Mar 5, 2019
The rise of ASOS.com, the online fashion and cosmetics retailer, is a story of impressive growth and popularity, with digital marketing very much central to building its massive digital empire. It ranks as the world’s fourth largest online fashion store by revenue, with net online sales of US$2.3 billion in 2018, selling more than 85,000 products. Its volume of active customers and orders have been rising steadily year-on-year, with 63 million orders received in 2018.
Established by Nick Robertson and Quentin Griffiths in 2000, the name stands for ‘As Seen on Screen’, as the founders originally envisioned a company selling outfits worn by celebrities. With that in mind, they started an ‘As Seen on Screen’ campaign to spread the word of their celebrity-inspired fashion business.
By 2010, ASOS had launched three international online shops in France, Germany, and the US with the following year in Australia, Italy, and Spain. This all laid the foundations for significant growth over the subsequent years.
The website now sells thousands of products from hundreds of different brands, as well as its own range of clothing and accessories, and ships to over 200 countries. ASOS is a leader in the ‘fast fashion’ revolution which is now dominating the industry, is aimed at the youth market, with new styles becoming widely available to the public quickly and at affordable prices.
This chart shows the volume of ASOS customers and orders rising year-on-year.
ASOS is very clear and deliberate about being a youth-oriented brand, with a target market of men and women in their 20s. Their mission statement, as shown prominently on their corporate website, reads: “Our mission is to become the world’s number-one destination for fashion-loving 20-somethings.”
They stress their core values of individuality, creativity, diversity, and authenticity throughout their branding and digital assets. Their ‘ASOS Story’ states that the company is “empowering 20-somethings to look, feel and be their best so they can achieve amazing things”, while their Instagram account bio reads: “Giving you the confidence to be whoever you want to be.”
This inspiring messaging strikes the right tone for their youth audience, who strongly value their own sense of individuality and the part played by personal style and fashion within that. Given the vast volume of sales and global presence, it makes sense that ASOS would stress individuality and creative style over high-fashion trends. The focus is on human connection.
The company is also keen to stress a mobile-first approach in line with the habits of this audience, with the website pointing out that 69% of their traffic comes from mobile devices, while ethics and corporate responsibility are also emphasized as key aspects of the business.
As you’d expect from a major fashion retailer, imagery is very much to the fore in promoting these values, with a vibrant youthful ethos stressed throughout.
There is also an emphasis on discount codes, which reveals something about the business strategy. Discount codes are available for purchases over certain amounts, with the level of discount offered increasing incrementally for purchases in higher brackets. This encourages the purchase of multiple items and higher average orders to continually drive up revenues.
From the homepage, you can navigate to tabs for different product categories and browse through the huge, comprehensive range of brands and products available on the site. It’s a positive and straightforward user experience, with strong use of product images and clear, information-rich product descriptions always available.
Following on from the stylish presentation of the eCommerce website, the company really elevates its content offering with its high-quality ASOS Magazine, a hard copy of which can be ordered from the website.
The seasonal quarterly magazine features cover stars on every issue and is a popular purchase, with readers soaking up articles on fresh styles, outfit ideas and fashion advice.
Offering a print glossy is a real asset in building engagement and keeping the ASOS brand front-of-mind for customers. And while the magazine provides enjoyable content, it can also turn readers into buyers, by providing product information and inspiration.
ASOS also does this in a more direct way with its ‘Shop the Magazine’ feature on the website, which brings you to a portal to purchase the products seen in the magazine. This leverages the editorial content very cleverly to drive sales.
The website also has a daily ‘Style Feed’, which blogs on all sorts of style ideas, looks and tips, inviting readers to ‘Shop the Story’ as the closing call to action. Therefore, the content is again serving a business purpose in helping to generate further sales within a given context.
ASOS boasts some 22.7 million followers across its social media platforms, with 8 million on Instagram alone, nearly 6 million on Facebook and over 1 million on Twitter. The brand is also active on YouTube, Snapchat, and Pinterest, clearly concentrating on its youth demographic. They also have a separate Twitter account to handle customer queries.
The company brings its products to life through these channels, with great use of images and a wide variety of styles on display, always building engagement with customers. Video content is also very much a mainstay. For example, on Facebook and Instagram, ASOS personnel talk though product selections and advice in a regular ‘This week’s top picks’ video, while images of new items and style tips are posted daily.
The Pinterest account has boards on different themes, such as ‘ASOS Wedding’, ‘ASOS Festival’ and ‘ASOS Maternity’, a visual feast for those exploring new trends.
They also have a great influencer strategy to communicate with customers through their ASOS Insider community, a group on young trend-setters with distinct styles who post their outfits on social media. Again, there is direct sales tactic at play here, as people can follow their favorite Insiders and shop for their outfits straight from Instagram accounts. They can also visit the influencers’ curated page on the ASOS website through a tracked link.
ASOS successfully piques the interest and engages with potential customers through these social media campaigns, delivering a range of regular content, but also harnesses these channels to drive sales more directly with innovative strategies.
The company has a strong focus on corporate responsibility, advocacy and an ethical approach. It created the ASOS Foundation, which builds infrastructure and takes on educational initiatives for disadvantaged people. Through the foundation, ASOS has implemented training programs to provide opportunities to children interested in technology and fashion, as well as partnering with charity organizations.
Their corporate responsibility programme is called ‘Fashion with Integrity’, which takes “a transparent, responsible and proactive approach to managing the fashion industry’s impact on people, animals and the environment”.
The ASOS sourcing strategy focuses on ethical trading, sustainable sourcing and animal welfare. For example, the company points out that 34% of all fibres used in ASOS brands come from sustainable sources, and highlights its plans to ban cashmere, mohair, silk, feathers bone, horn, shell, and teeth.
While the overall ethics of the clothing industry remain questionable, these initiatives help to foster a positive corporate image for ASOS, with consumers increasingly conscientious of these ethical issues and favorable towards supporting good causes through the brands they buy from. ASOS makes a positive contribution and that’s also good for business.
There are certainly challenges for ASOS in the immediate future. The company recently announced that its 2019 marketing spend will be stronger than previously indicated, as it reacts to an unexpected drop in sales growth. Company officials attributed this to an “unprecedented level of discounting” across the retail industry and the brand’s failure to match significant discounts by competitors. With heavy discounting becoming so common in online retail, profits margins can be very slim.
Online clothing is a competitive and uncertain industry, particularly for a UK-based operation in the light of economic uncertainty over the Brexit. ASOS faces strong competition from other major players like H&M, growing platforms such as women’s retailer PrettyLittleThing and an established Internet giant in the form of Amazon.
While ASOS stresses a mobile-first approach in its messaging, not all Generation Z shoppers use their devices to make purchases. Shopping on smartphones is still not common practice, with physical stores still the preference for many people in all age brackets.
The company also needs to continue building on its corporate social responsibility efforts.
With all that said, ASOS looks determined to meet these challenges head-on, investing the necessary finances and resources in its marketing efforts. In addition to its established channels, the company has been investing in voice technology and artificial intelligence, an area that can show enormous potential to retail in the coming years. Their AI shopping guide, Enki, will allow customers to use voice to test and purchase products in six men’s and women’s categories. This use of “conversational commerce” is part of a new wave of interacting directly with products with the help of machine learning.
Overall, it’s a remarkable success story, embracing digital marketing strategies as key drivers of growth. The focus on positive user experience, quality content and a high level of social media engagement have been central to this.
ASOS has built an enormous eCommerce platform, offering a huge range of products, and nurtured a positive brand image along the way, to establish itself as a global leader in its industry.