracing the opportunities online retail offers.

Fashion retail is currently the largest B2C segment in ecommerce with a global market value of $759.5 billion in 2021 and a projected value of $1.0 trillion by 2025. Those numbers should make every online seller of apparel, shoes, handbags and accessories stand up and take note.

As such, online shopping has become the primary focus of the industry. The opportunities are boundless, but the challenges shouldn’t be overlooked. Let’s explore each step in the fashion ecommerce sales and fulfillment process and discuss the ways your online fashion brand can circumvent problems and embrace opportunity.

Understand how shoppers buy clothes online

Order fulfillment may be top of mind for many ecommerce sellers but the challenges of selling apparel begin long before logistics come into play. Fashion is all about fit. One of the biggest challenges in ecommerce sales, whether you’re selling fast fashion or workwear, is the lack of a fitting room. Many of the biggest ecommerce fashion retailers have implemented smart shopping tech like virtual dressing rooms and sizing apps to great success. But you have plenty of low-tech best practices to consider too:

  • Ensure all product information and product images are accurate, clear and thorough. “See it on” videos can help customers visualize the fit a little better. Some online retailers even include a choice of models, allowing shoppers to see how an item looks on different body types.
  • Include a sizing element with your customer feedback tool that allows reviewers rate products as running small, large or just right. The accumulated results appear as a sliding scale that lets customers know if they should order their usual size or size up or down.
  • Implement a simple tool that allows customers to zoom in to see the details. This is a great strategy for giving customers a sense of a product’s make and quality. The fine stitching on that handbag or the reinforced knees of those coveralls might be the tipping point for making the sale.
  • Encourage honest reviews and product testimonials. Reviewers often create their own community, sharing information about sizing and fit along with styling tips. Foster this behavior on your website or social media channels and watch your community grow.

These best practices not only encourage sales they help prevent less desirable consumer behaviors like bracketing, which we’ll discuss in more detail when we cover returns.

Tailor your ecommerce fulfillment process to fit your brand

Making the sale is only the first step. Online customers remain highly engaged during the ecommerce fulfillment process. Fashion retailers, like any online retailer, need to ensure they can provide the accurate estimated delivery dates and flexible shipping options consumers have come to expect. Warehouse fulfillment directly impacts a fashion brand’s ability to meet promised delivery windows, so choosing a reliable ecommerce fulfillment service provider is critical.

Beyond meeting customer expectations, fashion ecommerce fulfillment presents an excellent branding opportunity. Consider this: on average, customers check the status of their online order four times while it’s out for delivery. Rather than redirecting them to a carrier’s tracking portal, you can integrate tracking into your own site and ensure the post-sales experience reflects your own digital brand. Plus, you can take advantage of having them reengaged on your site by promoting related accessories and or sharing announcements. Branded tracking is one method that a fashion brand can use to immerse shoppers in their world. The unboxing experience is another.

Multiple packages & a pair of ankle boots in open box

Create an unforgettable unboxing experience

The sale is complete, you included branded tracking as part of your ecommerce fulfillment process, and the package has been delivered into your customer’s eager hands. Mission accomplished, right? Not so fast. Getting your customer to open that package might not be a challenge but overlooking the way they will feel when they open it is a lost opportunity.

The act of opening a sleek embossed box, peeling back layers of logo-imprinted tissue, discovering an unexpected trinket or note included with the purchase—that’s the stuff fashion brands are built on. But what happens if those shoes don’t fit?

Master the ecommerce returns process

Similar to their global market value, fashion and apparel ecommerce return rates are in a class of their own. A shocking 50% of consumers return clothes they’ve bought online, and those returns are sometimes premeditated.

Bracketing is the practice where customers buy multiple sizes or styles with the intent of returning anything that doesn’t work for them. Wardrobing is where a customer wears an item once, say for a special occasion, and then returns it. The latter is fraud, the former has inspired some retailers to offer ‘try-it-at-home” programs.

There’s not a lot you can do to stop shoppers who are determined to take advantage of your return policy, short of punishing loyal customers with a less generous one. However, all the best practices discussed in the “Understand how customers shop online” section can help prevent unnecessary returns. Ensuring that your customers are armed with as much product knowledge as possible helps set expectations early.

Ecommerce returns are inevitable in fashion and online retailers can—and should—take advantage of the reverse fulfillment process. Think of every step in the ecommerce returns journey as a branding opportunity. There’s software and services available that can help you customize your tracking portal, return labels, shipping materials and confirmation emails. A rich post-purchase experience may not reduce your product returns but it could increase your return customers.

Consider ecommerce fulfillment services for your fashion brand

You don’t have to face your ecommerce challenges alone. Talk to an ecommerce fulfillment expert and discover what solutions and services are available to help your business take advantage of every opportunity this soon-to-be $1-trillion market provides.