Are Fashion Retailers Really Omnichannel Ready?


Omnichannel fashion retail is about more than just connecting the bricks and the clicks, or the digital to the physical. Retailers need to reach beyond that definition. Instead, fashion retailers should start thinking of omnichannel as the new commerce standard and the experience that customers expect and deserve.

However, in a recent study of more than 1000 global retailers (39 percent of which were fashion retailers), OrderDynamics found that fashion retailers are struggling with omnichannel at an alarming rate. In fact, although 90 percent of fashion retailers have e-commerce capabilities, only 34.7 percent have and actively promote click and collect. They also regularly fail to offer real-time customer visibility into item stock levels for various product variations.

This deficiency is hurting customer relationships and making it harder for fashion retailers to compete in an on-demand, convenience-driven marketplace. With almost two-thirds of the competition lagging behind, fashion retailers who adopt more robust omnichannel capabilities are well positioned to handle the pressures of fashion retail and provide better service to their customers at a lower cost to themselves.

A webrooming friendly e-commerce site

If you’re like me and not of the Millennial or Gen Z generations, you’re probably asking yourself, “Web-what?” Webrooming is the online version of showrooming. This is the concept of starting the shopping journey online and completing the purchase in-store; the perfect solution for information-driven, instant gratification-seeking Millennials and Centennials. Later, we’ll touch on the elements that are needed to complete the in-store purchase or pick-up portion of webrooming, but there are several key features that are essential to creating a webrooming friendly site.

To drive shoppers to the store who begin their journeys online, the retail website should provide complete product details, price checking, social sharing and reviews. Shoppers want to know what others’ experiences with a product has been, and they want the opinions of their family and friends before they make a major purchase or choose the perfect outfit for the upcoming wedding they’re attending. Reduce the perceived risk for the customer, with full information and social signals.

Then, after the shopper makes their decision on what they want, give them a view of whether you have it, and where. Complete inventory visibility down to a store level, is another important aspect for shoppers, discussed below.

BOPIS, ROPIS and all of the other fulfillment options

We all know that if you need a new outfit or pair of shoes for tonight’s date or tomorrow’s job interview, free two-day delivery isn’t going to do anyone any good. That’s not to say free two-day shouldn’t be one of a slew of fulfillment options offered to the shopper — after all, it’s pretty much the standard in today’s Amazon-driven online world. However, there are a number of fulfillment methods, like the “click and collect” (or Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store – BOPIS), that allow shoppers to quickly get product into their hands when they need it.

Both BOPIS and Reserve Online, Pick Up In-Store (ROPIS), let Millennial and Centennial shoppers webroom to their hearts content and buy or reserve the items to ensure they’re available when they arrive at the store. Furthermore, ROPIS is a critical offering for fashion and apparel retailers. Shoppers want to be able to try on a dress or pair of shoes to make sure they fit before taking them home. Then for high-end luxury items, shoppers want to touch, feel and get a sense of the authenticity of that $10,000-plus Birkin bag before they complete the purchase. 

Omnichannel-enabled returns

Nothing is worse than a disconnect between channels when you need to return an item. Returning apparel is a troublesome headache. To ease the pain, retailers need to make sure they have the capabilities to accept online returns, in-store, and to also allow shoppers to return items by mail if purchased in-store. It has to work both ways, seamlessly.

Another key element to enabling omnichannel returns is offering receipt-free returns. By allowing shoppers to complete returns without a receipt, you further ease the return process and create happy and loyal customers. In addition, receipt-free returns are beneficial to the retailers in that they bring shoppers into the store where they might make an additional purchase. In fact, according the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper, 66 percent of shoppers made a new purchase while bringing an item back for a return.

Real-time Inventory

One key element is critical to making all of the above possible is real-time inventory visibility. Giving customers a real-time view of available inventory is key to allow both customers and retailers to see the merchandise that can be seen, felt, tested, and ultimately purchased from any given store or location.  

There is nothing that makes a shopper more frustrated than making a trip across town for a needed to item just to learn that the inventory levels listed online were inaccurate and they need to drive another 20 miles to get the product – which, again, may or may not actually be available by the time they arrive. When inventory is accurate, retailers create a positive experience for shoppers. Additionally, real-time inventory makes life easier for store and warehouse associates. With real-time inventory visibilities, retailers can optimize workflows and avoid having associates rifle through back rooms or shelves for half an hour looking for items that may or may not actually be there.

Don’t waste any more time

Omnichannel retailing is all about improving the customer experience by making it easier for customers to learn about a product, make the purchase and return it, if needed or desired. By optimizing the customer experience, brands and retailers create a loyal following and ultimately, increase sales and drive revenue. Therefore, it’s time for the vast majority of fashion and apparel retailers to get on board and make their retail operations omnichannel ready. Don’t waste another minute.

Nick McLean is CEO of OrderDynamics.


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