How ASOS Built Their E-Commerce Empire

  • Strategy
  • November 2, 2016
  • by Sam Graves
  • 7 minute read

Between 2015 and 2016, 20% of the UK’s population ordered an item online from ASOS. ASOS dominates the fashion e-commerce realm. How do you become a market leader without opening a physical store, against retail giants such as Topshop & New Look?

It’s quite simple, by building customer trust via brand content and communications and a consumer shopping journey that is clear to navigate and easy to checkout. One key message is simply how easy it is to order, wherever you are, from whatever device. Mobile accounts for 60% of ASOS’s overall sales. It’s unsurprising that ASOS leads mobile first and all updates and new functions are rolled out to mobile and app users first.

Pioneering new technologies is part of their strategy. From using behavioural data to suggest recommendations to a (short-lived) ‘Tinder-like’ swipe option for outfits, integration and customer support via Facebook (although, there was a slight bot scandal) and at present, ASOS are testing & rolling out purchase buttons on Pinterest and Instagram. They intend to be ahead of the curve.

They create a cornucopia of content. Stylist blogs, YouTube tutorials, a glossy print magazine (now retired and converted to ASOS likes), communication is crucial and generating great content is key for visibility on social channels. Defining and talking to your target audience and tapping into not only their style but future aspiration can mean the difference. In ASOS’s case, the 20 something successful stylish demographic is well represented in the ASOS branded podcast ‘ My Big Idea’, My Big Idea focuses on young female entrepreneurs, not giving style advice, but interviews with business leaders about how they started their business and how to launch a digital fashion agency.

What has to be remembered is that ASOS has never opened a physical store. Bricks and mortar stores have the benefit of seeing how their customers react when new clothing lines are launched. And a physical location builds consumer trust. The option to go and try a product in-store is still a valuable one, especially for more expensive items. How have they achieved a fifth of the market share without ever setting up shop? What makes ASOS head and shoulders above their competition?

MAKE it easy to find

ASOS stocks over 60,000 items at any one time which could quickly turn into a navigational nightmare. How do consumers find their way around? Firstly, there are no individual clothing advertisements on the front page. The search bar and drop down filter will direct customers to what they are looking for. The rest is content, style advice or offer codes. To get in and purchase anything customers are forced to make a choice; search or filter, specific or browse? Above the fold content consists of search, delivery, special offers and useful account information.

The prominent search bar at the top offers automatic results, however, it is the power and detail of the results that are impressive. Little things, like correction of spelling mistakes, predictive text that offers additional options to your original search, even how many items returned in for your keyword search all make ASOS a sure fire outfit finder.

Another journey begins by hovering over the women/men area, straight to a drop down option of product categories, lending itself to browsing via garment type. The usual filters are all in place; colour, size, price, however, they go the extra step, offering brand, fit (i.e petite, tall, curve) and garment style. There is small contention as to if ASOS filters are over zealous, restricting users from organically browsing. However, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and this drill down filter method has been replicated by ASOS competitor sites. What does this mean for customers? Whether it is to get direct to what they are looking for, or browsing in the latest on-trend colour, there’s a search function that works for them.

Show customers what they are looking for

ASOS have introduced a couple of aspects to the shopping experience intended to build consumer trust in the products displayed. It is an all too common occurrence when products arrive looking nothing like the website imagery. To combat this ASOS introduced the catwalk video section. Not being able to try on an outfit will affect the online purchase decision. How long or short is it? How does the material move? What shape is it? These are all decision points when choosing an outfit. ASOS introduced a short video, showing the garment in motion from 4 angles. This not only increased customer trust by displaying the product from all angles and via video but also decreased returns making for a healthier balance sheet at the end of the month.

Master the supply chain

One of the challenges as an online-only store is changing customers mindset about delivery and returns. Will I miss the delivery? Do I have to wait in all day? Why do I have to wait up to 5 days to see what I’ve ordered? If I have to send it back, will it cost me? All valid points, however delivery is something that ASOS nailed. With ASOS VIP (a “members only club") which sees customers earn early entry to sales and points to spend online and also provides free unlimited next day delivery, for only £10 a year. It also operates a time slot, allowing shoppers to have the rest of the day free. Returns are even completely free, just drop it at the local post office or collection point, now even at Boots, and your return is tracked and delivered back to ASOS. By making delivery free and returns simple, ASOS eliminate another purchase barrier. And it’s a major part of ASOS marketing, from prime banner position on the top of the home page to the main USP of any marketing messages.

Positive Social Attitude

By sharing user generated content, the #AsSeenOnMe campaign encourages shoppers to upload pictures of themselves wearing ASOS branded clothing. Interestingly, after uploading the image, the community can exact tag ASOS products for a more sophisticated and social friendly “Shop the look’. The ASOS online community is huge and very active, with 4.5mil Facebook likes, 1mil Twitter followers and 5.1mil Instagram followers, they have a massive social reach. There is also the opportunity to be involved in “Access all ASOS” which aims to engage 1000 of ASOS’ biggest fans and turn them into social media advocates. The ASOS stylist team are turned into celebrity stylist and encouraged to show (ASOS only) branded items, there are even collections for what each stylist is wearing and each stylist has approximately 20k Instagram followers. All of the above actions lead to positive output amongst the community and a general online positivity around the brand, it can be difficult to find negative reviews or comments.

Speedy checkout

ASOS has an excellent checkout process, which includes real-time confirmation when items are added to the shopping bag, culminating with a simple one-page checkout. There is the ability to sign into an account using social media logins, or creating a stand-alone account. The cost, type of delivery and items ordered all are on the same page, allowing for quick review and purchase. This thinking again lends itself to mobile purchasing, where Facebook passwords may be stored in a keychain, allowing quick login, to a singular page to scroll through and accept the order.

The former CEO of ASOS (and founder) Nick Robertson explains the two most important investment opportunities for e-commerce business - “The first pound of marketing an online business goes into delivery and returns, and we spend £100m a year on making that free. The second pound goes into how best to represent ASOS. So we use content”. These are the two pillars that have made ASOS so successful to this date and any e-commerce business looking to replicate their success should keep content and supply at the heart of their investments and future business decisions. Another key takeaway is to keep up with technology, especially mobile commerce, and ease of the consumer journey from search to a decision to check out should all be seamless, regardless of device.


Sam Graves

Sam is an e-commerce expert and brings her know-how to the We Make Websites blog on a regular basis. Focused on providing quality Shopify and e-commerce advice, some favourite topics include CRO, SEO and best practice content marketing techniques.

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