There’s no doubt 2020 had a profound impact on online shopping. As stores and high streets closed, many shoppers flocked to the websites of their favourite fashion retailer. Overall sales were down, yet online’s volume and share increased.
It is inevitable online shopping won’t go away. More than a third of fashion retail is online, and some have reported over half their sales happen on a mobile phone. This picture of consumers using their phone to shop makes a mobile friendly website as important to a small fashion retailer as having a phone or a way to take payment by card.
Since 2016 I’ve reviewed the designs of mobile websites from well-known brands and high-ranking shops in the fashion sector. This yearly review looks at how pages are laid out, what information they provide, and the functionality shoppers can access. This year I looked at over 120 pages from 50 separate brands, identifying the common traits and trends used in online shopping.
2020: the gap year
Compared to developments in 2019, 2020 seems to have been a gap year. The few conversations I had over the end of last year implied many were nervous about making large-scale investments in reworking their digital presence. Concerns were about cash flow during the pandemic than a lack of faith in mobile. It may explain why the theme of the year is more “slight increment” than a massive leap forward. This is likely to continue through 2021.
Mobile page design
As before, layouts are fairly similar across brands, which suggests we know what works for fashion ecommerce. I found a consistent sales flow on most pages, from media to size and options to the “call to action” button. The product description can appear above or below this button.
Other information, such as care, returns and delivery, is always below the call to action and usually compressed in a collapsible section or behind a menu option.
The bottom of the page is often used to tease “you might also like” personalisation, subscribe and social media options. Yet six percent of sites linked to defunct or unused social accounts, while a third of sites appeared to have problems with their newsletter subscriptions. These options must be tested and updated regularly.
Product photography and video
Product images often feature a model wearing the item with it in full view. Plain, non-distracting backgrounds are dominant. Model diversity is now the norm, both in terms of ethnicity and body shapes. This applies to both male and female oriented fashion.
A few sites use editorial style images, such as where the model is walking outside or performing some task. These are usually in carousels, with the primary image still a “model on a plain background” style.
I expected to see an increase in “candid” photography given the constraints of lockdowns and social distance. This doesn’t seem to have happened though, even on smaller sites.
Video is struggling to make significant inroads into mobile fashion webpages. Only a tenth of sites had videos promoting items on their product pages. This is the third year I’ve seen this level of video, suggesting it may have peaked. However, almost half of websites claimed a YouTube channel, suggesting video content is being used for promotion, just not for sales.
Product descriptions and information
Aspirational, shorter versions have replaced SEO-centric product descriptions. Most sites make their descriptions visible, with less than a third hiding them. There’s an event split between including this text above or below the “call to action” button.
Other descriptions, such as washing instructions and fabric, are usually in collapsed sections to reduce page length and distraction.
Describing the model’s dress size and dimensions has become more common. While this makes sizing easier and less prone to returns, there are still issues with consistency and accuracy. Not all products within a brand use this technique. Where it is present, it doesn’t always tally with the model, or there are multiple models and it isn’t clear which is being described.
Less than half of sites had customer reviews, with 12% using an external service such as Trustpilot. The rest had incorporated them into the page design, usually behind a collapsed section. Most of these pages had no reviews available.
The value of reviews is debatable, as they can be an outlet for general dissatisfaction with a brand or sector. I found several one star reviews where the poster disagreed with an aspect of the brand’s climate strategy. Other low scores were because they had ordered the wrong product.
There was no material change in how social media is used. Three quarters of sites link to at least one social media account, with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram the leading choices. Pinterest continues to gain ground and YouTube is still popular for video content.
The pandemic undoubtably slowed the use of social media for some retailers. However, 20% of sites linked to an account that hadn’t been updated in over 12 months.
A special mention goes to Google+. The social network was closed in early 2019, yet 1 in 10 sites had links to their now defunct account.
Over ten percent of mobile websites had technical issues with product pages. The most common problem was where elements extended beyond the browser window. However, two brands did not have a mobile friendly website, and a third had a website that had no purchasing capability. I excluded these latter three from the review.
It’s also worth noting issues with security are more obvious. Modern browsers explicitly call out security faults on sites, denying them a secure padlock and offering warnings about “personal data being stolen.” I found two sites that had these issues caused by incorrect code in their templates asking for non-secure images. I excluded these from the review.
Mobile friendly page layouts have largely stabilised over the past three years.
Consider carefully what’s the minimum information you feel comfortable providing customers with on the product page.
Use a plain background image as the first one the customer sees on the product page and start capturing 20-30 second catwalk videos.
Make product description aspirational and sales oriented as this is likely to be the first text a shopper will see before they buy.
Describing the model’s size and dimensions should help reduce returns and sizing complaints.
Product descriptions should feature aspirational sales language and be short and focused.
Use online reviews with care and remember most product pages will not have any reviews.
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