Clothing is functional and essential, but also a mark of status and identity. Small wonder, then, that apparel is the world’s biggest cross-border e-commerce category, according to PayPal’s Spice Routes report. Worth €9.33 billion a year, it accounts for the largest share of overseas e-commerce transactions in five of six markets examined—the US, China, the UK, Germany and Australia.
Australian James Lillis built Black Milk Clothing after his figure-hugging designs were snubbed by a succession of Brisbane shops. His large blog readership bestowed an instant reservoir of sales leads. Four years later, “half our sales come from cross-border online trading,” he told PayPal.
James’ success attests not only to his talent, but clothing’s unique nature too. Perhaps more than any other product category, apparel expresses identity. Personal recommendation matters, making social media an indispensable referral tool. Clothing is also intensely visual, so image-led social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are effective mediums.
Celebrities heavily influence trends. eBay, for example, reported a 95% rise in sales of yellow dresses after Kate Middleton sported canary yellow in Sydney.
If fashion trends reflect individuals’ identity, they reflect national tastes, too. Few nations’ youth dress more idiosyncratically than Japan’s. With kaleidoscopic subcultures including cosplayers (inspired by manga) and yamanba (dark tans, bright clothes), Japanese youngsters embrace the most outlandish fashions.
Clothes shopping is akin to a religion in swathes of Asia, where consumers account for 50% of the €59 billion global market for designer brands—more than their American and European counterparts combined, according to The Cult of the Luxury Brand.
Asians buy “so many luxury brands,” the book’s co-author Radha Chadha told Agence France-Presse (AFP), because in Asia a luxury brand defines “your social status […]. People judge each other by what brand of handbag they are carrying.”
Your particular niche may find more fruitful markets overseas. The US, for instance, is the biggest market for skateboarding apparel, while Brazil is home to three million skateboarders.
Some websites make a virtue of low stock levels to exploit short-lived surges in demand. Award-winning Belgian brand Vente-Exclusive.com, which triumphed at the BeCommerce Awards in May following stellar growth since its 2007 launch, holds auctions and special offers. Warning customers that offers “end soon” or about how many limited-edition items remain in stock, the company builds excitement and eases the fashionista’s biggest fear: seeing someone else in the same outfit as you.
The very word ‘fashion’ is defined by constant change—seasonal and led by trends. There’s a tricky trade-off between bulk buying, which increases margins, and being left with devaluing stock when trends fade.
But if keeping on trend in such a fickle market is challenging, then clothing offers some major advantages to e-tailers—not least portability, as garments can be easily compressed and are comparatively lightweight.
A logistics company affords invaluable flexibility. Set up your own fulfilment centre and demand fluctuations can leave you with empty, costly capacity or insufficient warehouse space. A reputable shipping partner like Landmark Global can help you emulate Vente-Exclusive.com. Its e-fulfillment service allows you to monitor stock levels in real time and scale orders up and back rapidly as demand ebbs and flows.