Fashion e-commerce is a business-to-consumer (B2C) segment of e-commerce involved in selling apparel, shoes, and accessories online. By that definition, it isn’t much different from any other online store that sells products.

However, the distinction lies in the nature of the fashion industry, its customers, and the subsequent structure of the websites. If you plan to go into fashion e-commerce as a business, you need to understand its potential and peculiarities.

Key Takeaways

  • The global fashion industry pulled in $1.9 trillion in revenues in 2019
  • While the pandemic led to a steep drop in fashion retail revenues from 2019 to 2020, online fashion retail revenues continued to rise
  • Fashion e-commerce is different from other e-commerce businesses because the focus isn’t on selling a product but selling a lifestyle
  • Websites for fashion e-commerce need to simulate the experience of shopping for clothes in-store as closely as possible
  • Instagram is the leading social media platform for fashion e-commerce brands

How Big Is the Fashion Industry?

Merriam-Webster defines “fashion” as “the prevailing style (as in dress) during a particular time.” By this definition, the term “fashion trend” seems redundant. Still, most people understand that fashion encompasses not only clothes but shoes, bags, and hairstyles.

However, there’s no ambiguity when it comes to the term “fashion industry,” with the words conjuring up visions of runways, supermodels, and designer clothing that most people cannot afford. Everything else is relegated to the category of fashion accessories — anything that complements the trend set by the new styles of clothing.

The global fashion industry is more than a trend, however — it’s big business. The industry brings in more than a trillion dollars in revenue annually. However, it received a severe setback in mid-2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the industry raked in $1.9 trillion, with growth projections of $3 trillion by 2030. However, the State of Fashion 2021 report by McKinsey & Co. projected a 93% drop in profits globally for the fashion industry by the end of 2020 on account of the pandemic.

Actual sales in the United States fashion retail sector, according to Statista, reflect this projection, dropping from $35 billion in December 2019 to just $2.744 billion for April 2020. But all’s not lost, as statistics show, with sales having largely recovered in July 2021, clocking in at $25.8 billion.

Interestingly, fashion e-commerce sales in the U.S. showed no signs of decline. In 2019, online fashion sales reached $87.6 billion, climbing to $91.7 billion in 2020. By 2021, that figure has risen to an estimated $99.1 billion.

How Has E-Commerce Changed the Fashion Industry?

The pandemic has forced an acceleration of the fashion industry’s digital adoption by five years, but it was already headed there anyway.

According to Statista, fashion e-commerce brought in $664.5 billion globally in 2020, making it one of the most significant market segments in B2C e-commerce. So, while e-commerce has carved a place for fashion among the heavy hitters in online retail, the question that bears asking is how has e-commerce impacted the fashion industry.

As with many industries with high digital adoption, fashion e-commerce leveled the playing field for retailers. According to the McKinsey report, digital-first companies such as ASOS, Revolve, Zalando, and FARFETCH UK, outperformed non-e-commerce competitors consistently in 2020, driven by customers turning to online means of shopping. The stock price for fashion e-commerce players grew by 76% between December 2019 to October 2020.

Smaller retailers may benefit from this shift, but only if they understand that fashion e-commerce requires a different mindset to meet customer expectations. Let’s look into that.

How Is Fashion E-Commerce Different?

Shopping for clothes is essentially an in-person experience, but the pandemic forced retailers to turn to online platforms. However, that hasn’t changed how people shop for clothes.

The fashion industry is essentially aspirational. That’s why celebrities often inspire the biggest trends in fashion. As such, fashion e-commerce websites should cater to those aspirations as well.

When someone walks into a clothing store or fashion boutique, they expect to see the latest designs beautifully laid out to get ideas on how good they’ll look in them. A fashion e-commerce site must approximate the same level of presentation of its products as a physical store.

Aside from presentation, online fashion shoppers also expect the experience to be immersive and interactive. The most glaring factor missing in fashion e-commerce is the ability to try on clothes. While augmented reality (AR) technology hasn’t yet produced a viable AR clothing try-on feature for websites, that might not remain so for long.

But the fact is that all that fancy technology will only happen sometime in the future. Until then, fashion e-commerce sellers can make the most of available technology by ensuring that their websites are up to the demands of their customers.

How Should You Structure Your Fashion E-Commerce Website?

The design and structure of your website determines the success of your fashion e-commerce business. Many factors come into play, so let’s dig right in.

E-Commerce Platform

Because of the peculiar requirements of the fashion marketplace, the e-commerce platform you choose needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Integration with social media platforms: Much of fashion e-commerce revenues rely on indirect sales from social media platforms.
  • Robust tech support: Fashion e-commerce websites are often interactive, which means many things can go wrong from the moment a visitor clicks on the first product. You want a platform with reliable tech professionals on hand, ready to fix any issues that may affect your site’s performance.
  • Security and encryption: As with any online store, you want to assure customers that their personal and financial information has adequate protection against cyberattacks. This helps gain their trust, so they keep coming back. Choose a platform that’s both ISO- and PCI-compliant.
  • Analytics capabilities: You want to be able to track the performance of your website and analyze customer behavior, so you can improve your services, optimize your marketing campaigns, and increase revenues. The best e-commerce platforms make generating reports an easy decision
  • Multiple payment options: Nothing drives a customer to abandon a cart faster than not offering a payment option they want. The more payment options you offer, the higher the likelihood the customer completes the transaction and come back in the future.
Simplify Ecommerce Management
Source: BigCommerce


Website design best practices dictate that a website should tell a story to establish the brand’s personality, and fashion e-commerce sites are no different. A simple yet attractive homepage design draws in customers, and easy navigation takes them to where they want to go in just a few clicks. You can build a website on your own, but it’s also a good idea to get a website designer to do it for you.

However, the focus of fashion e-commerce isn’t the site itself but on the presentation of the product. As such, you have to invest quite a bit to make sure your products shine.

Product Page
Source: ASOS

While a single photo is acceptable for each product in the catalog so that one item catches the eye of the online shopper, they should be able to access more images. The quality should be top-notch, showing the product from all angles, preferably with a zoom feature so shoppers can “inspect” the stitching and fabric.

Fashion e-commerce companies cannot afford to post images on a website that screams amateur. First, that shoots down your credibility as an online seller. Second, you won’t sell many products if the customer cannot appreciate them properly.

You need to invest in professional studio and photography services to showcase your products in the best possible light. Your customers cannot physically inspect the products, so high-quality images from multiple angles are the next best thing.


So, you have a great series of images for your stylish and trendy products. Is that enough? No, your customers want to know more about the product before clicking on the buy button. You should include the following content on the product page:

  • Product description, including style, fabric, history, and celebrity inspirations
  • Available colors with palettes
  • Available sizes, including size guides in the different standards, such as the U.S., United Kingdom, and European Union
  • Customer reviews

Accurate sizing guides are particularly important because sizing issues are the most common reasons for returns when selling clothes online, and you want to avoid the costs associated with returns.

Additionally, when you provide relevant and interesting content on your product pages ― preferably SEO-friendly ― you help engage your customers, draw them in, and increase conversion rates.

What Is the Best Way for Marketing Your E-Commerce Fashion Business?

The quick answer to this is social media. Social media platforms are specifically about promoting lifestyles, which is essentially the backbone of fashion. Among these is Instagram, a very successful marketing platform for fashion brands because it’s a visual medium. It’s all about the images, and the fashion industry is all about presentation.

Other social media platforms are also useful in raising brand awareness and driving traffic to your site, especially when you’re new to the business. In many cases, you need to have a multipronged approach to social media marketing, with much of your campaign focusing on paid ads. You also need to invest in SEO tools and strategies for your website and social media pages, as well as launching email campaigns.

All-in-one SEO toolset
Source: Ahrefs

What Should You Do Next?

If you have a penchant for fashion or simply want to ride the potential rocket ship of fashion e-commerce, now is the time to do so. With the economy recovering and people eager to mix and mingle, the purchase of online apparel and fashion accessories is sure to pick up once again.

Fortunately, breaking into the fashion industry has become much easier with the rise of fashion e-commerce. You no longer need to be a recognized brand to pull your weight in generating revenue for the industry. However, you need to understand the peculiarities of selling fashion online to ensure that you have the fashion sense and sensibility to pull it off.

Related Software and Services