Something that stood out to me at a recent roundtable event in San Diego, was just how many different ecommerce platforms US retailers were using for their sites. In Europe, large retailers tend to use either SAP or Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Occasionally you come across Magento or Shopify Plus, but it’s often with an additional layer or two bolted on.
But according to Builtwith data, the market for ecommerce platforms is as diverse as our roundtable alluded to. Out of the 100,000 most visited websites on the internet, 37% of them had ecommerce functionality, with Shopify being the most popular platform. However, Shopify powers less than 8% of those ecommerce sites – or just over 9% when including Shopify Plus.
The 20 most popular ecommerce platforms power just over 30% of medium-to-large ecommerce sites, leaving almost 70% of the market for hundreds of smaller, niche and in-house platforms. Whilst the data may not be 100% accurate (e.g. Amplience is a content platform that integrates with ecommerce) it does illustrate the copious options open to retailers when choosing a platform.
Trending Ecommerce Platforms for Fashion
For traditional DTC and retail brands with an existing IT infrastructure, the easiest path is to stick with your existing IT vendor’s ecommerce solution – most likely IBM, SAP or Salesforce. We are however seeing an exodus away from these “nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM” options. There’s a realisation that shoppers demand the best online experience possible and some of the newer platforms can offer greater social and AI integration, richer media experiences and less buying friction.
Centra is quickly gaining traction within the fashion industry as such an alternative, becoming the platform of choice for Björn Borg, Craft, Nudie Jeans and Weekday. Builtwith data shows them not only winning customers from smaller platforms such as Adobe Commerce (Magento), but also enterprise players such as Salesforce. Centra boasts more rapid development times, an API-first approach, integrated PIM and single customer view. Their current client-base are mostly on-trend and upcoming brands, but the feature rich and API-led platform means that those brands won’t need to “upgrade” to SFCC or SAP Hybris when they reach a certain size. Unlike clunkier solutions offered by platforms such as Shopify, Centra natively supports Click & Collect, Ship From Store, Buy Online / Return In-Store, and global sites with shared or ring fenced inventory and content.
Remarkable is another platform which has gained traction within fashion, but unlike Centra, seems to have won over more traditional and mainstream brands. Ben Sherman, Moss, Yours, M&Co and Long Tall Sally are all listed as using the ecommerce platform. Their USP is centred around Customer Experience and increasing conversion rates, which is a major pain point for many retailers right now. DTC feels this pain the most (in my experience), with their retailers often offering a better customer experience and price than the brand themselves can provide. Remarkable also pushes the “headless” route, where the platform runs the backend and the frontend can be tailored/designed to a brand’s needs. For me this goes against their USP of improving CX/CRO, as the frontend plays a major role in this and is where many brands become unstuck.
When to choose Shopify Plus
Shopify is less of a trending platform and more of a default for online-only and start-up fashion brands. Whilst the standard Shopify offering can be too restrictive for large brands and incompatible with existing PIMs, ERPs etc, Shopify Plus offers a more flexible and open platform. It’s the choice of brands such as Allbirds and Khloe Kardashian’s Good American.
Shopify Plus means that if you choose standard Shopify at the start of your label’s story, both online and in-store, you won’t be digging yourself out a hole when it’s time to grow. You can implement enterprise grade inventory management and fulfilment, whilst still keeping the ecom site on Shopify.
You’ll know when it’s time to move onto Shopify Plus, if you require greater support from Shopify, want to modify the checkout process or website appearance more than currently possible, or B2B selling becomes important to your brand. Perhaps you have a new PIM, ERP, IMS or 3PL system which cannot integrate with standard Shopify via existing apps or API endpoints.
If you do not already have legacy systems to integrate with, Shopify is an excellent platform to launch a fashion brand on and probably my first recommendation. There are some SEO pitfalls, but they can all be corrected on the frontend with relative ease. Shopify’s platform is solid, reliable and feature rich. Most of the issues that I do see, tend to be the result of third-party apps and poorly designed frontend templates. Migrating from Shopify to Shopify Plus is also a relatively smooth process, which your Shopify AM will be able to assist with.
When to choose SFCC (Salesforce Commerce Cloud) or SAP Hybris / Commerce Cloud
Fashion brands often choose SFCC or Hybris for one of three reasons:
- It is dictated by their global office or holding company
- Existing systems already run on Salesforce or SAP
- There are complex back office systems which cannot integrate with other platforms or already have integrations with Salesforce/SAP
Whatever the reason, your build budget will likely reach seven-figures after all of the system integrations, customisation and frontend development. You’ll then need to prepare for a round of SEO improvements before the site goes live, as both SFCC and Hybris suffer from duplication, URL structure and “Soft 404” issues out of the box. Depending on the size of the site (usually dictated by SKU count), there will be a few dozen robots.txt rules needed to disallow junk URLs, as well as some custom “noindex” and URL structure rules.
Some of the biggest fashion brands use both SFCC (ASICS, Under Armour, All Saints, M&S) and Hybris (Primark, LK Bennett, Matches Fashion), so you’ll be in good company and able to compete for SEO market share without too many painpoints. You’ll also be more likely to heavily customise the User Experience to meet your customer’s demands, due to the already high investment being made.
Important features for modern fashion sites
Some important functionality just doesn’t come built into many ecommerce platforms, but can be critical to a customer’s journey and experience.
On-site search and navigation
Most ecommerce platforms have integrated search, but this is often as simple as returning a list of products that include a given keyword. It often forces merchandisers to keyword stuff their product information with every past, present and potential name for a product or product category. Intelligent search negates this, by knowing trainers, sneakers, kicks and pumps are similar types of sport shoes. They can work out what typos mean and recommend alternatives if the site doesn’t stock a particular brand or product. Truly enjoyable search experiences are intuitive and adapt to the way that a customer thinks.
Gymshark and Lacoste use Algolia to power their site search, which uses AI to understand a customer’s query and intentions – even personalising it at a shopper level. Prettylittlething, Farfetch and Prada use Syte to add visual search, “shop the look” functionality and out-of-stock recommendations.
These CX/UX enhancements can dramatically improve conversion rates and online revenue, by finding the products that customers want (even if they don’t know it) and getting them to the checkout page before they search elsewhere. If your platform doesn’t offer this out-of-the-box, a third party solution could be key.
Diverse clothing models
ASOS first started photographing their clothing on different size and appearance models back in 2018, with Universal Standard going further by photographing their range on models from size US 00 to 40. This isn’t just a PR or Diversity stunt, it’s a big conversion driver with customers being able to better visualise what they’ll look like wearing the apparel.
As well as being a logistical challenge, this much product imagery also causes challenges on the ecommerce frontend, PIM (Product Information Management) and DAM (Digital Asset Management) systems. A shopper doesn’t want a carrousel of 30+ product images, most of which aren’t relevant to them. The system must filter out irrelevant photos and only show those relevant to that customer’s size, shape or ethnicity. Once known, the correct size/shape/ethnicity should then be remembered in a cookie and used on all future product views. Even the biggest fashion retailers are still grappling with how to manage this properly.
Customer reviews and social proof
Almost all ecommerce platforms have some form of product reviews and ratings management built-in, but this is often minimal and uninspired. Customers need to be gently pushed into leaving a positive review, using any medium, device and manner they wish. Fashion brands Seasalt, Steve Madden and Ministry of Supply use Yotpo, who help brands to collect reviews via email and SMS. Customers are asked constructive questions that result in higher quality responses, plus are given the chance to upload their product photos and video reviews. Oliver Bonas and Sports Direct use Reviews.io to collect multimedia reviews and also reply to reviews using AI generated responses.
Reviews from customers can help both SEO (especially SERP CTRs) and on-site conversions. One study showed that a product with five reviews has a 270% greater chance of being purchased than a product with no reviews.
PIM Completeness Monitoring
A customer can only buy based on the information that you give them. When dealing with a large number of SKUs, keeping product information and imagery as complete and in-depth as possible can be a difficult task. If a rival website offers the same or similar product, price can sometimes be superseded by information when it comes to a buying decision. Those extra few product images showing different angles/perspectives or those additional measurements can make a shopper buy with confidence. Whether your PIM is a separate system or built into your ecommerce platform, it should give you the ability to surface SKUs with thin product information or very few images/videos, so that your merchandisers can fix them fast and improve conversions.
That’s not a complete list – but the big features that I would implement on a fashion ecommerce site. What’s on your bucket list when choosing an ecommerce platform?
Want to learn more about the state of play in the beauty ecommerce industry? check out our Beauty Ecommerce Report here, packed with market leader analysis,untapped growth opportunities, and strategic insights for 2024!