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The Rise of Fashion E-Commerce and Man’s Escape from the Mall

Hey everyone. This blog is a collection of thoughts and research compiled during some of our earliest exploration into the Dash Hudson business model. It is a collection of stats, themes and thoughts from various sources so credit mostly goes to others. We had some great contributors, so a special shoutout to you guys (especially you, K*). Please leave your thoughts and feedback in the comment section.

Let’s get into it.

The Set-up

E-commerce is on a rocketship, with clothing retailers and brands using technology to create new ways to engage with customers online. In fact, clothing and accessories is the fastest growing segment of e-commerce. A study done by Emarketer projects that online sales of clothing and accessories will continue to grow year over year at a rate faster than even the electronics and books segment, with sales reaching $73 billion by 2016. The growth in fashion e-commerce is happening in spite of a traditional need for shoppers to touch fabric, assess apparel up close, and try on items for fit. So how do online stores solve these problems while also improving on the bricks and mortar shopping experience? Through creative branding, special offers, technology solutions, simple ordering and return processes, and savvy social media and marketing techniques, the fashion e-commerce market has found a way to not just replicate but improve the way people shop.

Don’t Forget the Dudes

Let’s talk about the guys. Despite the trope of women as fashion-obsessed shopaholics, men also have a desire to buy things they know they’ll look good in. However, most department stores and shopping malls are designed with the female shopper in mind, leaving men to fewer clothing options, particularly for those who are sartorially-inclined. Kanye West cares about the haute look (leather jogging pants) and a lot of other guys do too. This void, combined with growing presence of internet and mobile technology in fashion e-commerce, creates a perfect storm of opportunity for online brands and retailers that offer affordable, convenient, and fashionable options for men. According to research from Rakuten Linkshare, 83% of men surveyed prefer to shop online. Not only are men flocking to online retailers to get their new threads, but according to Chris Ventry, the general manager of Gilt Groupe’s GiltMan, men are out-shopping women by 20-30% in all areas of online shopping.

Where the Boys Are: Men’s E-Commerce Companies

A number of men’s e-commerce companies are cashing in on men’s interest in buying fashionable and trendy clothes online. Companies such as Frank & Oak, Bombfell and Trunk Club are at the forefront of offering a curated subscription service that makes shopping  efficient for guys. Trunk Club uses a series of questions and photos to get a feel for its customer’s style. The company then matches its customer to a stylist who compiles a “trunk” of clothes that are shipped to the customer’s house where he can decide what to keep and what to send back. In addition to its monthly limited edition collections, Frank & Oak offers boxes of clothes delivered straight to a ‘Hunt Club’ member’s house. Unlike Trunk Club, F&O does not involve a stylist and lets the customer choose for himself what he wants delivered. Bombfell is a new kid on the block and does subscription clothing across a variety of pricepoints. Subscription commerce has proven popular with men who wish to avoid the complex decision making involved with shopping.

Other online-exclusive fashion companies like Bonobos, Jack Threads, and Mr. Porter offer quality men’s fashion at various prices. Bonobos is for the guy who likes the crusts cut off his peanut butter sandwich, Jack Threads for the guy who likes crusty dive bars and Mr. Porter for the socialite upper crust. These companies offer current trends in men’s fashion such as fitted shirts and pants, slim ties and bow-ties, bright colors and patterns, pocket squares, fitted blazers, preppy sweaters, trendy hoodies, oxford dress shoes, classic watches, and throwback sneakers.

J.Crew is a well-known traditional unisex offline retailer that offers an expansive online selection for men. H&M, Uniqlo and Zara compete for the disposable fashion market at a lower pricepoint. Streetwear companies like Superdry, Saturdays Surf NYC, Need Supply Co., Union Made Goods, and Stussy offer casual and weekend wear for hipster dudes that take their looks seriously. For the slightly avant garde, it’s all about the Nordic brands: Matinique, Norse Projects and Selected Homme are doing some of the best work in men’s fashion today.

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Beautiful Matinique people. 

Just Show me the Good Stuff

Clearly the world has changed, as there are a growing number of fashion options for men. So many that it is easy for guys to get overwhelmed, like a child lost at Nordstrom. According to research from Rakuten LinkShare, 48% of young male shoppers between the ages of 18-25 are overwhelmed by the plethora of choices with online shopping. Refinement of those options is a serious challenge. A survey conducted by Dash Hudson indicated that more than 60% of guys aged 18-24 want social validation and recommendations before buying. This contrasts with women, where over 75% want to discover content on their own. Guys readily admit that they need help looking good, and want guidance on what to buy.

For the sartorially interested male, the growth in popularity of social commerce sites has been a mixed blessing. Pinterest launched in 2010, giving consumers the ability to take part in a taste-based community that curates photos of fashion, food, architecture, hairstyles and many other things. Now social shopping companies like Wanelo, Fancy, Svpply, and Fab are making it easier for fashion-conscious shoppers to curate their style, draw inspiration from other users, and connect to their favorite stores and brands. Wanelo lets users follow certain brands and stores. Products from these companies appear in the users’ feeds and they are able to “save” ones they like to their own collections. Fancy enables its users to collect and purchase products they like but relies heavily on a crowd-curated catalog as opposed to a company-curated feed. Svpply and Fab similarly offer users the ability to curate collections of their favorite products. A review of Alexis data shows that each of these shopping sites is much more likely to be frequented by female shoppers, something that is evidenced in their communities and user experiences.  Fancy, with a 60/40 female to male split, appears to be closest to providing an experience that caters for men.

The Blogosphere Finds Men’s Style

Men are also being well represented in the blogosphere. Once solely the bastion of the fashionista and stylish mom, guys are now blogging. The popularity of men’s fashion blogs like The Dandy Project and The Simplistic Man demonstrates that style and fashion are becoming more accepted as part of the male discourse. For examples of bros in action, one needs look no further than Complex to find details of Kanye and Scott Disick’s shopping excursions in Bel Air.

Content curation sites like Bureau of Trade and The Crosby Press scour the web for the hottest trends, brands, and items giving guys a snapshot of the good life. Online magazines GQ, Uncrate, and The Art of Manliness provide further fashion guidance, featuring articles on the latest retail and lifestyle trends. Men’s fashion blogs like Bobby Raffin, Edward’s Hair, The Hobbyists, The SC Experience, and This Fellow focus on the individual blogger’s style with short write-ups about a daily outfit. StyleGirlfriend provides a woman’s view on men’s style, curating tasteful recommendations that work for the everyday guy. Much like social shopping companies, men’s fashion blogs use the visual to inspire readers and direct them to the individual retailers where the items can be purchased.

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Megan Collins of StyleGirlfriend offers a woman’s take.

Celebrities Get in on the Fashion Tech Scene

Fashion-conscious shows like Mad Men and Gossip Girl not only inspire female viewers to try out Joan Harris’s fitted pencil skirt and Blair Waldorf’s signature headband, but characters like Don Draper and Chuck Bass inspire men to seek out classic 60s business suits or add a patterned scarf and bowtie to their formalwear. Popular culture increasingly serves as fashion inspiration for both men and women. Celebrities recognize the power of their fashion choices, both good and bad. Some seek out professional stylists to help curate their look, while others consistently land on “fashion victim” lists and keep their uniquely offbeat styles.

 

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Requisite Chuck Bass photo.

Style becomes a large part of a celebrity’s public persona. Recognizing this, many celebrities have delved into the world of fashion design and technology, some with greater critical and financial success than others. While former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham has become legitimized as a designer in the fashion world, Kanye West still struggles to be seen as a designer, not just a musician. In his now infamous BBC interview with Zane Lowe, West suggests that many of his struggles in the fashion world stem from his race and his outspoken public persona.

Despite the dangers of being shunned by the fashion elites, many celebrities have also become involved in fashion technology as investors, founders, and creative partners. Kanye West’s other half Kim Kardashian co-founded the online shoe company ShoeDazzle in 2009 and served as the company’s Chief Stylist until 2013. Recently the company brought celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe onboard to take over for Kardashian’s duties as Chief Stylist, although Kardashian remains co-founder of the company. West has become involved with social shopping company Fancy, advising the start-up company on the future of e-commerce. Before his Yeezus concert in Brooklyn, West stopped by the company headquarters to chat about his clothing line DONDA and encourage the tech company to push the boundaries of fashion and e-commerce.

Ashton Kutcher, ever involved in new technology and social media, invested in social fashion company Fashism. The site’s concept was that users posted photos of their outfits and other users gave feedback on the look through voting and commenting. The company recently announced it was shutting down after four years due to lack of revenue and user interest.** The company’s shutdown demonstrates that even with the incorporation of fashion e-commerce into social fashion sites it is not always enough to sustain a start-up. Kate Bosworth, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Justin Timberlake and Rachel Bilson all represent various products in the Beachmint portfolio. As long as celebrities show an interest in fashion and an interest in investing and making money, they will continue to dip their toes into the world of fashion technology.

Mind the Gaps in the Market

Despite the growth of men’s fashion e-commerce, there remains a great deal of room for innovation. Although social shopping companies like Wanelo and Pinterest allow users to curate their style, the plethora of available products can be overwhelming for the male shopper. Research by Dash Hudson indicates that over 80% of men come to a shopping platform with the intent to buy as opposed to create content. The prevalence of dead and broken links in social shopping sites often interrupts the demonstrated intent. I am Jack’s complete frustration.

 

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So close.

Social commerce companies have taken various approaches to solve this problem. Pinterest purportedly attempted and then abandoned a Viglinks integration to capitalize on affiliate fees.  Wanelo built a robust affiliate tracking mechanism and does not have the same retroactive link modification issues as some others. Fancy has built a platform for retailers to fulfill items that customers demonstrate intent to buy, offering Google Wallet and one touch credit card purchase capabilities. Each of these companies is attempting to solve the problem of enabling the customer to search great content and then convert intent into purchase. This is especially important in the case of the need and immediacy-driven male shopper.

While companies like Frank & Oak, Bombfell and Trunk Club take some of the selection process out of the hands of the male shopper, the subscription model may not work for all shoppers. The monthly subscription cycle works for a subset of style-conscious men, but may be miss-matched with the buying cycles of other men who shop less frequently. For store-specific sites, the bastions of e-commerce, the issue is with high volumes of products. While having a diverse selection of products works for some, it becomes more difficult for the uncertain male shopper to find the things he needs or that he knows he will look good in. Men are being given more clothing options than ever before, but this has the potential to overwhelm them with options and leave them feeling unsatisfied.

The Future of E-Commerce Is In Your Hands – Literally

The trend of men shopping online will continue to grow with mobile shopping becoming the newest way to efficiently peruse and purchase clothing. Mobile technology can capitalize on men’s desire to shop on the go, making the fashion e-commerce experience more efficient than ever. According to Forrester, mobile currently accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of all retail transactions. Yet for most online retailers, the big story is that mobile commerce is increasing at a rate of up to 185 percent. For men’s retailers who have caught the mobile wave (ahem, Jack Threads) this is great news. The DDB Lifestyle Survey in 2013 indicated, of men aged 18-34, 30% use shopping apps on their phone and 24% typically shop for and buy items on their smartphones. In the age of the digital urban lifestyle, convenience wins.

Ask the Expert

Phewf. Did you make it through that?

We asked some leading experts of the e-commerce and fashion industry to give us their thoughts on the current state and future of men’s shopping. Here’s the first contribution, from Erik Lautier.

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Erik Lautier - EVP and Chief Digital Officer at bebe.

Erik formerly led e-commerce for EDUN, a high fashion brand owned by Ali Hewson, Bono and LVMH. He was also Senior Director of E-commerce and Digital Strategy at Lacoste, rolling out their North American platform. Erik is currently EVP and Chief Digital Officer at bebe in Los Angeles.

Thomas: Guys used to have limited options when it came to shopping. Now with ecommerce, there are a myriad of places guys can go to buy fashion. Why the sudden growth in options for men to shop online?

Erik: Many reasons, but three in particular. First, sites and brands began speaking to men like men instead of speaking to them like shoppers. Second, the lack of truly differentiated branded offerings in the past meant many men had to find their product in a sea of offerings on a large retailer site, which can often be fruitless and exhausting; today, however, curation and greater niche specificity in men’s brands, many of whom are online-only, have made it easier for men to find exactly what they’re looking for, either because it is being served up to them or because the discovery process has been streamlined. Third, sites have increasingly catered to the practicality that drives many male shoppers, offering virtual fit tools, faster shopping, and frictionless returns.

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Thomas: We all know guys shop differently than girls. Why do you think e-commerce resonates with the male shopper?

Erik: The principal reason is simplicity; I search, I find, I get, I wear.  As I’m sure most women will attest, men haven’t evolved much since our hunter-gatherer days.

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Thomas: What are some of your favorite online shops / sites / blogs?

Erik: Nothing fashion-specific, but I visit Buzzfeed, Business Insider, and The Onion almost daily.  I’m also a LinkedIn junkie.

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Thomas: Social commerce is a big deal (Pinterest, Wanelo, Fancy, Luvocracy). Will anyone figure out social commerce for guys? If so, what will it look like?

Erik: I think the challenge in answering this question is that social commerce is not really its own “thing” – it’s a consequence of something else, namely good product, strong branding, and/or clever marketing.  If we group those all together and simply call them “content”, then the question you have to ask yourself as a brand is “am I creating content people will be passionate enough about to share with others?”  That question is no different from what it was 20 or 50 or 100 years ago – it’s just that now, sharing is easier and faster.

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Thomas: Any predictions for what the next couple of years hold for men’s fashion?

Erik: I think the number of new, unique, hip, and specific brands – by which I mean those that excel in only one or two product categories – will continue to grow.  It’s becoming easier and easier for nearly anybody to set up a decent-looking e-commerce site and get their vision in front of customers.  The tech hurdle is almost gone.  Most of these companies will fail or see only minor success, but many will become nine-figure businesses, and they’ll get to that number faster than their predecessors did.  If I were a VC, I’d be assembling a portfolio of these guys before they hockey stick.

Final Thoughts

Social shopping experiences need to become tailored to how men shop by getting the best, most validated clothing in front of the shopper for their final purchasing decision. As more social shopping experiences become tailored for men, and as better retail products are built for mobile devices, male shoppers will start to feel the warmth of a market that finally understands them. Fashion e-commerce, particularly for men’s fashion, is growing in a way that allows men to dress fashionably and on trend, develop their taste, and buy clothes that are friendly to a variety of budgets.  And they get to keep balling, like Kanye in a pair of leather jogging pants.

At the end of the day, it’s all about being the coolest version of yourself. Finally, guys are being given the tools that make it fun and easy for this to happen.

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*My sister Katie was the chief support in writing and researching for this blog. She’s awesome. Hire her.

**To be fair, Ashton also invested in Pickwick Weller which is doing far better.         

 

 

 

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