The online fashion retailing industry is burgeoning. Numerous sites have cropped up
in the past few years to claim their share of a very satisfying retail pie. This competition has also resulted in small and big ventures innovating to try and stay ahead of a ferocious pack.
The segment is also attracting capital. According to a paper published by Technopak, a consultancy firm, titled 'Apparel E-tailing in India', the $130-million apparel "e-retailing space"
in the country has attracted investments worth $70 million, or 40% of the total funding Indian online retailers got in the past two years.
If you're an entrepreneur interested in the segment, it means the scope for starting a venture selling fashion and apparel brands online is pretty high.
Selling is increasingly about service. The average Indian consumer who shops online chooses to because of "increasing time-poverty, changing lifestyle, convenience and flexibility of shopping...and option of free home delivery
," according to the Technopak paper.
Offering a service that focuses on any of these could help your enterprise gain that edge. It often involves an investment in logistics, but there is always the option of starting small and expanding later.
It's not only the upstarts that are innovating.
Myntra.com, a popular website for online apparel shopping, recently bought the acquisition of San Francisco-based FITIQUETTE, a technology solution firm that specialises in a virtual fitting room. FITIQUETTE generates a virtual mannequin based on body types, which users can use to check size and fit.
Sometimes a USP, or unique selling proposition, can be nothing more than offering a basic service with extraordinary competitiveness. Fashionara.com began operations with one guarantee-to deliver the product on time, every time, and with an option to get delivery within 24 hours for a service charge.
Darpan Munjal, co-founder, Fashionara.com says, "If we look at international markets such as the US, speed of delivery is an area of focus. Almost every site offers an expedited shipping option.
In the past 12 months, many sites have been moving to a same-day delivery model, which has actually become a significant threat to physical retail. In fact, Google has announced a new service (Google Shopping Express), where it has partnered with several large retailers to offer delivery on the same day."
But it's not the easiest or the most risk-free service. Arun Sirdeshmukh, co-founder, Fashionara.com, says: "Guaranteeing overnight delivery needs arrangements with partners, monitoring from a (technology) perspective and the willingness (by the customer) to pay more."
"We do not see this being a promise that most online players will be able to make in the short term," he adds.
However, despite these difficulties, they have failed to meet the guarantee of 24-hour delivery only twice since inception. The site offsets some of the risk by making it a paid service. Some of the extra money spent on logistics is taken care of by this fee.
The website itself can be different enough to attract traffic, and that's what LimeRoad.com figured. The site has made shopping online a 'social experience'.
"Indian commerce today is about discounted pricing, with the core consumer behaviour being 'where can we get this the cheapest'. We are trying to build a 'discovery platform', where consumers come because they can discover great products at affordable prices," says Suchi Mukherjee, founder and CEO LimeRoad.com.
Social commerce plays on the two fundamentals of human behaviour, if many others like it, you will want to see the product and if your friends like it, you will want to see the product, adds Suchi.
The site's format enables a consumer to see recommendations from other customers via a scrapbook, a virtual space to experiment with the products on sale.
LimeRoad gets a significant amount of traffic from social networking site Facebook. "Our posts often have between 500-1,000 'likes', each with higher than average 'virality' index on several posts," says Suchi.
They're not the only one. Even the founders of Fashionara.com said that Facebook accounted for a good percentage of shoppers coming to their website. In fact, when the founders designed the website, the coding was done in anticipation of integration with social networking sites, especially Facebook.
You don't even need to be a retailer to take advantage of the boom in apparel retail. You can provide an allied service that aids a consumer. This is exactly what NuPinch.com does. The site is a "search engine that helps consumers find out what is selling where."
Ankur Sethi, one of the founders of NuPinch.com, says, they got the idea from personal experience. "We could not figure out where would we get a dress that we were looking for is available. We spent a couple of hours in vain. That is when we thought, why not a platform that showcases all stores under one roof," he says. They've spent close to Rs 10 lakh so far on the business.
NuPinch makes money from the vendor. Whenever a customer makes a purchase from a vendor site listed in the search engine, the vendor pays the site. Currently, search results on the site are based purely on relevance of the searched item.
"We are a pure affiliate model company, focused on generating sales for the merchant. Charges for each merchant vary considering that merchants already work on an affiliate model in the market with their own set rates," he adds.
For a service such as this, it would be a good idea to bring in someone with technical knowledge. "We (the co-founders) did not have a coding background though we both had a sense of it considering our interest in the area, but we got a third co-promoter with a very strong experience in coding," says Ankur.
Offering a traditional service to a niche audience might seem like a risk. But, it's also a unique risk. Not many people get tailored clothes anymore but there are bound to be people who prefer the fit of tailored garment. Mr Button.in gives such customers the option.
The site lets a customer send in measurements and they'll send you clothes tailored to fit you. There's even an online guide attached to help you get your measurements. They don't stop there. Mr Button also lets you call in so that you can specify a style or design that you might want (say a James Bond-like tuxedo or a winter overcoat). Unfortunately, they only cater to men.
Caratlane.com is an online retailer of jewellery. It's a smaller online market compared with apparel and a rather finicky one. If you think like a buyer, why would you buy a earring or a necklace without trying it on. This is why the site offers a 'try-at-home' facility.
A representative of the website will come home with a few choices shortlisted by the customer online. While customers get to choose three products, it is common for the sales person to carry more to push the sale.
Though it's early to say (only about five months), the sale value on such purchases, on average, has increased by about 2.5 times than when someone buys it straight from the site, says Calvin John, VP, marketing, Caratlane.com. "It's more about (the site's) credibility right now," he adds.
"When you (customers) buy online, you tend to buy one or two but because the products are brought to your house, people don't mind picking more," says Calvin.
Of course, getting a sale from sending a salesman to a customer goes beyond just that one time. Customers also tend to go back to site and buy products they tried on but did not buy immediately, Calvin adds.
As far as logistics were concerned, the firm has relied on existing networks to provide the service. Tryat-home is currently available in six cities. "Most of the cities, we either had a store or an office and we're operating through them. We're also opening another door for the store person to establish contact with a customer," explains Calvin.
Caratlane.com also makes it easy to schedule such meetings, giving the customer the freedom to choose anytime and even cancel without any penalties. This flexibility is important for the success of the service.
"Somewhere along the way it's come full circle, wherein when the royal family wanted to buy jewellery, the jeweller would come home," jokes Calvin.
So, there it is, the most mundane of marketing cliches is still alive even in the most modern of market places. The customer is indeed, king.