With Forever21 filing for bankruptcy protection and planning to close 350 stores globally, the future doesn’t look promising for the once-dominant US clothing brand.
But, things weren’t always this way. Back in 2015, Forever21 hit a sales high of $4.4 billion, and the company began planning to double their sales to an astonishing $8 billion in 2 years by opening 600 stores in 3 years.
With such an aggressive expansion plan being implemented, Forever21 appeared to be focusing much of their attention on physical stores, instead of their digital store. And as their efforts centred on a bricks and mortar expansion plan, the digital world crept up behind them.
“The most important store is our .com store” – Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted
The ecommerce movement
Forever21 failed to consider the rate in which ecommerce has been dominating retail over the past 5 years. And with their throw-away fashion niche requiring constant website updates and testing to ensure quality, the brand began falling behind digitally.
With 71% of shoppers believing they can get the best deals online and with the clothing, shoes, and accessories industry being the second-highest performer for online sales, ecommerce took over the retail industry quicker than business leaders could predict.
For ecommerce managers and digital directors, this isn’t novel news and already many internal teams are dedicated to taking on the movement with regular updates and new functionalities, which give users what they want when they want it.
This is how UK-based fashion retailer Boohoo achieved a 34% revenue jump this year, hitting above the £280 million mark. Boohoo began implementing different user-focused tools that hit their demographic audience exactly where they wanted, and quickly a loyal user base formed.
Comparing Forever21 against Boohoo shows a clear division between the way in which ecommerce is addressed in the retail industry. And gives a clearer explanation as to why the $1 billion net worth giant Forever21 has an uncertain future.
We all know that social media influencers are the leading force in brand representation. In fact, 46% of online customers rely on social media and influencers during the decision making process.
Boohoo utilises this through their influencer dedicated Inspire Me section, which provides users with links to their Instagram feed, popular trends, and influencer-sourced campaigns. Users can easily access the Inspire Me section through the top navigation bar, which is simple and has a clear user-journey to follow.
Forever21 on the other hand, has a Blogger Favs section kept under the top navigation ‘Womens‘ tab. But the customer journey is less user-friendly as the link simply takes visitors onto another listed product page, instead of providing them with influencer-based content.
Taking inspiration from sites like Beauty Bay, users are searching for a more content-enriched experience, and by platforming product knowledge, influencer content and style inspiration sections, higher conversion rates are seen as user expectations are met. Forever21 needs to begin implementing a strong content-based journey to educate users and bridge the gap between a site that is solely transactional and a site that is relatable and reliable.
Can you see me?
One of the core pillars which builds up a successful and user-focused website is including imagery which is easy to see, accessible and high quality. This is where Forever21 severely lacks. Using visual content sourced from the website during September 2019, Forever21 is consistently using imagery which is hard to see, low quality and in-accessible.
This example was taken from the Forever21 homepage and features white text on a gradient light orange to white background. Users cannot read the text easily and it reduces the overall quality of the site because of its unfriendly user experience. Additionally, I only noticed that this image had a CTA after revisiting it a few times. This is because of low contrast levels and no black CTA boarder. This example begs the question, does Forever21 actually understand how to create and implement readable and clickable imagery that is user-friendly?
In this example on the primary Outlet page, the text is not accessible and therefore not legally compliant with the WCAG 2.1 requirements. The background to foreground colour ratio is only 1.39 and the contrast fails all WCAG requirements.
This image is especially difficult to see for people with colour deficiency or any other visual ailments. Again, Forever21 hasn’t considered the usability aspect of their visual website imagery and it is subsequently damaging their brand as they fail to comply with basic website rules.
Boohoo on the other hand, use high contrast, quality imagery, which features black-bordered CTA’s and large text. This attention to detail ensures that all text and CTA’s are readable, regardless of busy backgrounds and highlights how important usability is on their site.
In this video example, the layout, contrast, and quality of the imagery on product pages are all below average. For users in the decision process, low quality, unclear images will prevent them from buying any product.
In these three examples, Forever21 is building themselves up to be a below-average brand, with subpar website usability which reduces revenue and conversions. All of the examples provided are either conversion bugs (CX) or usability bugs (UX) and deter users from performing conversions as the quality of the website is questioned. This questioning also affects the overall level of security on the site presents, as users debate handing out their sensitive data to a site which cannot supply quality imagery.
Forever21 isn’t taking into account their digital experience and users will turn away as they are not catered for and the site fails to deliver customer-focused experiences.
Not in stock
As an ecommerce site, you want to perform as many transactions as possible and using outfit examples is a feature which Forever21 has included in their site which could be a major conversion booster. But, it seems that there is no bite behind Forever21’s bark, as their Shop the ‘Gram section features customers wearing Forever21 outfits along with where to buy the products on show. However, only 2 of the 10 outfits shown are actually in stock with relevant pictures.
Evidently, Forever21 has not updated this feature and is allowing out of stock products to be advertised, taking valuable screen space away from other trending products. We could place the blame on Forever21’s fast-fashion business model, but if the company wants to last the next 5 years then they need to stay on top of changing trends through frequent site updates. Fast fashion competitors such as ROMWE and SHEIN all manage to do this and are lapping at the feet of Forever21’s US retail empire.
The end is coming
Just focusing on the content and visual aspects of Forever21’s site and as users, the overwhelming feeling is that the brand isn’t taking into account their audience nor the importance of website testing on a transactional site. Usability and functional testing would quickly pick up all of the examples shown, while regression testing would ensure that any updates added to the site are quality tested. This is something automated testing cannot do.
Testing a transactional website automatically increases conversions and revenue as user-focused journeys are perfected and a natural, intuitive and user-friendly experience is implemented.
The examples included through in this article would not be picked up by automated testing, as human-interaction with the site is required to identify contrast and content issues.
Comparing Forever21 against Boohoo and we can see how ecommerce sites should cater to their audience and the financial benefit of user-focused development. Boohoo will survive the next few years in the ecommerce world, but it’s uncertain whether Forever21 will see then end of 2020.