Blog research: I type HM.com into my browser and add to my knowledge around marketing to women with the new U.S. ecommerce website from H&M. My credentials are impeccable: woman, check. Credit card, check. Marketing researcher, check. Experience conducting ethnographic research with women about fashion and ecommerce: check.
Personal experience shopping for fashion online? Check check.
Marketing to Women Post-Recession
We all live in various versions of the real world. In marketing to women, the historical focus on brand above substance, build-it-and-she-will-come, paint a lovely size-0 fantasy and it will be absorbed whole, has changed. Post recession, women have been through the ringer and questioned it all. In Hustle: Marketing to Women in the Post-Recession World by Bonnie Ulman and Sal Kibler, their primary research with women directs their recommendations:
- Women want to be marketed to with substance and style alike.
- Brands are a starting point, but women have more options that are all similar in quality.
- Online reviews and couponing, social media, and point of purchase comparison shopping are continuing even as money becomes a bit less tight.
- Facts and price sensitivity must accompany pizazz.
H&M Knock-Offs Part of Historic Trend
Enter the H&M ecommerce site. Fast-fashion, low prices and a range of styles are finally available online in the U.S. Higher-priced designers have been knocked off since long ago fashion shows gave artists a way to sketch patterns for women to sew of the latest trends. In fact, according to Audrey Monroe, 100 years ago, Vogue would print detailed illustrations of Parisian styles with the subtle intent to give those women who couldn’t afford a tour to France the ability to have their dressmakers, or themselves, copy couture styles here in the U.S.
Everything has sped up over the years, with communication, shipping, supply chains and manufacturing ramp-ups. So the fashion industry has made the process of grabbing ideas from the runway and pushing those fashions quickly out across the world continually easier and cheaper. And well-tailored fashion becomes outmoded more quickly these days, making investment dressing less appealing.
H&M Fun Comes to Ecommerce
Part of the H&M fun has always been the sense of frenzied chaos, the Filene’s Basement, sample-sale, and Blue-Light Special rolled into one hectic run at the styles of the day. Quality? Maybe solid, maybe not so. Fit? Depends on the style and your figure that day. The buyers’ remorse? No need to worry too much, because it was so reasonably priced to begin with.
Ecommerce can also be fun, and you can shop with a glass of wine in your hand. But after having paid to ship it all ($5.95 flat rate) and waiting for it to arrive, the fit inconsistencies and sometimes-fashion-police-worthy styles may make HM.com a bit more challenging than Nordstrom.com, for example. If you are in a bricks and mortar H&M, shopping for that evening’s outfit, you can quickly enjoy the fruits of your labor. By the time the online package comes, however, your must-have feeling about a fleeting style may be over. Zappos’ VIP overnight shipping erases this impatience, but H&M has lower margins, presumably, so less ability to match the immediacy and free shipping Zappos has led others to increasingly emulate.
My Research with Women & Fashion
In my own research with women around fashion and ecommerce, I have found some truisms:
- Women like to shop for many things online, but worry about returns. Walking online returns back to the local store is more comfortable for many.
- Brands that have a wide manufacturing fit allowance can provide a consistency challenge. Women prefer taking a stack of jeans into the fitting room to cringe at themselves under the neon lights instead of buying seven of the same item and size in hopes that one will fit. It’s too expensive and annoying to pay upfront because of this lack of attention to detail.
- Women like to see models they can relate to, and find too skinny depressingly unattainable. Yet they don’t want simply stark, boring reality.
- Retailers should make their online experiences appealing, easy, and feminine.
Ecommerce continues to grow. Bloomberg Businessweek quotes eMarketer’s statistics of a $54 billion U.S. market in apparel and accessories bought online, with sales growing by almost 20 percent a year. Obviously, many women buy more and more online, myself included. Time is precious and the world of style and pricing is truly flat online. Returns can all be handled at UPS or the U.S. Post Office once you feel comfortable trusting that your credit card will be quickly credited back. And there are no ugly neon lights in your home. So H&M’s fast-fashion, and much-prettier online displays of their clothing than in-store, should work to their ecommerce advantage.
Colorado marketing research professional Jennifer Cooper heads BuyerSynthesis, the buywhys™ marketing research company. Her research helps clients make smarter, more profitable marketing decisions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.