The rise to prominence of online fashion retailers in recent years is not only meeting consumer demand for quality products and convenient shopping, it is also helping to fuel entrepreneurism in other forms.
Fashion price comparison site Stylecompare.co.uk was launched in 2008, and co-founder of the portal Jonny Challenger told Retail Gazette that his business has learned a lot from the example set by the pure-play retailers such as Asos.com and Net-a-Porter.
“Pure-play retailers have very well organised USPs such as delivery and returns, and they provide customers with a good user experience,” he states.
“We have followed by trying to develop a great user experience on a neatly laid-out site with interesting and relevant content.”
Challenger established Style Compare with two other business partners in 2008 after seeing an opportunity to take advantage of consumers’ growing usage of price comparison websites.
The group has not required any external funding and Challenger is proud that it has never had a bank overdraft, even though the journey it has taken to build up an online network of 46 retailers and 130,000 fashion products has not been simple.
“Lehman Brothers collapsed just weeks after I quit my online marketing job at Next to start up the project, but we have been able to grow the site through a recession - and on a minimal budget too,” he explains.
“We reinvest profits back into the business and that is the way we plan to grow in the future.”
There is no advertising on the site because its founders see this as an unwelcome distraction to users, but instead revenues are generated when its affiliated retailers secure online sales via a click-through from Style Compare.
Style Compare already boasts a host of prominent partners, such as the aforementioned pure-play leading light Asos.com and popular high street brands like Debenhams and Topshop, but more deals are on the horizon.
Challenger reveals that the comparison site will soon have John Lewis, Next and Net-a-Porter, amongst others, on board.
“Next will be appearing on the site sometime soon, bringing 25,000 products with it and helping us increase our product range significantly in the process,” he adds.
Bringing retailers such as Next to the site will allow Style Compare to move closer to its target of doubling the number of products it hosts by the end of the year to 260,000, as well as encouraging more people onto its pages.
“We’re currently getting 175,000 unique users a month and we’re confident of increasing to one million by the end of 2011,” the co-founder says.
Signing up big names to the site could also bring with it high numbers of people who are loyal to established high street brands, although loyalty and price comparison websites do not at first appear to be comfortable bedfellows.
Challenger does not think that the type of business he operates is playing a part in breaking up customer loyalty in the retail sector, though, as shoppers will still have their favourite brands and retailers.
“Loyalty is definitely not a thing of the past, especially in fashion, as you still get avid Next shoppers and All Saints enthusiasts,” he comments.
“These companies still get high brand searches and there are plenty of people who have loyalty cards and credit accounts.”
He also suggests that price comparison may have “changed the landscape slightly” by increasing awareness of offers and deals, but retailers have generated loyalty by improving delivery options and enhancing other services they provide.
Style Compare is hoping to become even more interactive in the months ahead and has plans to offer its users all of the services they look for online, such as news about the latest fashion gossip and applications for mobile and tablet devices.
What it has done is position itself where a huge percentage of shoppers are currently looking for products, and where they plan to be in the foreseeable future.
Challenger said: “Fashion retail is in a healthy state at the moment, but with times being quite hard it won’t see the growth it has experienced over the last few years.
“People are still spending online, but they want to make the most of the budget they have and are now using the internet much more to research before they buy.”
This is, in essence, why Style Compare can be confident of meeting its ambitious growth targets in 2011, and comfortable in the knowledge that it is a business with huge potential.