Asos makes capturing 20-somethings’ spend by the bucketload look easy, with each quarter bigger and better than the one before.
In fact, aside from a spate of profit warnings in 2014, in recent years it has been a fixture at the top of the pile, keeping pace with the market it created at the dawn of the millennium.
But in order for the sales to keep flooding in, Asos needs to make sure it can recruit new customers as they graduate from pocket-money spending to first pay cheque blow-out and beyond.
“How do we position our brand and experience to continue to be relevant for all 20-somethings for a long time,” boss Nick Beighton said at its last update. “That is where our focus is.”
So, how does Asos stay relevant as its customers grow up?
Pace and agility
Beighton has spoken about “velocity of change” being “the absolute panacea”, and the etailer’s approach to technology plays into that.
The etailer keeps tabs on the tech upgrades it performs, seeing it as a way of measuring success as the various releases combine to transform, inch by inch, the customer’s experience.
This marks it out in the fashion sector, in which many big players are struggling to cope with the pace of change.
“Around 5,000 new items go live on its site every week – the equiavelent of an Oxford Street shop”
For example, retail heavyweight H&M recently admitted that it had made mistakes when attempting to adjust to the digitalisation of fashion retail and revealed itself to be woefully slow to adopt new technologies such as AI.
By contrast, Asos has kept its foot on the gas, pushing industry expectations on how fast retailers can be expected to innovate.
In the first four months of 2017/18, it released around 700 tech updates, up from 1,200 during 2016/17. Four years previously, tech releases over the year numbered less than 100. This uptick speaks to a relentless approach to innovation.
Asos operates at this pace across the board: around 5,000 new items go live on its site every week – the equivalent of an Oxford Street shop.
Asos’ approach to technology and marketing is dictated by its internal culture, which adopts an agile ‘fail fast’ Silicon Valley style .
Its approach to beauty is an example – Asos relaunched the category when it did not work at first. That is very different from many businesses which press ahead with failing strategies because of the time and money invested in them.
It also encourages the crowdsourcing of new ideas, whether it’s the bridal range initially decried by its top team but pushed through by more junior staff, or interns presenting to the board on how to represent its visual search technology to customers.
“The business recently launched an Asos inTouch forum designed to ‘capture [the] creative, brave ideas’ of its ‘Asos-ers’”
The business recently launched an Asos inTouch forum designed to “capture [the] creative, brave ideas” of its ‘Asos-ers’. A member of the executive team meets with staff representatives regularly so that they do not lose touch with their people.
Of all the fashion etailers, Asos is the one which shouts the loudest about its ethical credentials.
While its record is not unblemished – its Barnsley warehouse has been the subject of allegations of poor treatment of employees – the business regularly engages in conversations around supply chain and manufacturing ethics.
This approach, which hinges around its Fashion with Integrity CSR initiative, encompasses everything from supply chain transparency and child labour to modern slavery and a living wage.
And it works in its favour when it comes to a customer base that is only becoming more socially aware.
Asos’ marketing is the most socially conscious of all the etailers, whose adverts plaster the walls of stations and the screens of iPhones and desktops.
The etailer runs marketing campaigns which chime with a generation with very different views on gender and body image than their predecessors and cleverly ties itself to their ideals and generational identity.
Its beauty campaign – called Face + Body in an effort to step away from binary and beauty ideals – featured men as well as woman and models whose make-up was worlds away from an anodyne ‘pretty’ approach.
And its activewear campaign, which launched last month, featured male and female models who, despite being athletes, did not all possess ‘perfect’ physiques.
“Asos was late to activewear but they have managed to tap into body positivity and inclusivity. They really thought about how to make a big deal of it and that message really resonates with millennials and Gen Z”
Nivindya Sharma, WGSN
Particularly memorable was Haitian-American blogger and model Mama Càx, whose leg was amputated after she was diagnosed with cancer.
It’s an example of Asos, which was late to the highly lucrative activewear market because of intellectual property disputes with sportswear brand Assos and Anson’s, managing to appeal to its core demographic despite having appeared to miss the bus.
“Asos was late to activewear but they have managed to tap into body positivity and inclusivity,” says WGSN senior retail analyst Nivindya Sharma. “They really thought about how to make a big deal of it and that message really resonates with millennials and Gen Z.”
Fundamentally, agility is at the heart of all Asos does and is the secret to its ability to stay relevant as its young customer changes at lightning pace.