I’ve been in the swimwear business, selling togs all around the world for a decade. It’s a great job. My company sells wholesale to other mail order beachwear companies and we have retail catalogues and websites in the UK, USA and New Zealand, and independent distributors all over the world. Understanding why and how people buy mail order beachwear is the focus of our success.
Personally, I’ve always been a very picky swimwear buyer. I love well cut togs and insist on good shape on the bottom and shoulders and thoughtful design that works in the water. Plus, for me, fabric is very important. It has to be matte, with a soft hand feel and have a tight spring to the stretch. It has to be a dense weave and last longer than the smell of chlorine. I look for beautiful, vibrant colours and well finished seams.
So there’s my challenge. Assuming that many customers are like me, how do you communicate cut, fit and texture through a website or catalogue, when selling beachwear by mail order?
One thing I learnt within the first couple of years of business, is that when women, in particular find a brand of swimwear they like, they tend to return regularly. People buy fewer swimsuits than items of regular clothing, so they tend to stick with one or two favourite brands.
So my first strategy for success is consistency. When you base your company around returning customers, as we try to do, it is important to keep consistency in quality, fabric and sizing within your brand / brands. One of the great things about selling mail order beachwear is that customers will write and let you know if you’ve got this right! If you’re selling several different brands, explain the differences between styles and provide accurate sizing charts for each. I wouldn’t advise selling a very casual cut surfy brand alongside a smart fitted collection. If you’re selling beachwear by mail order and want returning customers, be consistent.
Secondly, to run a successful mail order beachwear business, returns and exchanges must be fast and efficient, but kept to an absolute minimum. Published product information and images must match the product exactly, and size charts have to be accurate. Prepare your standard size charts for body sizes first, and you can add comments (eg. loose or fitted cut) for individual items. Whilst not necessary for high stretch fabric garments like swimwear, it is useful for non-stretch items, to provide an additional size chart for each products’ actual garment size.
It’s really important to analyse your returns in detail and act on the comments your customers feed back to you. Sizing comments can be averaged out; either the garment is incorrectly sized or your published information is not clear enough. But if comments are more general, like “didn’t like the cut,” don’t be shy to ring the customer and ask for details. Talk to your customers, and share their experiences with future buyers.
The third point I’d like to stress is that you have to know your product inside out. Give detailed information in the catalogue or web page, but don’t overload. If your customers want specific details they will ring or write and, because they can’t pick up the garment and see for themselves, they expect knowledgeable answers to detailed questions. It is vital that the person answering the phone and emails is an expert and can answer questions about colour matching within a range, fabric composition, washing instructions, inner arm measurement, perhaps details on lining and sizing. Keep a list of FAQs and use them to train staff.
Last on the list, but maybe most important, is how you photograph your collection. When I am buying mail order beachwear, I want to see a detailed, product shot of the garment I am buying in high resolution. Plus, I want to see the garment modelled, in a pose that clearly shows how the item sits, length, etc.
Forget the dull studio shots. If you’re selling sun shirts your buyers may be sitting at their desks mid-winter under artificial light dreaming of their approaching holidays, so you want to intrigue them. Fill your images with sun drenched beaches, sand so white hot it prickles their toes, give them photos so clear they can hear the crashing waves and feel the warmth of the hot sun in that lovely dark blue summer sky. Then showcase the beach wear to match the feeling and your business is off to a very good start!