Increasing sell-through on your Independent Luxury E-commerce Website

The rise of independent designers and retailers within the Artisanal/Avant-Garde niche satisfies an obsession for all things meaningful and handmade.
 

As an independent luxury retailer or e-tailer, there are three aspects to consider and work on to improve sell-through online. It’s a gradual process that demands thought and investment—we touch on these aspects in the following three sections.

1

Back to Fundamentals - why an efficient e-commerce workflow and dedicated team forms the basis of your e-commerce platform.

2

A Longer Shelf Life - getting product online quicker and more strategically.

3

Play to Brand Strengths - the importance of protecting brand value.

You may find that this article is particularly helpful for those entering or relaunching in the e-tail landscape.

The seasons are becoming so short that they’re running into one another, the Net-A-Porters and Farfetches are going on sale earlier and discounting heavier and quicker than precedented—thanks to a quiet and punishing retail climate. Luxury however, has performed well in comparison to its high street counterpart, although e-commerce competition is heightening in the increasingly saturated e-tail space as it becomes more difficult than ever to stand out. 

Independent luxury stores with e-commerce websites, or luxury e-tailers come up against common challenges such as generating enough sales online to make a return, lacklustre sell-through online, and increasing difficulty with holding onto their margin.

As an independent e-tailer, how do you differentiate yourself from competitors whilst increasing sell-through, amidst the slew of early sales? Establishing a solid and efficient e-commerce workflow alongside getting product online before stock arrives and playing to brand strengths could form the solution for upcoming seasons.


Back to Fundamentals

Having an e-commerce website is a start, but if only it were as simple as just setting up a shop window. The website is a vessel for your brand that consistently requires product, content and marketing to ultimately achieve conversions and sell through. Fundamentally, it starts with the quality of your website and the product imagery.

If you’ve tried to photograph products for your e-commerce site yourself perhaps you’ve resolved to taking a few snaps on your iPhone to get stock on to your website as quickly as possible, or organising adhoc shoots whenever the time and resources are available. Although getting stock online quickly was a priority, you might not have had the results you’d hoped for—spending your valuable time organising models, equipment, photo studios and software, in the end spending more time than you’d hoped. 

Before you knew it your competitors were on sale already, as your products were only just going live on your site. You don’t need me to tell you that the process of preparing, planning, shooting, then processing product and product imagery is a time consuming one that calls for an organised workflow and dedicated manpower.

The first step to getting stock online quickly and therefore increasing chances of higher sell-through is having a structure, process and dedicated team in place—so that as soon as there is a new arrival, products can go from shipment to live on your website in a matter of days. More importantly, having a dedicated team allows you to share the responsibility and workload of an e-commerce operation while you concentrate on what you do best.

Diagram illustrating the typical e-commerce workflow.

Diagram illustrating the typical e-commerce workflow.

The quality of product imagery in e-commerce is paramount, especially for independent luxury. In physical retail, the shop-fit says everything about the brand—it is there to complement and enhance the pieces. In the same vein, product imagery says a lot about a brand online and the types of product offered to potential clients. In independent luxury the product on offer is likely to be niche or unique in quality, construction and fabrics or materials—these differentiating qualities should be celebrated through photography, highlighting the aspects that make each piece stand out.

What type of e-commerce photography you choose is influenced by your brand proposition and the characteristics of your collections. Mono-brands and direct-to-consumer (DTC) also known as digitally native vertical brands for example, often make use of designed sets as backdrops to highlight the distinguishing features of their brand specific products and reinforce their online brand identities. Multi-brand retailers on the other hand, tend to make use of clean consistent imagery with removed backgrounds when showcasing numerous collections from multiple designers to highlight their diverse curations as opposed to mono-brand collections. Some e-tailers use ghost mannequins, while some use models and others use both. 

Example of ghost mannequin product shot.

Example of ghost mannequin product shot.

Example of e-commerce image with a removed background on a model.

Example of e-commerce image with a removed background on a model.

The style of e-commerce photography you choose should complement your collections, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a resolute answer but rather, it can be a continuous process of fine-tuning. 

A Longer Shelf Life 

As sale seasons begin earlier than ever, the amount of time that products are able to be marketed decreases. Previously when a new collection arrived, retailers had a season to market it—but now they’ve barely got half a season to get clients interested before competitors begin sales. That’s where retailers can lean on their e-commerce websites. If seasons are shrinking, why not start selling stock online before it even arrives? It then follows for e-tailers to get product online more quickly. Shooting stock before it arrives would extend the shortening shelf life of product, allowing more time for marketing before sales begin, thus giving e-tailers a better chance of retaining their margins.

Pulling it off relies on what’s mentioned in the previous section, a solid e-commerce workflow. In this context the workflow unfolds as: requesting and receiving samples from your designers or suppliers, preparing them, test-shoot and shooting them, processing—finally uploading them for pre-sale on your website. But an efficient workflow can’t stand alone. 

A strategic approach that is empathetic towards your audience’s interests is essential. An efficient e-commerce process combined with a strategic outlook can offer e-tailers a way to tap into their audience’s way of life whilst offering a point of differentiation. In the case of making pre-order available online, luxury independent e-tailers are offering their client base newfound convenience and exclusivity.

As a strategy, making pre-order available online shouldn’t takeover retailers’ main seasonal collections, but rather enhance them and be implemented to create anticipation amongst a well established client base. The collection that’s made available to pre-order could be a curation from the retailer’s most sough after designer, or a selection of popular products with a history of good sell-through, or an introduction to a new and highly anticipated brand or product. Antonioli for instance, are a great example of an independent e-tailer that makes pre-order available online for sought after collections such as Off-White by Virgil Abloh.

Whilst featuring select product and brands to heighten a sense of exclusivity is the obvious approach, an often under-utilised aspect is the way pre-order curations are presented. Differentiating the way the pre-order selection is presented online through e-commerce photography and post-production could add another layer of exclusivity. This could take the form of a different coloured backdrop, a new set, a change in lighting or a change in styling to highlight the specific characteristics of the select products. The pre-order collection could be given extra gravitas on collections pages with visible tags or have its own unique collection page accompanied crucially by gripping copy that informs and incentivises. The way the selection is presented online is as pivotal as its contents.

Example of how a pre-order collection can be differentiated with e-commerce photography, set and styling.

Example of how a pre-order collection can be differentiated with e-commerce photography, set and styling.

Another crucial pillar of the pre-order strategy is communication between retailers and their audience. This channel of communication forms a kind of lifeline—as the conversation between brand and client has shifted into a digital space, myriad touch-points both on and offline become part of the now non-linear customer journey. It’s therefore become essential to offer increasingly personalised experiences and a personal level of service, especially for e-tailers who don’t always have physical touch-points. For luxury independent retailers, personalised experiences and service has been at the crux of their offering. But, it isn’t always as easy to transfer the same level of personalisation into an online context.

One way to offer a consistent level of personalised service and communication is to drip feed customised product updates and emails. In the context of making pre-order collections available online, drip feeding personalised updates to subscribers acts to create not only a sense of excitement and anticipation leading up to the product going live online, but also acts as a from of aftercare—guiding the client through a “cool-down” phase that enables them to feel reassured and establish a deeper relationship with the brand or retailer.

Making stock available online for pre-order is one approach to combat the shrinking seasons and onslaught of early sales, but it is when it is coupled with a streamlined process and strategic outlook that it comes into its own—offering independent retailers a better chance of retaining their margin, a point of differentiation and a way to deepen their digital relationship with clients.

Play to Brand Strengths

When sell-through is dire, it takes some creativity to see another way round it other than to offer discounts especially when the high street appears to be consistently plastered with sale banners. Although discounts certainly have their place, offering too many too soon can create a downward spiral that easily spins out of control. One of the aspects this approach harms most is brand value.

Your brand value is at the core of your offering, especially as a luxury independent. Your brand is synonymous with its values, particularly as consumers demand and expect more transparency, responsibility and authenticity from brands. Exclusivity remains crucial to luxury retailers, and taking the discount highway chips away at a luxury brand’s value, as it becomes synonymous with discounts and its clients come to expect them unconditionally.

An approach that invites more longevity and that has become ultimately imperative for luxury e-tailers, but that calls for a larger investment in time and resources is one that centres around retailers’ brand values—imparting those values in every facet of the brand that consumers touch on. 

The largest strength of this approach is its ability to not only help with sell-through in the long run, but also to enable e-tailers to foster deeper relationships with its clients in a digital context, creating brand loyalty in a furiously competitive digital space.

Brand value can be communicated in touch-points both on and offline, from a physical store to an e-commerce website. The way those values are imparted is sometimes overlooked, but is particularly vital for independent luxury retailers for whom brand value creates a point of differentiation from competitors. Brand value should be communicated thoughtfully in brand collaterals, in emails and on social media. It should extend to tone of voice, written copy, imagery and branding. It should encompass online content and features, painting a unique and focused picture throughout the customer journey. 

Ultimately, brand value influences a customer’s decision to complete a purchase from one retailer and not another, and to return to one and not another especially in the case of e-tailers who don’t always have a physical space. Protecting and thoughtfully communicating brand value amidst sale extravaganzas is especially pertinent for sell-through in independent luxury e-tail, because it offers a point of differentiation and values longevity over quick fixes. 

 

Alongside brand value, customer data is yet another overlooked aspect that independent luxury retailers can utilise to their brand’s strengths. For e-tailers being able to paint a tangible picture or profile of customers has become increasingly essential in fostering deeper relationships through personalised content and emails. The more you can understand customers’ lifestyles and behaviours, the more you can envision where your offering fits in, and how it can enhance lives and the customer experience. The more e-tailers can understand customers’ lifestyles tangibly, the more they can create focused product suggestions that customers are more likely to be interested in, the more they increase chances of sell-through. 

The analyses of data over time also helps to predict what clients are likely to be interested in, increasing chances of sell-through before stock even arrives. Data is a powerful tool that has the potential to turn a list of email addresses into tangible and dynamic profiles of individuals—enabling e-tailers to tap into and enhance customers’ ways of life. It is not, however a license to bombard subscribers, but rather an opportunity to play to brand strengths and to construct thoughtful and personalised communication.


In a nutshell

Differentiation has become paramount for sell-through in luxury independent e-tail, as consumers are faced with more choice, more product and more discounts. To sum up, as an independent luxury e-tailer who wants to stand out from competition:

  • You need an efficient and reliable e-commerce workflow, and partner or team.

  • You need to get product online quicker, but also more strategically.

  • You need to protect your brand value, identify and play to your brand strengths.

There is no quick fix to increasing sell-through online. E-commerce is a continual and gradual process that requires time to see tangible results. It is an investment that requires constant attention, but which without would leave you firmly behind. Work with a solid e-commerce partner, be strategic about product and protect your brand value as a luxury independent—watch sell-through gradually improve.

 

 
 

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