What Fashion Brands Need to Thrive in a Digital Landscape
Mindarc is an award-winning ecommerce and technology company specializing in web development, digital marketing, and telecommunications. Founded in 2010, Sydney-based Mindarc has worked with some of the leading companies on Shopify in the lifestyle, apparel, beverage, and B2B spaces.
I sat down with Matthew Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Mindarc, to discuss launching a Shopify agency, the differences between in-person and online shopping, and what fashion brands need to succeed.
What inspired you and your co-founder, Sean, to start an ecommerce agency? What opportunities did they see no one else had taken yet?
I studied engineering at UTS before changing to an accounting degree and worked at a boutique accounting firm for a few years to hone my craft and see where it would take me, but I realized it wasn’t the space I wanted to stay in. I ended up working for a company that specialized in online marketing and newsletters for corporate organizations in Sydney as an account manager. That role exposed me to everything the corporate world was doing from a digital perspective and helped me understand what SaaS companies do more in-depth. The experience was interesting because it required a unique skill set compared to what I had studied, but it made me want to explore web technology further.
My business partner’s journey was different. Sean earned a Design Computing degree, so he had technical and creative skills that helped him start his career in a business analyst role. He also felt he wanted to do something different, so we both left our jobs and took a chance on our actual goals. We didn’t know each other well at the time (around the late 2000s), but we crossed paths through a mutual friend and decided to share a coworking space. This shared office was the beginning of Mindarc: we were both freelancers who realized we needed help with the projects we were taking on, so it was natural for us to collaborate.
One of the first projects we worked on jointly was a client named Showpony. It was a quickly-growing fast fashion startup that made us interested in diving deeper into the apparel space and broader ecommerce industry. Sean and I helped build their first website on Magento, which required us to quickly learn how to launch a brand on such an immense platform. This project steered us in the direction we wanted to take our new business: optimizing technology stacks and other ecommerce aspects that aren’t as “sexy,” such as security and website performance.
Other brands soon came to us that wanted to do the same thing. We inadvertently became apparel specialists despite our initial lack of experience in the fashion realm.
That’s fascinating. In the beginning, were you primarily working with Magento before moving to Shopify?
We did specialize in Magento for several years. It felt logical because Magento occupied almost 50% market share when we started. Lots of changes happened along the way — such as the release of Magento 2 and Adobe acquiring the platform — that made us want to explore other technologies. It was exciting to learn that some platforms were deliberately searching for agencies to partner with, especially Shopify Plus (not to mention in our region). We decided to test the waters, but we completely changed our direction and committed to giving our customers their best chances for success on Shopify Plus within twelve months.
MindArc serves clients in various industries, but you service some world-renowned fashion brands such as Sheike, Billini, Shona Joy, and Lincraft. In your personal experience, how have you seen fashion eCommerce grow and change over the past ten years?
I’ve noticed a trend toward the omnichannel approach. This concept entails optimizing customer service through every channel a merchant uses. It wasn’t always accessible for every business because some use fewer channels than others, but it’s evolved and become more practical in recent years. Several well-established fashion houses and brick-and-mortar retailers have come to us asking how to improve their online presences, which made Sean and I realize that we didn’t need to work strictly with purely digital brands — there are lots of opportunities to help merchants of all kinds understand how they can best serve their customers across every channel available to them. Now, much of our work involves enabling omnichannel operations and integrating relevant technologies, such as click-and-collect, endless aisle, and a 360 customer experiences across all touchpoints.
In addition, there’s always the push to do things faster. How can brands make their websites load faster? How can they feasibly offer three-hour delivery? What can brands do to optimize their customer experiences for mobile? Buy now, pay later models have also been a tremendous shift worldwide, with companies like Afterpay and ZipPay dominating payments.
What’s the most significant mistake you see fashion brands making when trying to transition online/optimize their digital presence without help?
Budget is definitely one of our clients’ primary challenges. Many merchants are unsure how much to invest into their digital resources compared to their physical channels. However, I think much of this issue is resolving itself in the aftermath of COVID. No merchant underestimates the importance of being online anymore.
We try to emphasize to our clients that they need to put someone with the right skillset and experience in charge of their digital channels. Far too often, apparel companies will put an individual without a technology background in an ecommerce role, and this usually leads to a big learning curve early on. This person may still have valuable experience to offer, but they don’t understand the technologies they need to use or the nuances of an outstanding user experience on those technologies. This misplacement hinders the company’s online progress. I believe merchants need to shift their mindset from thinking online apparel is strictly a fashion retail function when it’s also a technology function. Having people on your team with the right tech angle is essential.
That’s an excellent point. Regarding user experiences, how does MindArc help its fashion clients compensate for shopping experiences unique to in-person retail (e.g., feeling fabrics, trying on outfits) in a digital landscape?
It’s impossible to recreate the hands-on experience digitally, so you have to do things that help the customer feel comfortable enough to purchase. The primary advantage of physical shopping is the ability to touch, feel, and try on clothing, so we try to provide something of equal value with the online experience. If you know the customer is looking to buy a product that they always need to feel before they buy, then your digital strategy may never be about initial acquisition — it’s to get them in-store to experience the product, convert them into a customer so they know what to expect from your brand, and then get them to buy online every time after.
As for what the digital experience entails, we help merchants give consumers access to information they don’t have in-store. Such information includes product specifications, how it’s made, what the materials are, why the fabrics were chosen, and zoom-ins of different features. Online shopping also enables consumers to find what they’re looking for faster thanks to search and filters. Products are arranged on shelves and racks in-store, so it’s still organized in such a way that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, but online makes it almost immediate. Online shopping allows for greater personalization based on consumers’ interests and behaviors, so we help our clients take their brand experiences to the next level and synergize digital with in-store experiences.
That’s great to hear. I shop online now more than ever and find myself looking at the list of materials and reviews, which I never do in-store.
What do fashion brands need most to thrive in a digital landscape?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and you can implement best practices, but it comes down to understanding your customer. Brands need to grasp that being online is expected, not a bonus. It’s also important not to underestimate the value of familiarity. We see countless brands trying to create and promote unique online experiences when consumers really want something they don’t have to figure out every time they shop.
Fashion companies should also remember to tie their user experiences to their brand strategies. Some brands don’t want to be commercial because they want their products to be aspirational, meaning their products are things consumers hope to buy one day. These brands are content selling only a few pieces per month because they’re $2,000-$3,000. However, casual fashion companies should focus on increasing cart sizes. These two types of business models require different approaches to web design.
That’s an interesting point. It makes me think of Zara’s website and how difficult it is to shop there, whereas Revolve is seamless.
What are the most important technology tools for success fashion brands overlook most often or don’t realize the importance of?
Many companies employ good technology, but they don’t understand what they have at their disposal. They don’t know how to use the features they’re paying for and end up expanding their arsenals unnecessarily. For example, countless platforms provide in-depth analytics, but many of our clients don’t look at them or know what to look for. They focus on top-level data and neglect the rest that could influence their designs and other decision-making.
We encourage our customers to pay attention to those details. Brands often have difficulty interpreting data from platforms like Google Analytics because it’s not the most exciting thing to look at, but having a team member or third party who can understand it and make actionable decisions is something businesses should be investing in.
That’s definitely important. My last question for you is, how does MindArc’s holistic approach between MindArc Communications, Digital, and Marketing better identify what its clients need and find solutions to their problems?
We have three pillars because we want to cover the entire experience an omnichannel retailer could have customers come through. Digital is our bread and butter — we develop technology for facilitating ecommerce shopping experiences. The marketing side maximizes our clients’ visibility, and Mindarc Communications organizes communications infrastructure and marries clients’ digital and in-store resources. Brands’ onsite experiences need to integrate seamlessly with warehouse management, point of sale systems, and order tracking. Our vision is to help merchants across the board, not just their digital aspects.