Online apparel is an extremely lucrative category. Experts predict that the worldwide e-commerce segment of fashion and apparel will grow from $408 billion in 2017 to more than $706 billion by 2022. As you might expect, with opportunity comes competition. According to one study, 26 percent of the top 1,000 e-commerce sites are dedicated apparel retailers. The same study suggests that while Amazon.com continues to dominate e-commerce, 75.1 percent of online clothing sales come from retailers that specialize in clothing, accessories or shoes.
With nearly 56 percent of consumers saying they buy at least some of their apparel online, there's a massive consumer base up for grabs. Here are four creative ways that apparel retailers can leverage the power of partnerships to grab a bigger piece of the action:
1. Leverage emerging partner channels.
Another recent research report found that many retail brands see significant revenue coming from emerging partnership channels like influencers (17 percent) and brand-to-brand partnerships (13 percent). With the category and definition of partnership broadening, apparel brands can use these types of partners strategically to strengthen sales.
Influencers can be an extremely valuable channel in the apparel world. Consider that Gen Z will outnumber millennials this year, and of all generations, Gen Z seeks the opinions of their social community more than any other. Sixty-eight percent of Gen Z internet users say they read three or more reviews before making a first-time purchase. Both celebrity endorsements and reviews from other influencers impact these young people in impressive ways.
When seeking influencers for your brand, keep in mind that massive followings aren’t always the key to success. Find influencers who speak to your core audience or to shopper segments you’d like to acquire as new customers. Through mutual trust, they can be your strongest advocates and even provide feedback on new apparel and accessories.
2. Use seasonality to your advantage.
The holiday season and key shopping days can be make-or-break for apparel retailers. In 2018, holiday apparel retail sales grew 7.9 percent, the best growth since 2010. Similar to other categories, apparel brands depend on revenue lift through gifting growth in the key December period. By strategically deploying offers and placements throughout gift guides on affiliate sites and with influencers, brands can drive the revenues they want to see around days like Cyber Monday.
This is also a time when direct brand-to-brand relationships can enable powerful holiday campaigns. Imagine the appeal to consumers of being able to decrease the time spent holiday shopping through smartly bundled products.
While the December holidays immediately spring to mind when considering seasonality, there are other times of year when leveraging partnership can make even more sense. Summer vacation and back-to-school are two shopping periods that present unique brand partnership opportunities. Travel and summer clothes go hand-in-hand, as do school supplies, gear and new clothes. There are lots of potential partners that attract outstanding traffic with content dedicated to these topics.
3. Align partnerships and offers to your specific KPIs.
Due to the competitive nature of the category, apparel retailers may have very specific brand goals. For example, a clothing label may want to focus specifically on new customer acquisition or increased order value of existing customers. Certain types of partnership are better at driving toward each key performance indicator (KPI).
For example, partnering directly with another brand to cross-promote product lines can be a fast way to acquire new customers. A brand specializing in athleisure-wear, for example, could partner with an established exercise franchise to cross-promote each other and attract new customers. Brands can also work with traditional partners like coupon and cashback sites, but compensate more for new-to-file customers.
Additionally, if a brand is looking to grow average order value from existing customers, the key is to find partners to drive the right frequency and reach of offers to those shoppers. Here you will want to emphasize partners that attract your existing customers in large numbers, and even tailor offers to committed buyers. For example, discounts on large purchase sizes can be a great way to focus on existing customers.
4. Test and learn.
A test-and-learn approach is one way to to find the best tactics to align to your goals. If your goal is customer acquisition, try implementing different activities with different partner types. If your brand’s goal is to increase average order value, testing a range of commission structures will help determine which model drives the most lift in AOV. While brands in the past were restricted by compensation models, today’s technology enables more precise commissioning based on shopper type, category, gross margin, AOV and more.
Along with the test-and-learn mentality, it's crucial to integrate partner marketing data into a customer analytics database. Putting the channel through the same level of scrutiny as search or display advertising is made easier through APIs that bridge the gap between partner data and multichannel analytics. For apparel retailers, understanding the customer journey via specific data points like browsing history, size searches, add-to-cart and coupon codes can yield great insight into partner programs.
Partnership presents an enormous opportunity for apparel brands to grab consumer attention. By strategically forming and measuring a variety of partnership types, growth can occur. Just make sure the growth you’re after — new customers, AOV, incremental, etc. — is aligned with your plan, and don’t be afraid to pivot when some tactics don’t yield the results you want.
Miriam Tremelling is director of marketing strategy and operations at Partnerize, a SaaS partner management platform.