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Case Study: Online Retailing of Designer Apparel

Couture Candy was developed to fill a growing demand for the freshest designer apparel online, without sacrificing the allure, character and personal service distinctive of offline boutiques.

The company faced many challenges in proving its business model. Selling designer apparel equates with the higher than normal order values compared to other apparel niches. Trust had to be quickly established, and Couture Candy knew the best way to do so was with a consistent look and feel coupled with the utmost in site quality. It also had to build affinity to create lifetime customers who would consistently engage with their brand and drive revenue. Lastly, as a new entrant to the vertical, there were many unknown hurdles, and, therefore, Couture Candy had to operate in a very dynamic environment. It was essential that they quickly and easily build upon or get off from their e-commerce platform.

'From day one, we were able to deliver a high-quality brand image with the website,' stated Ryan Clifton, Lead Developer at Couture Candy. 'Our development team was able to modify every last inch of screen real estate in order to achieve the trust building appearance we desired.'

Product imagery takes centre stage in what would normally be a highly tactile purchasing decision. Couture Candy launched using high quality, but somewhat inconsistent images for their product catalogue. After upgrading the product images to magazine-quality runway style photographs, a sales increase of about 300 per cent was achieved.

Customers seeking clothing online do not have the luxury of trying them on prior to committing to a purchase. A liberal return policy prominently displayed in multiple locations enabled Couture Candy to reduce the perceived risk. They have also made returns as painless and easy as possible to encourage re-purchasing. Prominently displayed on the site is a toll-free number for customer service and a physical mailing address. This also aids in reputation building and helps shoppers trust the brand as a physical entity, not just a virtual one.

The company recently introduced Hacker Safe by Scan Alert as a means of decreasing the level of anxiety some shoppers feel when handing over personal data such as a credit card. Studies have shown an increase upwards of 14 per cent after introduction of this simple feature.

'Entering a market that is ultra-competitive is not an easy task, but we knew we would have a distinct visibility advantage if we had the right tools,' stated Matthew Hunter, Co-Founder of Couture Candy.

It utilizes alternative views to give customers a look at all the angles of an item. Images of colour variations are also available. Almost all images can be zoomed in on to see greater details. This helps replicate the in-store shopping experience, which boosts conversions.

The company also uses the expertise of in-house personal stylists to cross-sell matching pieces to create an entire outfit. Single variation accessories, such as jewellery and glasses have cross-sold well and increased the total order value. To entice visitors to surpass purchase thresholds, free ground transportation for orders over US$100 is offered. A 'What's New' section profiles the newest designer and product additions to the site for those who want the latest trends in their wardrobe.

Personal stylists are used to parallel the boutique experience in the online environment. These stylists are essentially the gateway to what is in or out for each season. Accessible on every product page, if a shopper needs stylist advice it is free via 'LivePerson' chat or a toll-free phone number. Stylists also put together the outfits seen on Couture Candy's innovative 'shop the runway' section that features single item or whole outfit purchasing options from a single screen.

To create increased customer affinity, personal stylists have begun to deliver audio addresses via Couture Cast, a podcast covering seasonal fashion shows, celebrities and trends. Customers are also encouraged to discuss the products, designers, and celebrity fashions featured on the site in the extensive Couture Talk community forums. Stylists also feature items of the week, designers to watch, style tip of the week, gift ideas, and the denim fit guide to help women find the right jean for their body type. To keep customers abreast of the latest happenings, Couture Candy also offers an e-mail newsletter. Thus, with an established base to work from, Couture Candy began to explore site enhancements and improvements to aid growth.

Due to a large product line, the internal site search began to play a more important role in helping customers navigate towards relevant products. To expand internal search functionality, Celebros Qwiser Salesperson was implemented to deliver highly relevant result sets with sorting and drill-down capabilities.

With product lines being added continuously, customers may wish to wait and buy the next season's fashions. Gift certificate functionality was added to accommodate these buyers in addition to gift givers. Gift certificates are available for purchase in various quantities and can be sent via e-mail or postal mail. 'With the success of the female-focussed Couture Candy site, a men's site and kid's site are to follow,' said Hunter. 'We look forward to taking online sales of high-end apparel to the next level.'

Questions

1. Discuss the challenges faced by Couture Candy in the online retailing of designer apparel. What measures were helpful to remove these problems?

The challenges faced by Couture Candy in the online retailing of designer apparel are:
  • to meet the demand of selling items
  • to establish trust among buyers
  • to retain the old customers
  • to operate in a very dynamic environment

The helpful measures to remove these problems were:
  • secured user’s card details via introducing Hacker Safe by Scan Alert
  • started free stylist advice via LivePerson chat or a toll-free phone number
  • started Couture Cast, i.e., a podcast covering seasonal fashion shows, celebrities and trends
  • uses the expertise of in-house personal stylists to cross-sell matching pieces
  • implemented Celebros Qwiser Salesperson to deliver highly relevant result 
  • encouraged to discuss extensively over Couture Talk community forums
  • Gift certificate functionality was added

2. What opportunities are offered by Internet-based technologies for the society in general, especially in matters related to government control and their efficient working?

The opportunities that are offered by Internet-based technologies for the society in general, especially in matters related to government control and their efficient working are:
  • E-government allows for government transparency.
  • Simple tasks may be easier to perform through electronic government access. 
  • E-government allows these tasks to be performed efficiently with more convenience to individuals.
  • E-government is an easy way for the public to be more involved in political campaigns.
  • E-government helps simplify processes and makes access to government information more easily accessible for public sector agencies and citizens.
The anticipated benefits of e-government include efficiency, improved services, better accessibility of public services, and more transparency and accountability.

3. Discuss the e-commerce model implemented by the Company on its site.

The e-commerce model implemented by the Company on its site is B2C. IAs in B2C commerce they can instead showcase all of their products on the internet which reduces the cost of transaction. B2C also allows their customers to better access information about different product and sellers which broadens the selection available to their customers.

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