New collabs. Trending colorways. A tightly knit love affair with pop-culture. Runways that span from New York to Paris … to YouTube, TikTok, and beyond.
Behind every novel collection, disruptive design, and new-media expression is an online powerhouse poised to hit one-trillion-dollars in annual sales by 2025.
We call it fashion marketing. And it’s a beast where survival centers on one question:
How do you weave what’s poppin’ with what’s profitable?
In this article, I’ll take you behind the scenes with over 50 examples from direct-to-consumers’ fastest-growing brands. Everything from marketing campaigns to user experience, from increasing sales to inspiring brand loyalty.
But make no mistake …
The answer comes down to four metrics that drive the most-stylish thing of all — money in your pocket.
That formula will be the star of the show: your step-by-step guide into a fashionable and profitable future.
- Visitors: Social Media, Influencer Marketing & Search Engines
- Conversion Rate: Optimize Your Fashion Funnels & Pages
- Lifetime Value: Retention, Email Marketing & SMS
- Variable Costs: Shipping & Returns (the ‘Unfashionable’ Part)
- Profit: Find the Right Partner to Bring Everything Together
1. Visitors: Social Media, Influencer Marketing & Search Engines
They’re watching, but you gotta get the right people to look.
Eye-catching. Ostentatious. The audacity!
Fashion comes alive through what can be seen. As an ecommerce business, however, visibility isn’t just about boldness. It’s about catching the right eyes for both short- and long-term growth.
Why that dual focus? Because if you don’t have the right traffic mix, you can forget about scaling.
For early stage brands, scale means investing in paid sources. A channel breakdown would look something like …
- Paid Social and Search: 60%
- Organic & Direct: 20%
- Email: 10%-15%
- Other: 5%
As you mature, your traffic mix should evolve as well.
Throughout this article, we’ll use Born Primitive as a key example.
Founded in 2014 by Bear and Mallory Handlon, this fitness apparel brand has been a longtime Common Thread Collective client. Its success illustrates many of the tactics below, starting with a diverse source of visitors.
Two years ago, paid traffic accounted for ~36% of its visitors. Last year, that number dropped to 27%.
Sound strange that an agency would celebrate a reduction in paid-media’s traffic share?
It shouldn’t. Especially not for fashion. Paid social may be the first lever. But it can’t be the only.
🚀 Propel Your Brand with Paid Social
When you have an objective to increase traffic to your ecommerce store, paid social helps you slice through the noise and boost your visibility.
Ecommerce trends show us that there’s a five-step process to connect your business to the customers who crave what you have.
Let’s take a brief look at each step in the Facebook ads campaign workflow.
Step 1: Set Profitable Goals from the Jump
Start by nailing down goals that allow you to acquire customers at scale.
This is done by calculating your ad spend and setting budgets based on profitable cost-per-acquisition (CPA) targets.
Instead of single-account ROAS, hone in on either:
- SKU-specific targets for your hero products
- Group your targets by buyer types for collections
Mott & Bow does this at a prospecting level for gender-specific products as well as gender-neutral collections.
Step 2: Consolidate Your Ad Account
Having too many ads running at one time eats away at your budget and doesn’t give you escape velocity to break out of the “Learning Phase.”
To achieve this, you’ll need to secure at least 50 conversions per week. It’s a structure we call “consolidated ad accounts.” And you should always build it using Campaign Budget Optimization (CBO).
Step 3: Let the Facebook Pixel Do Its Thing
Configured correctly, you can rely on the Facebook Pixel through broad targeting to do what it does best — use artificial intelligence and machine learning to find the right customers.
As long as you’re optimizing for purchase conversions, your pixel will get smarter and you’ll get more out of your ad spend.
Step 4: Retarget Your Audience
- Website visitors
- Page or collection visitors
- Cart or checkout abandoners
- And, recent customers
What matters is relevancy: matching the person’s last interaction to the next ad they receive.
When that happens, it’s magic. Even better, it drives down costs dramatically.
Okay. I get retargeted ads. But @BornPrimitive is taking it to the next level serving me an ad showing my sport of choice. Think they have one for biking/lifting/running/etc and show the right sport for the viewer? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/LeDKrqECax
— Val Geisler 🖤🏳️🌈💌 (@lovevalgeisler) February 13, 2021
Step 5: Connect with Impactful Creative
The Pixel, and its amazing AI capabilities, may be extremely intuitive but it can’t replace human ingenuity. Where the Pixel lacks emotions and feelings, your business can supplement with hard-hitting creative.
Your ad creative should target customer pain points, highlight reviews, and develop a sense of community to make a meaningful connection with your audience.
Online fashion marketing amid COVID‑19
Current fashion industry arguments are centered around whether COVID-19 has brought an end to the market as we know it …
During last year’s shutdowns, major physical retailers like Macy’s and Nordstrom were forced to permanently close down stores due to drastic decreases in sales.
“No-one wants to buy clothes to sit at home in,” says Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next PLC, a retail conglomerate best known for Topshop.
But is this true?
Could it be that more people are interested in even faster fashion that’s supported by the ecommerce markets? Did physical retailers fail to provide more than just clothes during a time where social distancing made keeping up appearances obsolete?
In the words of 2PM, Inc.’s Web Smith:
“A common misconception in the digitally native vertical brand industry is that the previous year of the pandemic is thwarting the growth of fashion retailers, harming sales projections, stifling growth, or shuttering doors.
“The hard data contends there’s more to the story.
Of the 463 brands listed on 2PM’s DTC Power List, 180 are apparel or accessories retailers.
The Top 20 DTC (DNVB) Fashion Brands
- Pretty Little Things
- Savage X Fenty
- The RealReal
- Moda Operandi
- Fashion Nova
- Good American
- Adore Me
- NoBull Project
- Outdoor Voices
- Happy Socks
- Blenders Eyewear
To thrive during COVID-19 and last year’s social unrest, it took more than just fashion. Case in point, Savage X Fenty completely ceased operations during Blackout Tuesday in support of Black Lives Matter.
Even as one of CTC’s allstars, Born Primitive wasn’t immune to coronavirus’ impact. Gym shutdowns plunged the brand into a historic low.
In response, it developed a better, more ballsy approach that wasn’t focused directly on increasing sales or ROAS. Together, we created a digital campaign aimed at supporting the needs of its community.
Back The Gym Stimulus kicked off with a big promise — donating 50% of profits to customer-nominated gyms.
Customer needs were put first and growth naturally followed.
In the end, Born Primitive saw an 882% average quarterly growth rate during 2020 at 30% profit.
👑 Leverage Influencer Marketing Alongside & Within Paid Social
Fashion is all about the now. Your customers are out there on social media searching for the latest trends.
- How are they finding what they’re looking for?
- Where are they getting the ideas to buy?
- Who are the gatekeepers in the fashion industry?
That power lies within the micro and macro fashion influencer communities.
Fashion influencers have spent months, years, and in some cases decades building their online presence and earning the trust of their audiences.
And your customers are hiding within these communities.
How can you reach those customers and direct them to your ecommerce store? By building genuine relationships with influencers who align with your brand and have them create highly targeted content. This content can then be used for paid and organic campaigns.
DIFF Eyewear had their influencer marketing strategy in a chokehold but, somehow, there was still a disconnect.
It was spending a ton of coin on quality, pay-per-post style ads and using the power of Instagram’s biggest names to drive sales. But the sales weren’t coming and the decline of organic traffic on Instagram and Facebook made this strategy even more difficult to maintain.
Instead of focusing on high-quality static posts DIFF shifted into more relatable ads that were native for mobile. It also gathered user-generated content from A-listers, like the Kardashians, and ran ads through their personal pages.
This creative was used to retarget visitors and customers by interests.
Coupling this with a social mission to donate a pair of reading glasses to those in need resulted in exponential growth: 200k Facebook purchases kinda growth.
We collaborated to flip their old ecommerce marketing strategy on its head.
That’s the power of influencer marketing and it isn’t limited to big names.
Pura Vida Bracelets, an ecommerce jewelry brand, mastered the micro-influencer game by outsourcing content to its community.
Through a private Instagram account, its referral program members get access to a specialized training program that teaches them how to create organic content for Pura Vida. In turn, the brand uses that content with zero dollars in ad spend required.
That’s what real influence looks like.
🔥 Hype, Hype, Hype with Product Drops & Hauls
Driving visitors through product drops and hauls is an elite method for putting your brand in front of new customers.
As with everything she does, Queen Bey — and her flawless Ivy Park collaboration with Adidas — are the archetype. Ivy Park heavily uses the power of influencers to increase visibility through highly targeted product drops.
Traffic is directed from social media to the Adidas website where new and returning customers can sign up to be notified when the collection actually becomes available.
Because the Ivy Park brand is built on a strong fan/customer base, it’s able to bypass ad spend. Hype is created within the “Hive” community, or the communities of the featured influencers like Gucci Mane, and the product sells out within minutes.
The entire Ivy Park homepage acts as a digital billboard because you don’t actually purchase from the site. Instead, you must rush to the Adidas website to make a purchase before everything sells out.
Mega Influencers like Patricia Bright garnered over 850k+ views on her Ivy Park haul by hyping her favorite pieces and combinations.
It should be noted that Ivy Park’s ability to leverage and navigate this strategy comes from years of brand building.
For smaller DTC brands it’s important that you build an intimate relationship with your community and get to know them through extensive research before diving headfirst into this type of campaign development.
👀 Capture Demand with Paid & Organic Search Marketing
As you expose more people to your brand on social media, the likelihood of them looking for you in other places increases exponentially. It’s an omni-channel strategy Google has named the “messy middle”; we prefer the phase “brand lasso.”
Rather than pit the two platforms against each other in the ultimate Verzuz battle — Google ads vs Facebook ads — you win by uniting them.
At minimum, you need to capture this direct, brand-focused demand through search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO).
Search Engine Marketing vs. Search Engine Optimization
The difference between SEM and SEO involves time and money. SEM helps your brand rank through Google Shopping ads. This can be ideal for larger DTC brands who have available ad spend.
Two-thirds of PPC clicks on Google go to product listing ads (PLAs), also known as Google Shopping Ads or Smart Shopping Campaigns.
The downside is that SEM is short-term and requires a constant flow of cash to keep your ecommerce store’s ranking. This isn’t ideal for growing DTC brands.
We combat this issue with search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing to rank organically for these types of searches. User-generated content created through influencer marketing supports organic ranking.
As rules of thumb, your SEM and SEO strategy should include:
- Owning branded searches
- Majoring on Google Shopping
- Testing Google Ads around your Facebook targeting
- Creating content that will rank for product-focused searches
- And then extending into YouTube and Display Network retargeting
Investments here not only catch the demand generated by your own campaigns, but also the demand created by your competitors.
2. Conversion Rate: Optimize Your Fashion Funnels
Spending ain’t easy. But it should be for your customers.
Visitors alone won’t increase your profits unless you’re (a) driving the right type of traffic and (b) maximizing your traffic through optimized conversion methods.
When visitors arrive on your website, you have only a few seconds to
- Convince them to stick around
- Collect important data
- Make a sale
So, what are the best ways to convert traffic?
📊 Build Funnels Around the Almighty Offer
Every offer combines three things: (1) product, what you sell; (2) price, how much you sell it for; and (3) positioning, who you sell it to through your creative.
This is usually where your prospects will experience your brand first, so it has to be carefully crafted. Does it …
- Include a discount or incentive?
- Feature a single item offer or a bundle?
- Grab the attention of your audience and lead to action?
These questions help you push the limits, discover what your prospects are truly after, and how you can use that data to continually improve.
We heavily rely on the AIDA model for guidance on building or readjusting our funnels, especially at the top.
The top of the funnel, effective ad campaigns should be based on an offer that, at minimum, yields:
- Above average profit margins
- Relatively high average order value (AOV)
- Strong lifetime value that leads into additional products
From there, you can experiment with different ways to present this offer to attract attention from your target audience. Options include bundling top products or throwing in a limited-time discount.
But don’t forget to keep that same energy for the ad creative, too!
You don’t just want your audience’s attention. You want 3-30 seconds of their undivided attention.
At this point, the offer has been dressed up and is dripping in so much sauce that your audience should be itching to get to your website to make a purchase.
And that’s how you get a flawless return on ad spend (ROAS).
👟 Improve Speed & Usability, Especially On Mobile
According to Unbounce, 70% of consumers say site speed has a direct impact on their purchasing decisions. Nearly half of mobile users will leave a site if it takes more than just three seconds to load.
And that’s not even the worse part.
61% of consumers will leave an ecommerce site if they have trouble using it on mobile devices, with 41% of them heading to a competitor.
With mobile accounting for 72.9% of global ecommerce sales in 2021, that leaves very little room for error on the mobile version of your site.
Boost usability on your site by implementing optimized landing pages to make the shopping experience faster, easier, and more enjoyable for your customers.
Start by making small, but necessary tweaks to (1) the headline to grab attention, (2) anchored CTAs that speed up the checkout process, and (3) light-weight images and videos.
Brilliant Earth does a phenomenal job of optimizing mobile usability through inclusivity.
Customers can browse their jewelry catalog and get a visual of how pieces will look against their skin tone. This boosts conversion rates by making the customer shopping experience clear, engaging, and personal.
🤑 Digital Fashion Merchandising: Product Descriptions & Product Recommendations
A confused customer isn’t a paying customer. In fact, a confused customer isn’t a customer at all.
Ecommerce doesn’t come complete with a virtual salesperson and most online shoppers don’t like hunting for answers to their questions.
Do them a favor and have the answers available to them right on the product page.
This is achieved through detailed and creative product descriptions.
For example, QALO’s product pages follow a three-part pattern:
At the top, immediate information about the product to include color, size, and clear pictures. Below that, FAQs organized by icons. At the bottom, detailed product information through creative copy.
Additionally, product recommendations help you personalize your customer’s shopping experience while increasing your overall AOV.
Below are product recommendations for Your Go To Leggings 2.0 from Born Primitive. They include a “Complete The Look” section and an “Other Customers Were Interested In” section to show recommendations that closely match the current product.
This makes it easier for your customers to see more of what they like and less of what they don’t.
🛒 Improve Site Browsing, Discovery & Checkout Experiences
Adjusting your ecommerce store’s browsing, discovery, checkout experience is just as crucial as a brick and mortar store’s layout.
Do you remember walking into a Hollister store? It was a complete vibe!
That’s what you’re looking to accomplish with your ecommerce store.
GREATS, for instance, guides customers with its onsite search tool. The tool opens with a demographic filter based on gender. Then, dynamically suggests products as the customer types their search:
It also improve the checkout experience with a fantastic cart-to-checkout flow that:
- Notifies customers when they hit the free-shipping threshold
- Opens with express payment options designed for mobile
- And ends with a dropdown option to buy-now, pay-later
3. Lifetime Value: Retention, Email Marketing & SMS
Don’t die … waiting a “lifetime” for LTV.
What is your customer worth to you over a lifetime?
How long is a lifetime?
Whose lifetime are we referring to?
Okay, don’t jump head first down the “lifetime” rabbit hole because it gets real dark down there.
Ultimately, we’ve come to the conclusion that we will all die before a fashion ecommerce store realizes their “lifetime” value. What’s the alternative?
We like predictability when it comes to cash. Income generated within a fixed payback period are the rabbit holes that we’ll gladly jump down. We typically use a 30, 60, or 90-day LTV window for our clients. We call this the “Cash Multiplier.”
Find Your Cash Multiplier
Our allstar is the “Cash Multiplier.” This is a brand-specific window built around customer behavior and cash flow.
For many of our clients, a 30-day window captures the bulk of ad-driven sales. Then, a 60-to-90 day period captures returning customers.
For example, if a new customer spends — on average — $25 within 60 days, then our Cash Multiplier is $25 and fills the LTV slot in our growth equation.
For other clients, the nurturing window tends to be quite a bit longer, and we use a 90-day window. We can’t tell you for sure what the right window is for you, but you should already have a reasonable idea based on your own customer behavior.
What we can do is give you a method for measuring your ecommerce customer retention over the short-term. This gives you readily available data on how profitable your business is and how much value your customer experience is actually creating.
To do this, we use the rule of 30:100. Within 60 days, you should have at least a 30% increase in LTV. This shows that your product is in demand and profitable.
Within a year, your LTV should increase by 100% to show that you’ve successfully created value and those same customers are willing to pay more for your product over time.
Leverage Email Marketing
But email is dead. Don’t believe the hype. Email is very much alive and still kicking major ass.
Think about how many times you’ve checked your email in the past hour. Your customers are doing the same and you should be using this to your advantage.
Your welcome emails will be the most valuable automations in terms of the overall revenue generated. Typically, second only to a cart abandonment series.
Open your welcome flow with a simple “Thank You” email, introducing them to your brand story. Make good on any sign-up incentives promised in your pop-up. Capture rates and revenue generated from welcome series emails are significantly higher when an incentive is present.
For apparel retailers, a three-to-four email welcome series is typically the sweet spot for maximum conversions and engagement, but keep an eye on your open and click rates throughout.
Whether delivering immediate value, or delivering the promise of additional value moving forward, the right email at the right time can get your recently-converted customers even more engaged and loyal to your brand.
Engage in SMS Marketing
Nothing’s more personal than a text message. Which is exactly what makes SMS marketing so powerful … and precarious.
- Don’t spam
- Don’t bombard
- And get super specific with segments
Begin with letting new customers sign up for SMS transactional messages, like shipping updates. During that process, get explicit consent to also market through SMS. But only begin marketing after you’ve proven the value of your texts.
This is an especially effective way to keep in touch with your customers in between purchase cycles — and to re-engage them after long periods of radio silence.
Bobby Kim, co-founder of The Hundreds, actually has a text line set up that allows him to engage directly with individual audience members:
4. Variable Costs: Shipping & Optimizing Returns in Fashion Retail
“More money, more variable costs.” Or whatever Diddy said.
Variable costs are costs that go up as your order volume increases. They’re unavoidable and come with the ecommerce territory.
- Cost of goods sold
- Shipping costs
- Payment processing fees
- Fulfillment fees
How do you decrease costs without allowing the quality of your processes and products to suffer?
Negotiate Better Deals
Your suppliers, tech providers, and vendors want to keep your business. It never hurts to reach out to negotiate a better deal.
In other words, shoot your shot and you’ll be surprised at how much money you can save just by simply asking.
That’s right, go ahead and negotiate lower shipping costs, processing fees, fulfilment rates, and other discounts. What’s the worst that can happen?
For example, Gymshark demonstrated how proper negotiations can help your business grow without the need for extra capital. It effectively negotiated longer payment terms with their suppliers creating a negative cash conversion cycle.
In English, that means it used vendor money to finance operations.
While returns and exchanges pose a problem in most ecommerce industries, they hit fashion the hardest. According to Global Web Index, consumers return:
- 56% of clothing and footwear
- 30% of jewelry and accessories
- 22% of health and beauty products
But wait, there’s more. The report shows 37% of all returns are made because the consumer “didn’t like the item.”
This poses a major problem for ecommerce companies whose products need to be seen, felt, and worn.
What if you embraced returns, knowing that each exchange means another opportunity to provide value?
Mott & Bow, for example, sends customers items in multiple sizes upfront to ensure the customer gets the right fit.
Instead of seeing returns and exchanges as a “necessary evil” within the fashion industry, Loop helps automate the return and exchange process to deliver even more value to your customers.
By creating a separate and simple return portal, your customers can initiate the process with just an order number and their zip code.
When something goes wrong with an order, the last thing your customer wants to deal with is a complicated return process. Then there’s also the issue of the 37% of customers who “don’t like the item.”
Loop also gives the customer the opportunity to simply exchange the item for something they do like without initiating a refund.
Inventory management isn’t a problem — until it is.
Do you have enough inventory for an upcoming sale? Is your inventory overflowing due to slow shipping times?
Lead times will ultimately guide your inventory management strategy. If you want accuracy in your inventory, you’ll need to think about creating an analysis that matches up with how fast you’re selling vs. how fast you can stock your product.
You can use inventory management software to help automate the process in collaboration with other strategies, like waitlists or presales.
Depending on your goals, each strategy can help with building product hype and demand forecasting. It can also help decrease the likelihood of other issues, such as over-ordering and shortages.
5. Profit: Find the Right Partner to Bring Everything Together
Fashion moves fast.
But with Common Thread Collective’s experience growing DTC fashion brands like Born Primitive, Mott & Bow, DIFF Eyewear, Fresh Clean Tees, and many more … we can help you move faster.
We have the formula, the data, and the experts all in one place to help you with everything from increasing qualified traffic to lowering cost for maximizing profits.
Has your fashion ecommerce store arrived at the corner of poppin’ and profitable, yet?
If not, we can get you there.
Start by downloading our guide to ecommerce fashion marketing. Then, don’t hesitate to connect with us one-on-one to find out how we can put the ecommerce growth formula to work for you.