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Is ASOS the Amazon of online fashion retailing?

Chris Field
Chris Field

Retailers hate having to peg their ambitions to a larger, braver competitor that keeps on doing outrageous things that force us all to redefine retailing. But that’s what life is like for many who live with the simple fact of Amazon. Who cares if drone deliveries, POS-free retail and push-button ordering never take off. Got you worried, right?

And now here is another Amazon, but doing things very differently. ASOS’ 2016 Christmas sales went up by a whopping 36%, and international sales went up by 52%,. This pretty much dwarfed interest in plenty of larger retailers who also had a good Christmas. Does anyone know why? Here’s what we do know.

ASOS is able to provide the same quality of service to its customers in every territory in which it trades. So, customers in Australia get the same page loads, site availability and browsing and checkout experience as customers in its UK home territory. Why does this matter? Because no customers want to be treated as second class citizens just because they are shopping with a ‘foreign’ brand. Global brand building is about consistency.

Secondly, ASOS can scale in ways that retailers ten times their size cannot. This matters already, as we know from all the brands whose sites crashed during the 2016 Black Friday peak. By the way, have any of those retailers fixed their peak problems yet? No. That’s because it’s not cheap or easy to do.

This is not just about buying more servers, but about investing in all the areas that enable hyperscale commerce. Not to get too techy, but if you consider the sheer weight of processing needed to manage transactions, it is clear that many ecommerce platforms are not up to it – even the biggest and best-known.

The vendors delivering these solutions are few and far between, and the incumbents claim to be able to deliver,, but can’t. One business owner we know describes the big ecommerce platform vendors’ solutions as something that comes out of the back end of a horse. They do not have scale, and also force retailers to adopt user experiences that look the same as their competitors.

New vendors are all cloud-first, principally because retailers need agility, and creaky in-house systems or inflexible third-party server contracts don’t deliver.

The bottom line is, ASOS has a platform that can support its incredibly ambitious growth plans. Other retailers will need to have a rethink, ideally before the next big spike. And considering that, over Christmas, most of the growth retailers got came from online, who’d be daft enough to miss the next opportunity?

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