Battle of the Brands: Online Fashion

In the UK, online retail is worth a massive £67 billion. We look at the online-only fashion retailers who are winning the market, and what they're doing right.

In the UK, online retail is worth a massive £67 billion (and growing), according to the Centre for Retail Research.

Fashion is particularly open to this trend, with digital channels helping to tap into people’s desire to ‘window-shop’ while enhancing the visual and social aspects of shopping. Not to mention the incredible convenience and ‘impulse’ factor driving up demand.

With a market of that size and growth, there are an abundance of competitors vying for consumers’ share of spend, so we looked at who’s standing out and pulling away?

Which online-only fashion retailers are satisfying consumers’ buying habits? Which companies are being rewarded with a high Net Promoter Score (NPS), helping to drive additional viral adoption?

What do people like about these leading brands? What could they do better? What motivates them to choose one over another?

We asked 250 UK consumers (even male-female split) all of these questions about 8 popular fashion ecommerce companies.

Who’s leading the market?

The disparity between 1st and 2nd choice and the rest of the pack is significant. ASOS are out front with 37% of people saying they use that platform more than any other website; 20.3% say they use BooHoo. After that, we see PrettyLittleThing and Zalando with 4.8% and 4.5% respectively.

Looking at ASOS and BooHoo, a few demographic distinctions arise. BooHoo’s customers were 59.7% female; whereas ASOS was equally popular amongst men and women.

Unsurprisingly, on the BooHoo landing page, of the 17 photos displayed, only 1 is of a man, showing BooHoo’s clear strategy to focus on women. The ASOS landing page has one big photo, and it is filled with men and women alike. What we see here is quite a clear link between how a company represents itself, and how that impacts its user base.

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A noticeable swing is found in the geographic demographics; ASOS received 30.8% of its vote from people who live in London; BooHoo only received 13.4% from that demographic. Despite its heavy investment in tube and out of home advertising, there’s clearly some way to go.

Age, too, is an important driver for online fashion brands. BooHoo has a strong following amongst younger people; those aged 24 and below voted for BooHoo at 28.1% – an 8% uplift from the index. In this category, ASOS has a 3% drop.

Now that we have an outline of the demographic distinctions, it is worth digging into how these customers responded to our questions.

Brand perceptions

We gave customers the chance to express how they felt, in one word, about their chosen company.

First, here are the most popular words attributed to ASOS:

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The words that recur most frequently: Good, Reliable, Convenient, and Cheap. Cheap is an important one to note, because, when asked ‘What’s most important when deciding where to shop online?’, 38.3% of ASOS customers responded ‘Price’, compared to the overall population index of 30.4%.

Only 12.5% chose quality, below the national index of 20.4%. Notice, in the word cloud above how ‘Quality’ does not rank highly at all; we can also infer that when these customers responded ‘Good’, it was probably not the quality they were talking about, but a more generic experience.

Here are the one word answers that BooHoo customers gave:

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It seems, here, that price is as important; if we take the sensible synonyms for ‘Cheap’, we see that it continually pops up: ‘Bargain’, ‘Affordable’, ‘Reasonable’, ‘Cheaper’, ‘Value’.

But, interestingly, when BooHoo customers were asked ‘What’s most important when deciding where to shop online?’, they did not respond as strongly to the price factor as ASOS customers. They still voted ‘Price’ as the single most important factor, but they voted 28.4% for this, and the index, remember, was 30.4%.

Instead, BooHoo customers voted for ‘Quality’ as being important. 25.4% of them voted for this – above an index of 20.4%.

And yet, there are a significant amount of BooHoo customers who were in the lower income brackets. Let’s take a look at the general income breakdown, and how that relates to BooHoo customers:

32.8% of respondents earn < £15,000 a year; 37.3% of BooHoo voters were in this bracket. 16% earn £15,000-19,999; 22.4% of BooHoo voters were in this bracket. 11.2% earn £20,000-24,999; 14.9% of voters were in this bracket.

This could be due to the youth of BooHoo customers. Regardless of the reason, it seems important to note that low income does not replace the desire for quality.

What are online fashion retailers getting right (and what could they do better)?

We then asked customers ‘What do you like most about the brand you chose?’ – with an open response to allow customers to expand on their preference. The results seem to revolve around price, and, importantly, product range. One particularly articulate example of this, is:

‘Lots of styles you cannot get on the high-street. They also have a tall/petite/maternity section, which can be hard to get on the high-street.’

This, and variants of it, seems to be important to ASOS customers. ASOS is not only cheap, but it is convenient – and it actually offers options which are not always available. It helps more niche buying, and that makes sense: for a high-street store to succeed, it must generally stock the most ‘normal’ attire to attract the average person who walks by. Online platforms, like ASOS, have no such limits on stock space, and can cater to all kinds of customers.

Similarly, BooHoo customers were asked ‘What do you like most about the brand you chose?’ – and the answers are slightly different. Of course, there are comments about price, but the tone is often qualified by comments such as ‘Good value for money’. Again, as we highlighted earlier, price seems important to BooHoo customers, but so does quality. They want to get good quality products for their money.

We asked ASOS customers, ‘What could ASOS do better?’ and again offered a free text answer.

A lot of people responded around the price point again, wishing for cheaper clothing or better deals. After that, customer service, ease of returns, and shipping complications seem to be an issue. Notably, a good deal of respondents reply that ASOS could do nothing to improve!

We asked BooHoo customers the same question; and, despite not having as many customers as ASOS, the number of responses here nearly doubled the ASOS responses. It seems BooHoo customers have more ideas for improvement – whether this is because BooHoo has a lot to fix, or because of the kind of customer interaction they encourage, or a reflection of their demographic more generally, we cannot determine.

BooHoo customers want more offers and better prices, but, unlike the ASOS responses, they want better quality clothing. This may seem surprising; but let us not conflate BooHoo customers’ consideration of quality with BooHoo providing it. In a sense, it is logical they are going to voice complaints about quality, because that is what they care about.

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Perhaps the most important question, and one brands always want to know the answer to, is: ‘Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?’

The average NPS for this survey was 19.8%, and ASOS performs roughly in line with this – 20.3% of ASOS customers would recommend the site to a friend. However, 28.4% of BooHoo customers would recommend it to a friend. How long will ASOS pip BooHoo, if  BooHoo’s customers are almost 50% more likely to become advocates for the brand?

BooHoo customers seem to be younger, and, significantly, more engaged – they are quicker to give feedback and, as a result, they probably feel a greater sense of brand identity. That may well explain why they are more likely to recommend it to a friend, and that is invaluable for a fast-growing challenger brand.

In conclusion

The battle for consumers’ attention, preference and ultimately share of wallet is really hotting up in online fashion.

ASOS had a huge head start (being founded in 2000), but Boohoo (founded 2006) is catching up, and later entrants such as PrettyLittleThing and Zalando are also making headway.

How does your brand fare? Are you tracking your brand awareness and NPS, and that? Do you know how consumers feels about your competitors? Or what their core considerations are before purchase?

With quite literally billions of pounds at stake, these are key questions you need to know the answer to. This is what Attest was uniquely built to do.

Get in touch with Attest today and learn how we can help you measure, manage and maximise your brand and marketing budget.


Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

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