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Women’s online formal wear market yet to take off

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The online story in India hasn’t left any category untouched, then be it apparel or education. However, there is one category which has a lot of catching up to do online is the formal wear segment. We take a look at the e-retail dynamics of the segment.

Women's online formal wear market yet to take off

Setting the context for the story, , Founder and CEO, says, “Online has played a significant role in purchase of apparel over the past 5 to 6 years in India. Ideally, this should be more so in case of work wear (or formal wear in India) given working women need convenience of delivery at home in addition to good style and quality.

However, online penetration has been limited due to lack of work wear brands online, and association of online brands with cheap, discounted, low quality stuff . Traditionally, office wear has been offered by Indian brands in a brick-and-mortar format.”

Gudwani’s argument is not unfounded. Take a quick look online for formal wear for women, especially western formal wear, majority of the brands haven’t been able to do justice to the needs of a typical Indian customer. The cataloguing is designed using international models or models with body types that aren’t really a true representation of an average Indian woman who roughly weighs anything between 58 to 65 kgs. This proves to be a major deterrent for women to shop for formal wear online.

Unlike in casual wear, the fit of the outfit holds extreme relevance in this category as formal wear is either worn to work or during special occasions/festivals where the fit and fall of the outfit and fabric cannot be compromised upon. Indian formal wear though is at an advantage. It has a stronger presence online because getting the right fit in a saree, a salwar kameez or a kurti isn’t difficult. To tackle the challenge of ‘fit’, FableStreet. com has gone ahead to off er its patrons the facility to get their clothing customised as per their size.

“We offer custom fits with only three measurements online, and are the only brand globally, which works on a ‘My Style – Your Fit’ model,” says Gudwani. She says that over the past 2.5 years, the brand – which is primarily online – has been growing 4X year-on-year.

“Our repeat rates are more than 50 percent and our order values are above Rs 5,000 per order (unheard of, in online space). We have clearly learnt that getting quality clothing which fits well and comfortable all day long, has been a challenge, which has also been reason for our early growth and significant consumer acceptance. Our designs are, therefore, crafted with two things in mind—fit and functionality. This is translated into details such as anti-gape shirts, hip-covering tops, functional pockets, non-sheer dresses, nickel and lead-free accessories, etc. (with options of adding sleeves and length),” she adds.

The Growth Drivers

Citing the reasons women are looking at the online channel to satiate their need for formal wear, , Managing Director, says, “Due to growing digitization, consumer shopping preferences have changed in the recent past. Women are independent these days and they do not get enough time to move out and shop from physical stores. They are increasingly looking for outfits which are stylish, trendy and at the same time comfortable and have the best quality.”

One factor that contributes heavily, according to Bindra is ‘product reviews’. What other shoppers have to say about a particular product online makes a considerable difference on the shopping decision of a buyer.

Gudwani advocates a clear brand positioning and exclusive availability as one of the strong growth drivers for a brand in this category. Explaining this, she says, “We believe, women eventually want to know the brand they wear and why they want to wear it. Therefore, there is more comfort and genuine brand building possible with your exclusive online portal. The brand, its values, its USP can be communicated and differentiated. You can share much more on your own online portal, talk more about products, fabrics, technologies etc., used.”

She further adds, “The working woman is into multitasking – she has to juggle her personal and professional life and needs the relevant outfits. She wants to avoid early-morning angst by dressing faster and effortlessly. She also wants premium work wear that fits her well and keeps her comfortable all day. Meanwhile, she doesn’t have much time to invest in shopping, which is why we also offer personal styling sessions to those looking for suggestions on what to wear. The shopping experience should be fun, convenient and not time consuming. This has to be enabled by a good website, with great UI/UX and seamless shopping and delivery experience.”

Exclusive vs. Marketplace Shopping

Shopping online on marketplace models like , , , etc., is akin to shopping at MBOs. But is this the most preferred shopping pattern for online customers? As Gudwani pointed out earlier, when it comes to formal wear, women would want to know the brand up close and personal. Hence, the chances of an exclusive brand portal seem to be just right.

However, many customers, she says, would find it intimidating to shop on exclusive portals, especially if they are new. Elaborating on this, she explains, “People are sometimes skeptical about purchasing from new brands. They need to know if an online portal is secure, and they are always wondering whether their money go waste.

Marketplace models, therefore, get new consumers, early trials and in long term are good to drive sales, liquidate old stock. Both models, therefore, will exist independently and solve different objectives.”

Bindra holds a different view on the shopping preference for women’s formal wear between both the formats, saying, “There is a significant difference in male and female purchase preferences. It is found that women are more comfortable buying products from multi-vendor e-commerce platforms as they are able to compare a lot of brand’s offerings there. They can compare in terms of designs, price reasonability, product quality or presence of multiple diverse marketplaces at one place.”

However, , Head – Marketing, , differs saying, “Whether it is a brand exclusive portal or an online marketplace, what matters the most to a buyer is the convenience and brand experience. It is all about the comfort of shopping which is just a click away for customers buying online. Brand experience is another very important aspect that consumers look for across both the channels. In order to provide consistent brand experience, online marketplaces are increasingly creating brand shop-in-shops on their respective portals.”

She highlights the need to move beyond the offline and online debate as today’s shopper is adamant on being served irrespective of the medium they choose. This implies the need to adopt an Omnichannel approach, “People love to shop online owing to the convenience this platform provides. However, there are consumers who still want to go and check the product physically after shortlisting the styles online. Observing these shifting trends in the market, we have explored an Omnichannel digital solution in stores which leverages the entire inventory of organisation present across stores. This ‘endless aisle’ concept enables consumer to never go out of stock or styles thereby, assisting them in a better way,” she further explains.

The Journey Ahead

Shopping online is only going to get stronger. The reasons are multi fold – convenience, digitisation of payment thanks to mobile wallets and UPIs, scarcity of time to visit physical stores, easy returns and refund policies that brands extend only to their online consumers, multitudes of options to choose from and most importantly, massive discounts and endless offers. Despite all these perks, whether or not shopping for formal wear will be at par with casual wear depends solely on the players in this category. Better and more realistic cataloging is the first step for brands to take care of. As long as the cataloging is not undertaken keeping in mind the body type of an Indian women, the formal wear shopping online may either stagnate or the return rates for clothes purchased online will be high enough to convince players in this category to pull their shutters down, at least on the online channel.