Building an online apparel business is not as easy as you think. I know this because I started my online apparel wholesale business in 2002, after my “off-line” apparel business failed. I built my 1st web site with Microsoft FrontPage. There were 300 products on my web site. I did my own graphics, my own design, and my own marketing. I worked 24 x 7 for over 6 months straight. 5 years later, my web sites (I have 4 store fronts) bring in a steady stream of business. I no longer need to cold call to find customers, and frankly I don’t work that hard anymore to make a pretty good living.
The following elements on an apparel web site will make or break your business.
#1: The overall look and feel of the store front
You can always tell between a professionally designed and executed web site from one that is done by amateurs. If you are selling originally designed clothing that is not branded, the look and feel is a very important factor. Does it look different from everyone else? Does it look creative? Does it look like quality? Check out your major competition’s web sites. Keep in mind people can not touch the fabric of your clothing. They need to feel comfortable enough to give your products a try.
#2: Product Images
Most people starting their online apparel store either use someone else’s photos, or take the photos with their digital camera. Either way, your product pictures need to look professional and detailed. 1 way to achieve this is to rent professional lighting equipment for your photo shoot. They cost between $25 to $50 a day, but will make a huge impact in the quality of your photos. If you are serious about succeeding in your clothing business, you should invest that money. If you really can’t swing it, use a program such as Photoshop to retouch your photos to make them look more professional. Add a watermark on your pictures. So even if someone steals your picture, at least they will do some free advertising for you.
If you are selling items that have more complex designs, such as sequined dresses, or jackets with appliqués, make sure to take additional detail close-up photos of the garment from different angles. This will ensure the customer knows what the clothing item looks like, and greatly decrease your return rate.
#3: User Friendly Navigation
Make sure the site’s simple. Avoid too many levels of navigation before the user gets to the final product page where they can push the “Buy” button. Up-sell the customer with related items. If the customer clicks on outdoor jackets, put gloves and boots on the same page of the jackets for possible up-sale. Remember, you want the customer to focus on the product itself, not getting confused by too much unnecessary information. You also want them to be able to go back to where they came from, or direct them to more choices for the same product category. So putting “see other choices” or “back to item category” buttons near the item they are viewing.
#4: Easy Check Out
Use “breadcrumbs” to show where they are in the check out process to reassure them they are almost there. Reduce the number of forms to the minimum. Put everything on the same page. The last thing you want is to have the customer abandon their sale because of an ill-conceived check-out process.
#5: Optimize For Search Engine
It does not matter how well done your web site is, or how good your products are, if people can not find your store! So the most important thing about marketing your site is to optimize your web site with search terms used by your potential customers. Find all possible keywords and search terms. Google’s AdWords has a tool that helps you identify search terms related to your product category. I use a professional service out of UK called WordTracker. Truth be told, you really should do this research BEFORE you start building your new web site as the way a web site is constructed impacts how well it gets ranked on major search engines such as Google and Yahoo. This is a complex issue but is one you need to spend time researching on if you want your web site to succeed. And make sure to read my article on the technical aspects of building a good web site. If you want to see my current web sites, here are the links: