How do you build a successful and customer-centric e-commerce strategy for your fashion or design brand? We put the question to Jess Christie, Brand Consultant and former Brand and Content Officer during Matchesfashion's heyday. UK-based Christie has more than 20 years of experience in creating innovative marketing strategies in the fashion and lifestyle industry and specialises in connecting physical and digital retail. During our Master Lab on international brand strategies, she was happy to share her six best tips.

Jess Christie © Alex Kolotoukhina

Jess Christie © Alex Kolotoukhina

1. Know your customer

Do you know who your customer is? Often, entrepreneurs spend too little time figuring out who their ideal customer is. It is a misconception to think that everyone is or has the potential to be your customer. No one can be everything to everyone. Ask yourself for whom you can be special. Think about who your customer is, even if your business has been established for some time. Talk to your customers, and think about who you would like as a new customer. Don't just divide your customers by age, country or region. Much more interesting is to think about their attitudes: What do they like? What do they care about? What appeals to them? What are they spending their time and money on? That way, you get to know your customer better. If your customer enjoys not just shopping, but also has a passion for travel and art, you can connect with them in a much more intuitive way. For example, through a collaboration with an artist, or a travel collection.

2. Be clear about your goal

Why does the customer need you? In one or two sentences, tell the customer why you are doing what you are doing. The best stories are often very personal ones: such as a businesswoman with a skin problem who created a care line based on thermal water from her own need and experience. She is her own customer, so understands other (potential) customers very well. Matchesfashion's approach was 'discovery and inspiration'. Matches selected for you the best designers as well as the most special items from well-known brands. Special Gucci pieces you didn't see in the Gucci shop, for example. With the aim of inspiring customers. Matches' customer, by the way, was intelligent, so there was no need to patronise, just surprise and delight.

3. Tell what makes you special

Communicate clearly what is different and special about your brand. This is a must if you want to be a forever brand. Be aware of your competitors, what products are on the market and why you are different. Could your story, tone of voice or marketing also suit another company? If so, it is unlikely to catch on. Push yourself to discover what really makes your business different, and keep questioning yourself. Matchesfashion eventually ceased using the term 'curated', as their competitors had begun to adopt it. Don't make sustainability your main message either. Sustainability is a basic principle, but not the driver of why you do something. You want to create beauty, or inspire people with craftsmanship, and you do it in a sustainable way. 

Jess Christie © Alex Kolotoukhina

Jess Christie © Alex Kolotoukhina

4. Focus on original content and storytelling

Don't think of storytelling as a nice-to-have. After all, good content has a strong commercial impact. Customers look for inspiration and like to build an emotional connection with a brand or specific products. Interesting content and storytelling increase brand loyalty. Encourage your customer to spend more time on your website or Instagram, or even physically in the shop. When devising their e-commerce strategy, companies often spend too much time and money on acquiring new customers, forgetting about their existing ones. By strengthening the loyalty of your existing customers, your sales increase. 

5. Deploy different channels to reach your customers and build a strong brand

What different channels does your company deploy? What do you do in the physical shops? What is your email strategy? Consider each interaction with the customer and the channels you utilise for these engagements. After all, each channel needs a different strategy. One channel is more focused on awareness, the other on conversion. Where do you direct people from Instagram or email? Go through all the steps of the customer journey and set specific goals. One brand that handles this very well is Spanish luxury house Loewe. They focus on the beauty and quality of the craft, know their customer very well and tell a consistent and compelling story across all touchpoints. Young brands often focus on Instagram, but the days when you could easily build a brand on that medium with little budget are sadly long gone.  You have to consistently spend more money on ads to be visible, and the algorithm prefers video. So apart from a pretty big budget, you also need a video strategy right away. Instagram can certainly be a useful platform, but use it in combination with other channels.  Anyway, a strong shift towards moving images is underway. People like to see how a garment or accessory moves, so brands are increasingly adding short videos to their ecommerce. Moreover, the younger generation is highly engaged with moving images; they hardly look at static images anymore. 

6. See your employees as ambassadors

Don't have a silo mentality. When defining your e-commerce strategy, do it cross-functionally and make sure the different business departments are on the same page. It does not matter whether someone in the company has a logistics function or works in accounting: they should be able to say who the customer is and explain the company's vision and purpose. Every employee is a brand ambassador and should manifest this in their conduct. This process takes time, but makes a huge difference. It ensures that everyone puts the customer first, and that's what it's all about.