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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

30 March 2015

Fashion Buying Goes Online: New Digital Tools & How-to Tips

Contributor Ayla Angelos

Raven + lily necklace

Find out why it's time to re-think your seasonal buying trips and how new online tools can help you discover exciting brands and source products to stock in your shop, more efficiently than ever before. Image: Raven + Lily

Trade shows, market appointments and handwritten orders; these are some of the traditional processes of buying and selling fashion products that are being swiftly disrupted by the digital world.

As the pen and paper may become an essence of the past, this simply means that it’s fashion’s time to innovate and embrace technology. Tech companies like B2B wholesale market place Joor and online trade showcases like the SOURCE Brand Preview are proving that buyers can discover and place orders without even leaving their desks.

What’s changed?

Turn the pages onto the virtual world of buying and selling. A lot has changed in the realm of e-commerce. Mass communication and recent technology advances have given consumers greater access to information. For example, consumers can access the latest trends and styles on a one-click demand system – they can do this 24/7 and on-the-go. But most significantly, these advances have meant that consumers want and expect this information immediately…and they want a lot more of it too.

What does this mean for the business of buying and selling fashion products?

Big Internet companies like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba have been changing the way B2C and B2B commerce is being done. Fashion e-tailers like ASOS, Net-a-Porter and FarFetch are now amongst some of the most successful fashion companies in the world and are transacting entirely online.

The convergence of social networking and analytics with mobile devices and enterprise cloud is driving new trends in business-to-business e-commerce too, but it seems that the majority of fashion buying processes still happen in more traditional ways: in person and on paper. In order to think ahead of the curve fashion, buyers and businesses will need to evolve their buying and sourcing habits.

SOURCE spoke to Larry Chao, the Vice President of Marketing at Balluun, which is bringing cloud-to-mobile solutions to the traditional trade show and wholesale business experience.

Mr Chao explained how e-commerce and consumer expectations are unbalanced: “e-commerce is already a huge industry, and many people are surprised to know that business-to-business e-commerce is a trillion dollar industry that exceeds business-to-consumer e-commerce like Amazon. As more and more companies embrace technology, this trend will only continue to grow. Where business-to-business e-commerce can still improve is in delivering a quality user experience which parallels what consumers expect.”

However, companies like Balluun are beginning to disrupt the industry. Our own SOURCE platform is another example, these companies are putting the networking and sales process online so that retailers, buyers and brands can connect in a more modern and efficient way.

Why is it time to innovate?

For some, technology is a vital means of communication and it can help a business to expand globally. Cory Sargeant, PR Representative at the socially-conscious brand Raven + Lily, explained how they have utilised technology to achieve great success: “Technology makes our entire business possible… As a company we try to look for new methods of communication, not only with how we communicate but also with how we run our business. To make a global impact, we have to manage our business well and that takes technology.”

As well as being an effective form of communication, technology can also empower business by removing any former geographical constraints. “Technology can enable buyers and brands to conduct business 24/7/365 at any time, from anywhere. It helps to erase geographic and other borders, and drives multiple benefits for them in terms of reaching more channels and partners,” Mr Chao tells us.

Limitations of online wholesaling and how to overcome them

The obvious challenge to wholesaling and sourcing products online is that you can’t physically see and touch the product. But, as Cory from Raven + Lily explained: “We try to overcome this barrier by providing our customers with detailed photography of our pieces – both up-close product shots and stylised shots of women wearing or using our products. This can help make the piece come to life over the screen.”

“Technology opens up our market and gives so many people access to our designs. The downside to that is not being able to see the pieces in person. Our products are all handcrafted and in person that quality comes across in a different way. We have to try to overcome this by providing our online customers with pictures and angles of our products that show it off and give them a good impression of what they are buying,” said Cory.

Michelle, founder of her own UK-made jewellery label Michelle Lowe-Holder, gave her insight on the matter: “Internet sales are 6% of overall global sales – customers still want to have a luxury cared-for experience.” By intertwining the old with the new, technology can effectively help to expand business and sales.

Quick tips for success

For brands, the key selling your products online is to invest in high-quality, high-res photography, both lifestyle and product shots are helpful. This means your prospective buyers can see how your products look both in real life situations and in detail. The better quality the photo, the better idea your customer will have about the quality of your product. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes, what would make their job easiest? Imagery that means they can see the quality, texture, colour, fit as best as possible. And easy, timely shipping and returns.

For retail buyers who want to discover new brands via the web and might consider sourcing products online, this can be a good way to try out new exciting products and to begin to build relationships with brands from all over the world – you may not have ever otherwise been able to find. Why spend thousands of dollars on travel when you can scout out new brands right from your desk? Think of what you could do with that extra budget. And save your carbon footprint too.

And if sourcing entirely online through tools like Joor, Balluun or our SOURCE trade showcase events, these digital platforms will complement your existing way of working by helping you stay on top of the latest industry trends, introducing you to new brands from across the globe in real-time and able to you to top-up your stock any time of the season.

Is it the end of the traditional?

“Traditional methods of fashion buying are still very important. Our goal at Balluun is to enhance the showroom experience and to extend it before and after an event with cloud-to-mobile technologies,” said Larry. In this case, Balluun applies technology as an extension of the traditional; technology can be used effectively as an advantageous strategy to expand user experience and to leave a lasting effect from showrooms and events.

By taking traditional aspects and combining them with technology innovation, perhaps that is how businesses can effectively utilise technology and make the transition to fashion buying online.


Barnes, L., Lea-Greenwood, G. (2006), Fast Fashion, Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal. [Online] Vol. 10 (No.3), pp.255-316. Available from: www.emeraldinsight.com/1361-2026.htm [Assessed 23:02:15].
Chao, L., (11/02/15). Email Interview
Lowe-Holder, M., (23/02/15). Email Interview
Sargeant, C., (20/02/15). Email Interview

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