Trend Setters – Fashion M-retail: App, Mobile Site or Both?

January 25, 2013 9:10 am

Trend Setters – Fashion M-retail: App, Mobile Site or Both?

Native app or mobile site? What is a fashion retailer to do? In this article we will explore current thinking on the relative strengths and weaknesses of apps vs. mobile sites as applied to the specific needs of the fashion retail market, as well as have a look at what some of the UK’s major fashion retailers are already doing.

To read the article published in the December issue of Mobile Marketing Magazine you can go here.

Alternatively if you would like to read the full version of the article with case studies of ecommerce sites then you can go here Fashion M-retail

The Opportunity

The fashion retail industry is possibly better placed than any other to capitalise on the mobile experience provided by smartphone apps and mobile websites. The web has long provided the busy fashion consumer 24 hour shopping from the comfort of their PC, allowed them to easily locate stock in their size, negated the need for unpleasant changing room experiences, miles of walking and many spousal arguments.

According to IMGR’s e-retail index a total of £68bn was spent online in the UK in 2011, up 16% on 2010, and the biggest year on year growth was seen in the fashion industry. Clever fashion marketers have been busy employing such conveniences as ‘Click & Collect’ style services, improving delivery options and placing their full stock listings online. But it’s no longer simply enough to be optimising existing online strategy, the next challenge is already here, and it’s mobile.

A recent survey by Simpson Carpenter (May 2012) found that the last 12 months has seen a massive 65% increase in those shopping via their mobiles. The authors conclude that m-commerce activity (transacting on a mobile device) is no longer the reserve of a small group of early adopters and has now moved into the mainstream.

M-commerce; the new shopping frontier?

When you consider that fashion shopping is possibly one of the most stubborn bricks and mortar stalwarts, yet has achieved huge online penetration in recent times, it’s easy to join the dots and see that mobile is ideally placed to bridge the divide.

From the customer’s point of view, despite the wealth of freedoms shopping online gives them, there are the clear benefits of hitting the high street. Namely the practicalities of needing to try on clothes, see and feel them in the flesh, have them now etc., but above all, shopping will always remain, a very social and pleasurable leisure activity.

So imagine the potential to be found in the synthesis of these two channels. The best of both.

Shoppers are gaining an ever increasing familiarity with price checkers, promotional sites etc. and are blending their online usage with their high street activities. They want to be able to apply the conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to in desktop research (price checking, inspiration, locating stores and individual items etc) on the move. They also want convenience and choice, more than ever. They can access the internet in their pocket, or at home on an increasing number of devices, whether tablet or smart-phone, 3G or Wifi. Essentially they’re more demanding than ever and it’s the retailer of today’s challenge to meet these demands.

Mobile web is, and will increasingly be a great enabler to the mobile fashion consumer, therefore it should be a great enabler for the industry too.

Focus on Fashion

So what is that fashion shoppers uniquely want from m-commerce/services? How does an app feature become a sales driver?

What can it do for me?

As is the case with any industry and mobile, you have to ask yourself ‘What do fashion buyers want to be able to on their mobile?’. There’s certainly been a lot of good, bad and ugly in the early rush to ‘have an app’, though things are slowly improving. Whereas it was once common for retailers to throw a few new season collection images, coupled with a store locator into an app and claim they ‘have a mobile strategy’, users have quickly demanded more. Retailers are increasingly succumbing to the pressure to support full transactional capabilities (and, crucially, to make them more usable), they’re also increasingly expected to carry full product inventories and more besides.

Popular features

Exclusivity, scarcity, fast fashion; these are some of the most valuable attributes you could employ when creating a mobile brand experience. We’re talking ‘sneak peak’, ‘new in today’, ‘limited edition’ and ‘voucher code’. Essentially anything that brings the mobile user in out of the cold of the high street and provides something a little bit more than any other channel can, makes them feel a bit special and rewarded for having gone to the effort of downloading an app.

And let’s not forget social influences – we use fashion to project our identity, communicate to others who we are and what we identify with. Sharing every wardrobe decision with the world isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but you will have a potent source of free marketing in those that do.

Current popular features used in mobile retailer’s app arsenals include:

• Wishlists

• Sharing functions (Facebook, Twitter, BBM)

• Fast fashion (new trends updates)

• Stock-checkers / Stockist finders using GPS

• Sales alerts

• Barcode scanners

• Scrapbooking

And thinking outside the box

When you look past the major retailers you very quickly find a thriving app/mobile community focused directly on serving the wants and desires of even the most dedicated fashion followers. You can gain an understanding of what fashionista’s want from the popularity of the following categories of paid and free apps;

• Wardrobe Organisers (‘Stylebook’, ‘Myshoebox’ – help you catalogue and style your existing items)

• Style Inspiration (‘Chicfeed’, a stream of images pulled in from top blogs & magazine editorial)

• Shopping apps (‘Shopstyle’ – big inventory of stores, websites, stockists etc.)

• Style Advice (Glamour magazine’s ‘Ask a stylist’ for instant feedback on an outfit)

• Cataloguing (Designer Ralph Lauren has an app providing comprehensively archived slideshows of past collections)

• Virtual changing rooms (‘SmartDresser’ – choose a models pose and use it as a clothes horse)

• Sizing Aids (‘What size am I?’ – catalogues and compares the sizing of all UK retailers so that you know your measurement in any given store)

• Social Feedback (‘Pose’ – a bragging / social confirmation tool that allows you to get your friend’s, or a bunch of complete strangers, feedback on that metallic salmon jumpsuit before you step out in it.

• Crowdsourcing (Designers ask followers to vote for new lines/designs/colours, giving discounts for voters of winning items.)

• Co-creation (‘Stylestudio’ lets you design your own items from an inventory of customisable pre-sets)

Mobile Strategy for Fashion

When deciding on a mobile strategy for fashion, as with any industry you have to ask yourself what business goal should it achieve? Is it about raising brand awareness, driving traffic? Do you want to create something different, quirky, cool, potentially ‘viral’ that will create its own buzz and chatter? Or more humbly increasing revenue (sounds obvious doesn’t it?). It’s all about blending business goals, creating reasons for repeat engagement and the occasional show piece of functionality.

It’s all the same to them

It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about one channel in isolation but marketers can never remind themselves enough that consumers view web, instore and mobile web experiences as all different faces of the same brand or retailer. Users will bring their knowledge of using your brand (whether in the store, or on your website) and apply it to what they expect your app or mobile site will allow them to do.


Joined up integration of app, mobile and web experience, e.g. syncing your account and basket across all three, as done particularly well by Asos. What matters is the end to end customer experience, irrespective of which mode they begin engaging with you.

Fast Fashion

Nowhere is the opportunity greater than for the dedicated fashion follower who wants affordability and variety, a new outfit, bang on trend, without breaking the bank every time they hit the town. These users are ripe for exploitation. These users rely heavily on editorial and word of mouth to tell them what’s new and hot right now. Social media is uniquely placed to

Brand Loyal

And in all this talk of disposable fashion let’s not forget those that harbour more than a couple of brand loyalties. Brands can foster these relationships by providing apps that give followers up to the minute releases, how-to-wear editorial and stockist finders. Ralph Lauren has garnered much acclaim for it’s app that goes above and beyond to deliver a full back catalogue of it’s collections for

Wider web platform decisions

Mobile web vs Mobile Apps

There was a time where the app ‘revolution’ was proclaimed to be the end of mobile web and that this was the future of mobile connected services. Not so. As found by Keynote/Adobe back in 2010 ;

“For every shopping activity, including researching products and prices, reviews, promotions

and purchasing products, most respondents (61-81%) preferred browser to native app.”

The same report found that the preferred mode of connection (browser or app) was specific to the task being undertaken. Games, Social networking, music and maps were all media users preferred to consume using apps, but for all other activities users prefer browsers.

So it’s clear there’s no singular solution, and each business will need to look at not only their product area, but also what kind of media they want to engage users in. For example an m-commerce sales drive might be best tackled with a mobile optimised website but delivering fashion editorial and loyalty programmes lend themselves more to a native app.

Context of use

Gone are the days of mobile use being confined to the commute to work, users are increasingly likely to be using their phone instead of their deskop/laptop/even ipad at home. Clearly discussions of context have moved on from ‘they’ll be using it on the bus’. Someone visiting a job search website is more likely to be trying to upload their CV from a desktop than on the go, but the same user might want instant access to job adverts from their phone. So, to coin a phrase, it’s horses for courses, it depends on how your services fit into the realities of how and when users want to engage with you and what they might want to do differently on each of those occasions.

And an increasing minority are becoming mobile-only web users. It’s sobering to think that for a section of your targets, mobile might be their only means of engaging with you digitally.

Our verdict on the big names in mobile fashion as below:

River Island mobile websiteRiver Island

The iOS app’s large main womenswear navigation listing mixes editorial (autumn preview and just arrived) and product categories (tops and dresses), making it hard to locate product specific sections. At the time of writing, the brand doesn’t offer an Android app or mobile optimised site.


H & M

iOS and Android apps are fashion editorial and not fully transactional. Users who ‘dig down’ for further details

H & M mobile site

are redirected to the full desktop website. Product information (codes, materials) is also missing, but the gift card balance checker is useful.




Next mobile website

A simple and comprehensive iOS app that focuses on the transactional experience and driving sales, although it could make better use of screen real estate when displaying product results. The Android app just redirects to teh mobile site – and the quick shop functionality is unusable.




New Look mobile site

New Look

Good fashion editorial content in the iOS app, but launches into the mobile site for most browsing and transactional activity. Mobile site looks different to the iOS and Android apps which may confuse consumers.



iPhone app makes good use of good quality images and utilises screen space well, but individual

Zara mobile website

items aren’t labelled – it’s unclear if the skirt or shirt is on sale in this image. Android app simply redirects to the main desktop site, which is not optimised for mobile devices.




TopShopThe mobile website asks users if they want to save a bookmark, creating a permanent ‘app-like’ link on their device homescreen. The iPhone app is also strong for those running latest iOS versions, while the Android app just connects to the mobile site.