Canadian designers hoping to boost business with online offers
A model walks the runway in the Sid Neigum show during Toronto Fashion Week in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. (Mark Blinch / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Lauren La Rose, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Monday, March 17, 2014 10:15AM EDT
TORONTO -- Sid Neigum's creations are carried in shopping hotspots at home and abroad, and he's now hoping that online sales will translate into a boost for both brand awareness and the bottom line.
The Alberta-born, Toronto-based designer is one of several homegrown talents being showcased this month on Gilt, a U.S.-based online shopping website that ships to more than 180 countries.
"It just opens you up to the entire world versus just one town or one city," said Neigum, a native of Drayton Valley, Alta., whose designs are sold in Toronto, Montreal, New York, Los Angeles, Seoul and Hong Kong.
"It opens you up to an entire new market of consumers that I hadn't had before, and it's just a great promotional platform, too."
Like Neigum, Chloe and Parris Gordon aren't relying solely on their runway presentation at Toronto's World MasterCard Fashion Week to reach potential customers.
The sibling design duo behind womenswear and accessory brand Beaufille have an online shop on their label's site, but see the partnership with Gilt as an opportunity for more widespread exposure.
"We're sitting next to designers that we'd love to sit next to in a boutique setting," said Parris of the site, which features such notable names as Diane von Furstenburg, Narciso Rodriguez and Kate Spade. "So for us as designers being new and Canadian, it's a huge platform, and I think we're really excited to be a part of it."
A Statistics Canada report released last October found the value of online orders placed by Canadians reached $18.9 billion in 2012 -- a 24 per cent increase from 2010. Among online shoppers, 42 per cent purchased clothing, jewelery or accessories. U.S.-based Forrester Research expects online retail sales in Canada to reach $34 billion in 2018 -- representing 10 per cent of all total retail transactions in the country.
As bricks-and-mortar stores carve out a digital presence with e-commerce sites, a growing slate of Canadian online retailers are also vying for consumer dollars with curated collections of designer goods and added incentives aimed at appealing to homegrown shoppers.
Designer footwear site The September touts its duty-free offerings as well as free shipping and returns to Canadian customers, while eLUXE offers complimentary styling services and features homegrown labels like Smythe in addition to international brands. Luxury retailer SSENSE used an inventive approach to bring awareness and sales to the site a few years ago by styling the looks in a music video that consumers could click on and buy as they watched the clip.
"E-commerce in general continues to grow, but what we bring -- and what some sites similar to us bring -- is excitement every day, it's inspiration," said Marshall Porter, senior vice-president and general manager of international and business development for Gilt.
"It's not just about finding a pair of black pants; it's going to Gilt and seeing what inspired our curators and merchandising teams and hoping that it inspires our members as well."
For designers looking to further bolster their brands through online sales, establishing an e-commerce platform is just the beginning with several other key elements needed to drive the momentum.
"You need to find the right programmer, you need to work on the design... and also you need to do the constant work of promoting and inviting the people to go to your page -- so it's a big challenge," said French-born designer Cecile Raizonville of Matiere Noire, whose Montreal-based label launched its online boutique last September.
While e-commerce is a "different way of selling," it's one that has its advantages, like distinguishing which items are featured online versus those carried in real boutiques, she noted.
"It's the opportunity to show all of our pieces so you can get feedback from the people, but mainly, you can divide the types of products that you sell and control the price point."
Having an online sales presence will be of little benefit to designers without driving traffic to their respective sites, noted Steve Tissenbaum, adjunct professor with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. While some may be able to create email distribution lists and spread the message through word of mouth and social media, "the challenge is getting the critical mass of people who will attend."
"If you're a small designer in Canada and you are noticed, then what's the story you're telling? And are other people going to listen so that the site becomes popular for those designers?" said Tissenbaum.
"I don't doubt that it will happen. I just think it's highly unlikely that it's going to happen in a big way," he added. "It's a difficult market. There are so many people who are starting companies. So many designers, so many singers.. small retailers -- and then you have the large retailers to contend with."
Another factor is attempting to shift consumer behaviour to entice them to try something new or unknown. Tissenbaum described the 80-20 rule, noting that on average, 20 per cent of the brands a consumer buys generates 80 per cent of their wardrobe.
"If you buy into that, then how likely are you to start to adopt a brand of which you're not familiar with because it was carried by a particular distribution channel?"
Still, Tissenbaum believes the appetite for change and impulse purchases like those typically seen in traditional retail settings can translate to online.
"If I'm in Winners, and I find one of these brands... yeah, maybe I would buy it... because it's something I really like and it's an unknown brand, but it looks really good," he said.
"First of all, I have to be going to Winners. The same with these websites. You have to be somebody who goes there. And second of all, you have to be someone who's willing to buy something that you normally wouldn't buy.
"I'm not saying that it's not going to work -- but it's a long process."