Fashion is a $3 trillion industry. According to Fashion United, in 2015 it accounted for 2% of the world’s GDP, employed 60 million people and traded goods to the tune of $865 billion. Despite these monumental numbers, fashion is about more than just moving product. It’s about moving people. It seems that ASOS has always understood this.
In 2000, ASOS’ sales totalled less than $1 million. In 2016 they surpassed $1.4 billion. This year’s sales are already approaching $1 billion and ASOS’ online social following boasts 20+ million followers. How did they do it?
Almost 20 years ago, Quentin Griffiths (left ASOS 2005) and Nick Robertson (left ASOS 2015) applied visionary social listening skills when they launched asSeenonScreen.com. Google was two years old at the time, a ‘blog’ was actually a ‘web log’, Amazon was a bookstore and the first camera-equipped cell phone had recently been released.
What’s more, Facebook hadn’t been created yet and Pinterest and Instagram wouldn’t exist for another ten years. Keyword stuffing was SEO’s status quo.
It’s only conjecture, but it’s a good bet that common keywords like ‘black leather jacket’ weren’t what put ASOS at the top of 2000’s search results. More likely it was the celebrity names they were attached with. In 2000, less than half of internet users had ever bought anything online. They were, however, obsessed with reading about celebrities. ASOS’ initial product line consisted of famous fashion knockoffs – for example, a ‘black leather jacket as seen on mission impossible’. And, they were asking customers to suggest product ideas.
As you can see in the screenshot above, ASOS was using natural, engaging language to encourage customers’ participation. There were action buttons for this purpose, highlighted at the top left of the homepage (this corner is prime web page real estate), showing that not only did Griffiths and Robertson have the instinct to get customers involved, they also had good instincts as to page layout. In fact, the whole home page, though its colours may have been a bit flashy, was well thought out – and effective.
Within a year, ‘As Seen On Screen’ was selling an impressive amount of product. They also won a Best Trendsetter Award from UK’s The Sunday Times. More importantly, they were learning about their customers and nurturing interactive relationships. This is the essence of what they still do today.
ASOS does a lot of things well. We’ll take a brief look at several aspects of their marketing strategy. But to generalise their mission and their motivation, they are who they are in 2017 – a fashion leader with a social conscience who celebrates individuality – because that’s what their customers want.
In fashion, product changes constantly. Trends become passé almost as soon as they appear. Customer loyalty depends upon a strong brand image. The ASOS brand has emerged organically from years of customer listening.
The majority of ASOS’ customers are millennials – a generation of ambitious, passionate, well-informed individuals who care about the world around them.
They’re addicted to the internet, particularly via mobile devices, and have come to expect instant gratification from it. They bargain hunt because they know that ‘it can always be found cheaper’, but they don’t want bargains that come at the expense of someone’s welfare. They understand the power of their limited dollars and prefer to support brands they respect. And when they get excited about a brand’s mission, they’ll hype it to their social media friends and followers.
ASOS aspires to two things:
- becoming the world’s foremost millennial fashion destination;
- doing it with integrity.
ASOS is a leader in the online fashion industry. They carry 850 brands of clothing, including the ASOS brand, which comprises more than 60% of their product line. ASOS embraces and inspires fashionistas from all backgrounds and cultures, and of all shapes and sizes. They’re as excited by today’s trends as they are about predicting – and setting – trends of the future.
They’re constantly present at fashion events, music and art festivals, sports arenas and community projects. They study street dance and student cultures, always looking for the next idea. ASOS’ stylists and insiders curate looks that mix and match unlikely brands, and appeal to a vast range of tastes and styles. They hire millennials and get to know them. They also convene regular focus groups to learn about the customers they serve.
Being in the fashion business (particularly the affordable fashion business), one has to be aware of abuses in the product chain. Low wages and dangerous work conditions have plagued many industries, but probably none more than the production of fast, inexpensive fashion. Manufacturing processes have negatively impacted the well-being of animals and the environment for almost a century. Discouraging body image expectations, which have wreaked havoc with young women’s self-esteems, are also a major area of concern.
ASOS believes in the power of fashion to inspire and lead. Through the ASOS Foundation and partnerships with other organisations, ASOS has made an impact in all of these areas and aims to make more. For specific information on ASOS’ social, civic and ecological initiatives, check out their annual reports. It’s quite impressive. Since we’re on the subject of marketing, though, the takeaway is that ASOS is aligned with its customers’ interests and desires, and they let customers know when they’re up to something good. This constantly strengthens the brand.
Before discussing innovations, it’s important to note that ASOS has the basics covered. They offer a 10% discount to student shoppers, along with free returns and a variety of shipping options. They maintain a points-based loyalty program and provide 24/7/365 customer service along with an interactive help page. They price-match non-ASOS brands and maintain strict data security standards, which are constantly being audited and upgraded. They offer promos and coupons through PayPal, Groupon and Ebates. Moving on to what ASOS does best.
First, a few generalisations.
- ASOS’ marketing strategies almost always encourage customer participation, whether direct or indirect.
- Much of ASOS’ marketing is sustained by the swell of social sharing.
ASOS is constantly assessing current market strategies and implementing new ones. They love to create and to push boundaries and they do it intelligently. ASOS has a penchant for dipping their toes in first and analysing feedback. If something’s not working, this ‘lean’ approach allows them to move on to another idea quickly. If something is working, they’ll jump in and make the biggest splash possible.
Because ASOS integrates their strategies so thoroughly, it’s hard to separate them out – a proverbial chicken-egg scenario. But for certain, their momentum is cyclic and their inspiration comes and goes between ASOS and its market population at all touch points.
ASOS’ content is uniquely styled for each of its social media outlets. It is original, relevant, inclusive, fun — and personal. ASOS produces tens of thousands of content pieces each month, from tweets to articles to high-production videos.
ASOS’ posts involve clothing, along with beauty, lifestyle, cultural and social news. They promote emerging artists and musicians and provide red carpet catwalk previews. They post behind-the-scenes videos of ASOS employees in action and host shoppable hangouts and music playlists. They present exclusive celebrity and influencer interviews. ASOS posts an impressive array of content in nine languages (and growing). ASOS followers are constantly sharing, and adding their own posts to the mix.
All social sites link to ASOS.com, and ASOS.com links back to every social site. Most of ASOS’ social outlets are also shoppable.
ASOS has run a lot of impressive marketing campaigns. From a shoppable video street dancer project to sponsoring a race car, they interact wherever their customers are. Below are details about two of ASOS’ short-term campaigns.
- Designed to hype 2012’s end of summer sale, ASOS’ Queue Jumper Contest did more than that. Through a series of point-earning games (to move up in the sale access queue), ‘queue jumper confession’ posts, shout-outs and friends inviting friends to join the line, ASOS’ Facebook audience grew substantially in just a few days. Sparked by a (very) little bit of paid advertising, ASOS’ Queue Jumper marketing was executed almost fully by its participants. In addition to social growth, the sale was enormously successful.
- ASOS’ inspired Blank Canvas Competition started in 2014. Timed with the ‘back to uni’ season, ASOS invited students to design a bag. All who participated (even those who voted) received ASOS perks and discounts. The winning bag was sold through ASOS.com. Participants could design from scratch or use pre-provided artwork online. Contestants did a bang-up job of self-promotion, growing their own (and ASOS’) following in the process. Participation was a win all around.
ASOS accesses many opportunities for influencer marketing. Below are a few samples.
ASOS began its #AsSeenOnMe positive body image campaign in 2014. The concept was simple and sustainable: customers posting pictures of themselves wearing clothes bought from ASOS. Through the use of the hashtag, along with social sharing and occasional spotlighting by ASOS, this campaign mostly runs itself, and has had great success, further growing ASOS’ brand value and its customer base. #AsSeenOnMe also rewards posters with promos and discounts, and the feedback they receive from the ASOS community and their friends has helped the campaign achieve its original goal – celebrating people of all shapes and sizes.
In addition, some ASOS customers have become ASOS Insiders. Whatever a customers’ taste, style, body type or personality, they can find an insider to relate to (and on the off chance that they can’t, perhaps they can become one). ASOS now provides sponsored @asos_insidername accounts for each of its insiders, furthering its social reach and reinforcing ASOS Insiders’ authority. Customers enjoy the curated looks that they can quickly flip (and shop or share) through.
ASOS is always providing touchpoints for conversion
ASOS maintains a strong presence on just about all social sites. It receives its top traffic from:
- FACEBOOK (42%);
- YOUTUBE (34%);
- VKONTAKTE (10%);
- PINTEREST (4%)
- REDDIT (4%)
In addition, they’re constantly growing customer bases on VIMEO, Tumblr, Periscope, Snapchat, Google+ and more. Each site provides its own style of content. For example, Periscope was tested using ASOS red carpet videos, Snapchat to hype London’s fashion week.
Although ASOS does respond to customer issues through any outlet, they maintain separate social feeds specifically for such issues
ASOS.com receives most of its traffic directly.
Top 5 Inbound Traffic Routes:
*Top-5 search leads:
ASOS Marketplace .5%
ASOS U.S. .4%
ASOS Israel .3%
ASOS CURVE .2%
ASOS US .2%
**Top-5 referral sites:
ASOS France (17%);
Reward Style (9%);
ASOS Germany (8%);
ASOS appears to place equal value on optimising specific and generic search terms, though they may spend a bit more money on the specifics. They do a good job of ‘delivering’ on search results. I’ve had the experience of clicking on web search results that lead to a site suggesting ‘other products’. ASOS doesn’t appear to do this. While researching for this article, I typed both generic and specific search terms into Google, to see the first page of results. Searching from the U.S., here are the results:
*A dash indicates that nothing came up on Google’s first page.
Launched in 2009, ASOS’ glossy print publication is one of Britain’s top fashion magazines. It has a distribution of 500,000 and generates advertising revenue, as well as customer interest. The online version is brilliantly shoppable.
ASOS Magazine has helped to reinforce ASOS’ reputation as an authoritative fashion leader.
ASOS celebrates talent and ingenuity. They also actively support it. They’ve defined their Marketplace as being “powered by a collective love of fashion… a destination for inspiration and discovery”. The Marketplace provides access to independent boutiques and vintage stores from all over the world. It’s also an opportunity for emerging designers to launch and market their collections through a beautiful, well organised, highly trafficked portal.
Through ASOS’ Marketplace, users can shop over 1000 boutiques from 50 different countries. Some of ASOS’ marketplace independents have had their lines adopted by ASOS.com.
ASOS’ Marketplace is an integral part of what the ASOS brand represents.
Huge amounts of technical and customer research backed the development of ASOS’ mobile shopping app – and it’s paid off big time. Two months after launching, ASOS Mobile was already mobile-commerce’s biggest retailer.
Still advancing by way of customer feedback and constant improvements, ASOS is aiming for shopping perfection here. Over half of all ASOS’ orders are now placed through their mobile app (and over two-thirds of UK orders.) The app offers total convenience and some great perks, including photo search functionality – shoot or upload a picture of a fashion item you want; press a single button and ASOS will search its entire product line to find it (or the closest thing to it).
ASOS’ mobile app currently rates 5/5 stars and is being downloaded 800,000 times per month.
Above the fold, a well-placed promo announcement and some barebones options keep it simple and easy on the eye. The reader is guided, from the top left down, to the following starting points: ASOS or Marketplace; Men or Women (men/women are each a well sorted hover-style mega-menu).
The top right page corner features clicks we’ve all come to expect; a currency dropdown menu, sign-in and account links, personal shopping cart and saved items are clickable here.
Scrolling down, ASOS offers trendy and seasonal edits. Call to action buttons are clear and differentiated by boxes. Motivating texts encourage visitors to ‘shop now’. Further down is ASOS’ Fashion and Beauty Feed. Placement on the website’s homepage raises the whole package’s search engine status. Articles, once clicked, lead to full, and fully shoppable, pages.
Continuing down the page are clean, attractive category links and well-placed social media buttons. At the bottom are corporate and additional information links. Most readers tend to look at top right corners and page bottoms least; yet, years of online shopping have trained most of us to check those locations for corporate info, payment info, and the like. Page tops and top left corners are reserved for calls to action.
ASOS’ web pages are uncluttered, keeping a visitor’s attention focused. Action buttons are well-separated and well-defined. Visitors click on an average of 14.97 pages per visit and conversion rates are high.
Throughout ASOS’ pages you’ll find rich, relevant content, lots of diversity of styles and personalities, and a treasure trove of temptingly-curated fashion.
In the interest of a brief overview, I’m about to – well – put the cart before the horse, jumping to the cart because that’s where buying happens.
To illustrate the experience, I’ll shop a jumpsuit. As a frequent online fashion browser, I’m personally impressed by ASOS’ fast filter menu function. I’ve never been on a website, fashion or otherwise, that’s had a faster page-load. With each filter box I click, the page reloads almost instantaneously. This is a huge value point.
I’ve picked a jumpsuit and saved a few (I didn’t have to have a login to do that, btw). ASOS will keep ‘saved items’ for 60 days even for a browser with no account. This is inviting and increases the likelihood that I’ll come back in and buy. For shoppers who have an account, the cart and list will sync across all logged devices.
The product page boasts zoomable views of all product angles, along with a video. Product details are fully accessible with a ‘see more’ click. ASOS’ well-executed, more personalised sizing guide is a value point as well. I’m likely to buy this jumpsuit, and to return for additional shopping, because I’m more confident that the fit will be accurate.
Further scrolling offers an opportunity to buy ‘the look’ with edited accessories. It then rehashes my other viewed items and makes some suggestions. This isn’t anything new, but, I haven’t seen this feature before: each recently viewed item can be cleared or favourited to the list, keeping it current and focusing the shopper to make additional purchases more likely. Very smart. I’m also shown a gallery of #AsSeenOnMe jumpsuits and invited to post to it.
Checkout is straightforward; nothing exotic or innovative except that it uses friendly, youthful language and allows social sign-in – no password required.
ASOS takes a holistic approach to marketing strategy, always working many angles and improving the way the ‘must-dos’ are done. They have a tremendous amount of customer contact points covered, and every action taken strengthens the likelihood of a sale. ASOS shows that fast fashion goes hand in hand with fast marketing, and that social listening (whether praise-filled or otherwise) is key to growing in the right direction.
ASOS continues to explore and exploit as much technology as possible to monitor sales and marketing strategy, increase personalisation and improve the shopping experience through all platforms. In the coming year, special attention will be on data security, customer service, logistics, and continuing to perfect ASOS mobile.
Internet fashion marketing is a competition that can’t be won by just showing up. Where ASOS began by following the pack, it now leads.
Their goal is to reach £2.5bn in sales by 2020.