5 things we learned from IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018

Tips, data, and insight from the forefront of online fashion retail



The sold-out Fashion Connect took place at One America Square on 21 February 2018.

The conference saw speakers and panellists from retailers of all sizes and tiers, as well as solution providers working at the cutting edge of online retail and fashion ecommerce.

If you were there, thanks for coming. Great to have you there.

If you missed it, here’s a roundup of what we learned and discussed.

Here are five online fashion retail lessons from Fashion Connect 2018.

1. Fashion, Plastic, and #metoo – the winds of change

IMRG Strategy and Insight Director Andy Mulcahy kicked off the day with his view of the current state of ecommerce and online fashion retail, and how things might play out.

Image of audience at IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018

It seems the winds of change are still blowing strong.

Digital acceleration

Each year in January, there are a slew of retail administrations. In January 2018 there were a few, but really the period was most notable for a number of large retailers – with large store portfolios – announcing store closures; accountancy firm Moore Stephens have identified that 19% of retail stores are showing signs of ‘financial distress’; retail footfall is the lowest in five years, while online retail has grown by 13.9%, and online clothing by 16.8%.

Could we be seeing an acceleration in the enforced evolution of the high street and in the prominence of digital?

Gender rebalance

Image of Donald Trump Women's March Tweet

Trump. Weinstein. And all the others.

The centenary of the first female enfranchisement has only just passed, companies are publishing the difference in earnings between their male and female staff, and the laundry list of ‘sexual misconduct’ allegations are ending careers left, right, and centre (expect for that of the President of the United States).

The female form is no longer acceptable decoration for products or conference stands, and companies who gratuitously use attractive women to promote their events or services are under fire.

The media and shoppers are increasingly sensitive to gender (and other) inequality, and any perception of female objectification, chauvinism, or misogyny is met with swift commercial reprisals.

Progress for the push toward gender equality has been gradual for hundreds of years, now it is very rapid. The climate has changed and any business that doesn’t recognise that could be badly exposed.

Speaking of the climate …

Plastic — materia non grata

Michael Gove carrying reusable cup

1 in 5 people in the UK watched Blue Planet. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he was ‘haunted’ by the final episode, which showed the impact of plastic waste on the environment.

Gove has also hinted that he will ban plastic straws.

The government’s-25 year environmental plan includes measures to tackle the prevalence of plastic use.

Online retail, according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, is responsible for 100,000 tons of unrecycled plastic waste every year.

Retailers will need to brace themselves for a lot of scrutiny, and perhaps some PR threats, on the question of plastic, waste, and the environment. As with gender inequality, progress has been slow and now it is accelerating – so retailers, who will be in the cross-hairs for reprisals, would be well advised to push this issue up the agenda.

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2. How to optimise

Matthew Henton, Head of eCommerce at Moss Bros, spoke on his experience of optimising an online fashion retail website, and gave his tips.

1. Fix the broken stuff

The simplest way to begin optimising is not through complex A/B testing, but looking and finding small stuff that needs addressing.

Image of panel session at IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018

Start with pages that suffer from high exit or bounce rates. Those metrics are telling you that something is wrong. Examine the user experience and test the site journeys and behaviours of your visitors.

It can be a very simple process. It can even be guerrilla — buy someone a coffee in exchange for their navigating your website. You’ll soon see where an ordinary user gets frustrated, distracted, or put-off.

2. Make it faster

Speed is crucial in a mobile commerce experience. 40% of shoppers abandon a mobile webpage that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Don’t drive customers away before they’ve even arrived.

Moss Bros (and others) are using a progressive web app to make the mobile experience faster.

3. Make your testing programme rigorous

Test conversion rate optimisation, cost-per-acquisition, returns rate, and more. And for the most useful and effective tests, use hypothesis testing, which follows the structure:

Image of networking at IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018

Because we saw …

We expect that …

Which we will measure using …

4. Use your most precious commodity (traffic) wisely

Traffic is a limited resource, so don’t waste it on settling an argument between your buying director and commercial director over the colour of a button.

Choose to test what really matters with the web traffic that you get.

5. Stop copying

One boy copying another's work

“Stop copying your competitors. They probably don’t know what the @#!♪ they’re doing either.”


The assumption that other retailers are doing everything right, even if there appears to be consensus, is not an intelligent approach. You must test and discover the right approach to optimisation for you, and the best practices through testing, supported by data.

3. Creating and serving online content

Several panellists in various discussions shared their tips and principles for creating and sharing online content for online fashion shoppers.

On the panel ‘Marketing to Fashion Shoppers’ …

Simon Dring, Head of Client Success at Mention-Me, urged retailers to “be a brand that stands for something”, because customers will share what is relevant and interesting.

Perrine Masset, Regional Director of LiveArea, highlighted the importance of a consistent experience, and a connected integrated message throughout a content programme.

Image of visitors at IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018

Jenny Eddleston, Partner Account Director at Sitecore, shared the example of Primark’s ‘Primania’. The campaign invites shoppers to share their Primark outfits online for a chance to win prizes. The result was a 50% increase in time spent on site.

One panellist did not consider content to be the marketing priority. Matt Grisman, Customer Audience Manager at MandM Direct stated: “Give us ten grand and we’ll spend it on PPC, not content.”

On the panel ‘Fashion Tiers, budget, mid, premium’

Lewis Hamilton, Head of eCommerce and IT at Turnbull & Asser, described the advantages and disadvantages of being an established brand. While there is a “true history to lean on”, with a Royal Warrant, and long association with figures like Winston Churchill and James Bond, the 130-year history is hard to protect online, and any content strategy has to fit that.

Ralph Percival, eCommerce Director at Joules, described a content strategy shift “from chasing fans towards engagement”. More interaction, he explained, is more meaningful for shoppers, and builds a more substantial and lasting relationship with the retailer.

4. Online retail trends and predictions for 2018

Brandon Wilkins, General Manager, Europe at Oracle + Bronto, gave a view of what the data suggests 2018 holds for online retail.

Image of speaker at IMRG Fashion Connect Conference 2018


82% of millennials made a mobile purchase in 2017. They and Generation Z are digital natives, for whom mobile is the primary medium for content and commerce. Normal Nielsen, Head of Content Marketing at Zalando, noted that “the world is moving not mobile-first, but mobile-only”.

Browserless search

Shoppers are increasingly searching without typing in a search bar. Voice search like Siri favours the well-reviewed and physically nearby when serving search results for good or services. As a result, there are searches and contexts in which smaller or less-established companies rank higher in search than larger competitors. Perhaps that will lead to greater investment in offline channels.

Engagement, loyalty, machine learning

Over 70% of retailers plan to invest in machine learning by 2021. Machine learning can help you serve content that shoppers want.

  • You can promote loyalty and trust by proving you know and understand your customer
  • Your product recommendations can be far sharper and more relevant

But content doesn’t need to serve content to sell immediately. Embrace your uniqueness. The content you offer builds your brand, and shoppers’ engagement with your proposition.

5. How to offer a first-class mobile experience

Norman Nielsen, Head of Content Marketing at Zalando, spoke about standing out from the crowd with mobile content.

1. The state of mobile

Soon there will be very little content that isn’t consumed on mobile.

In its ideal form, mobile content is fun, fast, functional.

And it offers unlimited micro-moments. For example, a tablet search for a cocktail dress at the weekend, is very different from that on a phone Thursday morning. The context allows for different interaction. In this case, it’s an opportunity to service content vs an opportunity to sell quickly.

2. AMP and PWA

Next, the virtues of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and Progressive Web Apps (PWA).

AMPs offer fast page loads, are highlighted in search engine result pages, provide fast and easy entry, and enable new types of landing pages

PWAs provide an aggregation of functionality. They can work offline, serve push notifications, and users can add them to a homepage.

3. The future of mobile search

To succeed in search, you must consider the search types.

There’s not only text search, but also picture search and voice search. Ranking highly in any of those requires its own specific and detailed content. And you’ll want to rank highly in all.


Join us at our next conference, Customer Connect, on 14 June 2018. Learn how to stay relevant to shoppers and maintain their loyalty in a crowded and ever-growing market.

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