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Fashion market trends: Why nothing beats knowledge on the ground8 min read

I do not pretend to be ‘down with the kids’; I am barely down with my own age bracket. Ask anyone in our office and they would probably evoke images of Dr. Watson from Sherlock rather than the office fashionista. I am, simply, bang off-trend.

And yet, here I am writing an article on fashion market trends and how to ensure that you can be successful when entering new international markets. Surely some mistake? You’d think. But fashion is, after all, a business. And like any business, it is subject to the same varying influences at a local level that every business faces. Just because it works in one country, does not mean it will translate seamlessly abroad.

Choose your battles

Is the market right for you?

A significant eCommerce market is obviously important, but you need to understand how that market operates online within your vertical. This is especially true when it comes to fashion. Is this a market where people prefer to try clothes on in physical stores before purchasing online? If so, if you don’t have a physical presence in these markets – be it direct or in reseller stores – then you may already be at a distinct disadvantage.  Another common behaviour may be to purchase multiple sizes to check fit before returning half of the items originally purchased. Can your order fulfilment meet this demand internationally?

Competition is another critical factor. It’s unlikely that you will find the market wide open, so expect fierce competition. However, do you offer something unique that you can leverage? Do you satisfy a particular niche?  For example, in China, British heritage is a big selling point. ‘Hooks’ like these could be the opportunities you are looking for.

Finally, think about the cultural, political and religious nature of the market you are considering, and stack these elements up against your own brand values. If you feel there are any conflicts at this elementary level, then perhaps this is not a market you should be considering.

Google provides a range of tools to help you look at the data at a market level, but nothing beats local knowledge. Speaking with as many people as you can in the market will always add colour to the data.

Curate your collection

Above, I gave the example of British heritage being a selling point in China. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand that falls into this category would find success with its whole collection. It’s more likely that certain pieces from the collection, especially those that typify the ‘British heritage’ customers are seeking, will be a success.

Another consideration is the availability of lower priced local alternatives. Consumers are unlikely to buy from a foreign retailer that will take 10 days to deliver if a lower priced local alternative is instantly available. Choose items that are unique to you, or are unlikely to be locally available – again, going back to having some ‘niche’ to offer.

Selecting a smaller, more considered collection for your target market will not only increase your chances of success, but it will also mean you can focus your advertising budgets much more effectively. Also, over time, you will be able to build an understanding of the local trends and fashions, and begin tailoring your lines increasingly to the local markets in which you are operating.

Go native. Like, really native

Speak the language

Just using your English language site in a new market is akin to talking VERY LOUDLY at the waiter whilst on holiday. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but it rarely works and comes across as rather arrogant.

Translate your site, but be careful how you approach the process. Seeking out the cheapest and quickest solution will likely result in a poorly translated site, which, at best, clumsily gets your message across and, at worst, simply doesn’t make sense.

Effective translation requires the meaning of a phrase to be translated, not just the words themselves. A talented translator will understand the meaning that your seeking to convey with your written content and will translate that meaning into your target language.

It’s also important to translate all elements of your site. Aspects such as your delivery and returns policies, terms and conditions, and (most importantly) the checkout process are actually the elements of your site which are most likely to reassure new audiences of the safety of purchasing from you. If these aspects are in a language they don’t understand, you are likely to see people leave your site rather than complete their purchase.

People like us

One of the universal laws of persuasion is that we all like people who are like us. This is equally true of the imagery and style of your site.

Images of people, especially models in product shots, will have more traction if those models reflect the ethnicity of the market (or at least global region) that you are engaging with. Your potential customers will be able to see themselves reflected in the images more easily and, by default, engage more with your brand and the products that you sell.

It’s not just a case of re-shooting products however. The look and feel of your site may need to change. In a very interesting recent post, Minao Bache pointed out how very different the typical Japanese website is in design and style to a typical Western site. The same can be said for Chinese websites. Until you understand the local digital landscape, you cannot assume your existing site is sufficient.

Fish in the right pond

Understand how people shop in your target market and you can increase your chances of success by making sure you are reaching your audiences in the channels where they engage.

For example, in China, Alibaba accounts for 70% of all eCommerce activity and rival JD.com 25% [2016, The Economist]. Both of these are marketplace platforms with their own eco-systems and infrastructure which is essentially ‘closed’. In other words, you search, browse and purchase without leaving the platform. Few people in China will search for a product in a search engine as we might in the UK. If you decided to enter the Chinese market without being on one or both of these platforms, you would be closing the door on 95% of the market.

Remove barriers

Pay their way

Don’t assume that the payment provider you currently use on your site is adequate to enter into a new market. Take time to understand how online transactions are typically made, as all markets are different.

For example, according to Capita:

  • Credit and debit card payments dominate in the UK.
  • In the US, there is rapid growth in mobile payment systems such as Google Wallet and Apple Pay.
  • Adoption of alternative payment trends has not taken off in Japan, due to a security-conscious population. Sixty per cent of transactions are made using cards.
  • In India, Internet bank transfers and cash on delivery are most popular.
  • In Germany (92%) and the Netherlands (67%), most payments are made via Alternative Payments (real-time bank transfers) rather than by credit or debit card.

On top of this, 61% of online customers have greater confidence in a website that offers them a choice of domestic payment methods in a secure shopping environment.

If your payment options are limited to methods not popular in your target market, then you are seriously handicapping your chances of success.

Don’t make them wait

Up to 50% of customers could drop out if they do not find adequate delivery options on a site, so being able to get your products to customers in your target market quickly is essential. But time is just one aspect when considering international order fulfilment. There are considerations such as local customs and tax issues to bear in mind, for example. The last thing you want is your customers to face a large bill from their local customs authority to collect a product they bought from you.

International shipping can quickly get very complicated, but there are specialist companies that can help advise you on how to approach sending your products abroad. If you already use a global courier such as FedEx or UPS, then it’s likely that they will already have solutions you can access, or be able to advise.

Do your homework and factor aspects such as length, cost and possible taxes to ship to your potential market into consideration.

In summary

The bottom line is that you need to do your homework.  Language is only one of many aspects that need to be considered. Ultimately you need a thorough understanding of the intricacies of a market, and then to honestly measure your ability to address all of these aspects. Data and information available from the likes of Google gives you a good indication, but if you really want to understand how a market ticks, then you need to speak to the locals.

Croud’s international team, enabled by our network of in-market digital experts, known as Croudies, has extensive experience of helping retailers with their international digital marketing – from localising content to ensuring your paid search campaigns resonate in each market. Contact us to discuss your international marketing requirements.