Fashion Marketing – Fashion Stores Meet Niche Marketing, Pareto, and the Long Tail

Fashion Marketing news: A slew of studies, data, and articles seem to point out the growing success of niche sites, especially in the fashion industry. Hype or Fact? How can big online retailers and local fashion stores benefit from internet niches?

I like reading about pragmatic ideas to boost online sales of fashion goods, from apparel to accessories. I think that too much time is wasted in theorizing about internet marketing, and not acting about it.

Yet, I am going to talk about hard-core statisical studies and hype. Why?

Because I found in this month’s INC. magazine an article about niche marketing that made me connect together a lot of issues facing local apparel stores as well as big online fashion retailers.

Make money online by not carrying best-sellers

First, the article titled “A world without bestsellers” dabbles with buying patterns specific to internet consumers.

These patterns make up the Long Tail. You may or you may not know about it. For a concise explanation, go the Long Tail page on Wikipedia. Let’s just say that consumers can find and buy online products that a regular store could not carry. For instance, 40% of Amazon.com’s book sales reportedly consist in unknown titles that your regular Barnes and Noble cannot afford to carry in the bookstore next door.

The same seem to apply to fashion goods. For instance, in the INC. article, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh says that:

“Today the company sells more than three million products across 1,000 brands. The top 20 percent of products account for half of revenue, the bottom 80 percent, the other half.”

So, at Zappos, the 20 best-selling items represent only 50% of the revenues. This is a far-cry from the usual 80/20 rule that usually applies offline, when the top 20 best-sellers make up 80% of the revenues. The 80/20 rule is drawn from the works of economist Pareto.

Online sales of fashion goods make Pareto Principle redundant

This is the gist of a February 2007 study called “Goodbye Pareto Principle, Hello Long Tail: The Effect of Search Costs on the Concentration of Product Sales.” It was written by researchers at the Sloan School of Management at the MIT. Better, this study is based on “several years of sales data at a private-label women’s clothing company that offered the same merchandise through its catalog and its Internet store.”

Fashion goods are really at the forefront of this trend. Think about all the sites of the specialty sites that have sprung up, from sites selling discontinued lines of products to sites selling only to a sub-demographic. Buyers will turn to the web for hard-to-find glasses or for styles that regular retailers would deem too original to carry.

A company called Niche Retail is specialized in doing just that. The company says that they actually avoid carrying best-sellers, as big retailers can usually manage to kill the business by discounting the most sought-after items. By the way, Niche Retail’s logo reprents the Long Tail graph.

Style is a personal matter. Fashion professionals did not wait for the Long Tail theory to launch niche product lines. But the internet does offer interesting further niche opportunities:

– established brands and big online retailers can find relevant niche sites for some of their product lines

– local fashion stores are indeed niches themselves; they can use the internet to get more exposure

Big brands and retailers going after niche consumers

This very site spends time presenting you new fashion blogs, new fashion sites, and new fashion communities (see Fashion 2.0). Because fashion can get very personal, it has always been a good conversation topic. Now, the internet allows you to become a fashion critique in a snap. Big fashion actors can go after these niche sites to get their attention.

For instance, niche TV channels are popping up on the internet, due to the low barrier of entry, as reported in this article of the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper gives the example of clothing chain Express sponsoring the Ford Models web tv. I would add the example of “Ask a Gay Man”, the colorful and popular fashion critique show on YouTube (see my previous note on the subject), which has gotten founder William Sledd a TV deal with Bravo.

But you not have to be big to go after these niche sites. For instance, Ujeans, a made-to-order jeans company sponsors competitions on social network site StyleMob (“a new community for street fashion inspiration”).

Local fashion stores are so niche

I see here a chance for local apparel stores as well: a niche can be geographic.

A local store owner may be the best person to know what senior citizens like wearing in the Boca Raton area. Why not put up a website, where you can share your expertise? When local people use Google to find information about clothes they like, they will find your website, enjoy your expertise, and visit your shop.

Marketers are encouraging local stores to go online and advertise. A book called Marketing your retail store in the internet age does a great job of giving pragmatic and inexpensive tips to local store owners. Meanwhile, Google is pushing local ads heavily. Its AdWords system allows you to display your ad only to people searching from your zip code. Moreover, Google Maps allows you to mention your store in the popular map system, so that when people search for “women’s fashion, 97108”, your store shows up.

No wonder that local advertising on the internet is booming. According to eMarketer, local online advertising spending in the US will reach $2.9 billion in 2007. Local search is great for a local fashion store or a geographical niche site. One of the best resources about the subject, with how-to-s and advice, is Clickz’s Local Search column.

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Your Number One Source For Fashion Support

The word “Fashion” is a word that can be found in your typical Webster dictionary, however when approached and asked how would you define fashion, have you ever realized that the word might be easily definable, yet defined so differently by every person? To me, fashion goes far beyond what the latest trends are and is a way of expressing “yourself” and showing off to the world who you truly are. I believe fashion can be expressed in multiple ways because it exemplifies what you think is trendy or chic, regardless of what the latest magazines are illustrating. Fashion is an expression of one’s self, not a reflection of what someone else wants you to be. It’s both a lifestyle, and a language in itself.

Have you ever caught yourself rummaging through your closet wondering, “Will people like this outfit?” I can definitely say that you could have caught me multiple times doing a 360 in the mirror wondering if my peers would consider the outfit I had on as fashionable. Throughout my high school years, I always wanted to make sure I “fit in” with the latest fashion trends, which did not take long for me to come to the realization that I spend way too much time reading fashion blogs and magazines. This led me to believe that I was spending more time worrying about what I thought I should wear, rather than wanting to wear what I felt comfortable in. In our society, it is considered normal to be wearing the stereotypical North Face and UGG boot when winter emerged. It wasn’t until college, when I finally realized it was time to find myself, and see myself as a blank canvas. I stopped trying to wear what everyone else was wearing and decided that instead of being a replica of my classmates, I was going to be different. It took me a while to figure out that this is how it should have been all along. I wish I figured it out sooner, but then again, don’t we all just want to be accepted?

Nowadays, when I see a whole spectrum of girls wearing the latest outfit featured on the store mannequin, I think to myself, “How boring”, which is true! People do not realize that it is important to be an individual and stand out, not be clones of one another. Fashion should be something enjoyable; like a form of art. If you are just like one of the “typical girls” then what fun is that? Fashion is about experimentation; finding what you feel comfortable in and can feel the inner model within yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I will go into the dressing at Forever 21 or H&M just to find the right type of shirt I am envisioning in my head. It is important to always remember, changing up your style once in a while never hurts either; you never know what you will suit you best until you give it a chance.

Fashion is the one-way people can get to know you, without having to verbally speak to you. With fashion, you can intimidate others, or be easily admired. If you are well dressed for an interview, you are most likely going to be considered before the other interviewees who dressed poorly. Your fashionable wardrobe giving you a one-up on your competition can’t get better than that, right? If you are having a bad day, or just feeling lazy and want to spend the day watching movies or lounging on the couch, you may walk out of the house in sweatpants, no harm in that. Contrary, if you woke up feeling great, you typically will spend more time getting dolled up in the mirror. Fashion allows one to express their emotions, without having to verbally say how they are feeling.

It has become more apparent that people are becoming wrapped up in weight, trying to resemble the models often featured in magazines. I cannot voice enough how strongly I believe that women should wear whatever they feel they look good in, regardless of their weight. Everyone is their own person; personality wise and physically, no two people are exactly the same. This is who I am, this is how I feel, are two phrases that emphasize a form of self-expression. Just because you might not be a size 0, does not mean you have to avoid the cute clothes in the store. Nowadays, designers are making their clothing in multiple sizes so they can fit all shapes and sizes. Seventeen Magazines always does a feature, which I admire, that gives advice on what type of clothes might look good on different body shapes. If you haven’t already, I highly recommended picking up a Seventeen Magazine and reading this section!

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