Online Fashion Explosion: The Growth of Cheap & Cheerful E-Tailers

Boohoo.com’s recent expansion into menswear under the brand of BoohooMan marks a pivotal point in the industry for low-end, fashion e-commerce. The launch comes only a few months after being named the UK’s second largest ‘online only’ retailer/ ‘e-tailer’ after market leaders ASOS. But it seems Boohoo.com is not the only e-tailer enjoying extremely fast year-on-year growth.

For me personally, it was only in the last 6 months or so did the rise of cheap and cheerful online fashion really start to make some significant inroads. From TV adverts, to blogger endorsements and entertainment sponsorship, these e-tailers are becoming the favoured places to feed the market’s addiction for fast, disposable, but highly on-trend fashion.

Turn back the clock to only about 3 years ago and Primark was perhaps the sole, go-to place for these cheap purchases. Now even Primark is using ASOS for its online channel. The traditional stigma that online shopping can be a hassle due to varying fit of garments and products looking starkly different to its images (a particular issue when it comes to cheaply-made clothes), has certainly made a critical shift in consumer perception. But why has this changed? What has increased buyer’s confidence in online shopping for cheap fashion? Is it the increased marketing and exposure through celebrities and bloggers? Is it because e-tailers are getting better at providing quality online shopping experiences? Well, it’s both. But I must also tout the power of social media in particular as a key driver behind these two factors.

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Above: TV presenter Laura Whitmore posts Instagram photos of herself wearing dresses from Motel and snapped in Motel at a red carpet event.

We only have to look at Instagram to see the hundreds of fashion hashtags and tagging of ‘people’ in posts to see the impact of this. Ingeniously, companies can now be ‘tagged’ in Instagram photos, which means users can be taken directly to a brand’s Instagram account, therefore directing traffic towards the final shopping sites and increasing potential sales. As a fashion and business enthusiast myself, I believe this is only the start of an exciting emerging area of the market. This opens up incredible digital monetization opportunities and the need for new analytics tools to be deployed. RewardStyle for example, has already eyed this concept by offering a digital marketing tool that does exactly this, for top-tier publishers. You can see the tool in action on Olivia Palermo’s blog site.

What companies will have to bear in mind however, is the over use of web tools that could clutter a user’s social media experience. Whilst it’s convenient to provide customers with a way to instantly shop for clothing they like, from the moment they see it on a friend’s/ style blogger’s/ celebrity’s photo; users also like following images and blog posts for the simple reason of appreciating photography. And if photography becomes overcrowded with tags and ‘what-not’, the user experience could potentially be negatively impacted and back fire.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this exciting explosion of cheap and cheerful fashion e-tailers develops in the near future. Whether the fast growth is only for the short-term, I think we can expect a definite change in future shopping habits and social retail media experiences.

Here is a list of the most popular e-tailers and my verdict so far:

  • Boohoo – I have only purchased 3 dresses from here so far. Quality is on par with Primark, but on average the dresses are cheaper and the styles are much better in my opinion. Primark has a knack for making garments too ‘on-trend-heavy’. I love this Paisley ‘Liberty-esque’ printed shift dress (purchased in blue/green):

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  • Missguided – the fabric of most of the dresses and tops are very thin. But their basics collection in particular is very good for stocking up on staple minis, vests, crop tees and those easy-to-wear skater dresses. I particularly like the ‘Sweet Deal’ Missguided is currently running, with items from £2.99.

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  • Pretty Little Thing – this is very similar to Missguided in not just the website feel and layout, but in terms of categorisation of basics and trends. But personally I think it lacks in design and originality (of course all these sites follow the same ‘trends’ but some do manage to design items with a slight twist and less predictability) in comparison.
  • Glamorous – this also sells higher-end dresses from boutique brands, which is great if you are looking for something different but don’t want to risk that high-street, Topshop clash with someone at the party. Dresses and basics here are generally extremely cheap (£4-£15 average) and the trend edits are particularly good. Keeping with the popular cami trend, I recommend some of these cross-back, printed styles:

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  • Motel – this is by far the best in terms of quality, however it is slightly more expensive than the other sites on average (£40 for a dress rather than £20-£25). Motel has actually been around much longer than the majority of these other clothing brands and technically is not an online-only retailer. Its clothing is also sold in boutiques across the UK. My favourite pick of the week:

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And just huge thank you to Millie Mackintosh’s amazing style diary for redirecting me to some of these great e-tailers! If you haven’t discovered Millie’s inspiring fashion blog yet, where have you been? I love how it is testament to my belief that fashion is all about being able to pick out the right pieces – no matter your budget, the brand and where you buy it from. It’s also great to see a style icon mixing high-end with low-end, despite clear financial advantages! Some of my favourite Millie looks, incorporating cheap fashion e-tailers are below:

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