Since its inception in 2000, the English e-tailer ASOS (which stands for 'As Seen On Screen') has managed to have a sport a business strategy as vogue as the apparel they sell.
With a laser focus on attracting trendy, young women at a time when people weren't really buying anything online, they have always had a keen eye on the future. Yet, 18 years later, ASOS is a dominant force in an ever more crowded industry. In that time, it has managed to amass a catalogue of over 80,000 branded and own-branded products and in 2017, brought in £1.9 billion in revenue - an astounding 145% increase in pre-tax profits.
So how has an English e-tailor managed all this without even cracking the American market or rapidly expanding their demographic base at a time when almost every other retailer, online or otherwise, is feeling the crunch from giants like Amazon?
Like other early adopters of online retailing like Amazon and eBay, there were inherent risks involved in simply joining the digital market. They also opted to operate purely through a website catalogue. This was controversial due to female shopper's penchant for trying on clothes before they buy.
However, they continued to observe the trends of young women and made a game-changing decision in 2010. 'About 10 years ago we realised that lots of customers wanted to communicate with brands via social media,' says Mr Nick Beighton, chief executive of ASOS. 'So we built that into our proposition.'
This coincided with their decision to go mobile at a time before 'going mobile' was really a term. 'We had very little mobile traffic then and conversion rates were poor but we knew it would be a great way for customers to interact with our business, so we built mobile,' Mr Beighton continued.
This is a common theme with ASOS. As opposed to a fixed strategy like many other fashion retailers, ASOS instead absorbed the ethereal nature of fashion into their business strategy. By focusing on one demographic (young, fashionable women), everything from their stock to the platforms they sold on was determined by current trends.
This allowed them to effectively tailor changes and improvements to exactly what they thought their customers would appreciate. 'We make most of our leaps by observing customer behavior, and seeing where they are going,' Beighton said. 'We then pivot accordingly.'
A focus on trends
Unlike a lot of other apparel retailers, ASOS did not try to dictate what was fashionable to its customers. Instead, they took an approach that mirrored their demographic's interests. ASOS creators, Quentin Griffith and Nick Roberston, essentially created a celebrity fashion magazine that allowed you to buy the clothes inside.
Our obsession with celebrity culture has existed since Moses, so making it the initial focus of the company was a stroke of genius. Word of mouth spread rapidly and in its first year of business, they won the Trendsetter Award from the Sunday Times.
They carried on steering into a 'women-first' marketing strategy, with a massive emphasis on diversity. After a while, they moved on from the red carpet to encompass all forms of women's fashion, from evening wear to maternity, for all shapes and sizes.
ASOS takes this adherence to trends very seriously. They ensure that 41% of their current offerings are never older than 3 months old and it is estimated that they receive somewhere between 2,500-7,000 new products per week. They are often the ones to break a new trend as they meticulously time releases. They don't release isolated pieces but full stories in one swoop.
Create a culture
This utter dedication to trends is reflected both in their very high-quality ASOS Brand Magazine and their commitment to their social media influencers.
The ASOS brand magazine is one of their most valuable assets. It has almost 500,000 readers and 820,000 online subscribers, and is filled with an impressive lineup of editorial content. However, the most impressive thing about the magazine is, unlike your average PDF downloaded magazine, the ASOS Magazine is clickable. This means you can shop straight from any page featuring clothing items.
As for their influencers, the rise of social media opened the door for a new kind of celebrity, and ASOS realized this quicker than most. Aside from the 6.5 million Instagram followers ASOS has, they also have the influencer led 'ASOS Insiders Community'.
Instead of simply concocting broad, one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns, they instead focused on promoting their influencers. Each has a very distinct personal style, but all would be considered fashionable in their own right.
Through clever promotions such as the OOTDs (Outfit Of The Day), these influencers each carved out dedicated followers for themselves while remaining inextricably linked to ASOS. They managed to combine the personal nature of following someone who reflected your style, with practical and non-invasive marketing techniques. A perfect example of this is how every item featured in an OOTDs is easily purchasable through the influencer's social media platform.
This is another aspect of the business for which ASOS used the observations of their demographic as guidance. ASOS isn't the cheapest retailer online, instead, it has a range of prices architected around customer habits.
One of their main focuses is one-off, stand-out brand products. These tend to be quite expensive in comparison to their main competitors like Boohoo or Zara. This means, while you might be able to find a cheaper product on other sites, you are more likely to find something relatively unique on ASOS. This is because 5% of their branded stock is marketed as exclusive.
However, they also make sure to stock core apparel items like strapless bras, flats, converses, and standard colored jeans at a cheaper price. These are items which can be combined with trendier pieces to create a more diverse look.
When they do discount items, they do it differently. Instead of sprinkling discounts throughout the site and bloating the main collection, they have created an outlet section of the online store. This digital outlet is updated daily and stocks thousands of items, many at a discount of up to 70%.
With robotic delivery and augmented reality all on the docket and new markets to conquer, ASOS's future looks as optimistic as their present. If they continue to nail their trend-focused marketing strategy, the only way is up.