In the past two decades, ecommerce has come a long way, and the fashion industry in particular has seen enormous growth.
In a strange twist of fate, many brick-and-mortar retailers have had to shut down as they've lost sales to online fashion brands, but up-and-coming fashion etailers that got their start online have become so successful they’ve actually begun to open off-line shops to expand their reach.
There have been other trends in the fashion ecommerce industry in recent years -- from monthly subscription services to high-fashion clothing rentals and virtual personal shoppers. As consumers become more and more used to opening their computers instead of traveling to a store to buy clothes, what will the future of online fashion become?
Here’s a look at the next wave of promising fashion startups, as well as the trends we can expect in fashion’s near future.
Trend: 'Product hunt' apps help shoppers find and buy.
The Hunt, Snap Fashion and Donde Fashion help shoppers cut through the noisy online shopping environment to find exactly the products they're looking for - and they can help brands get viewed by many new sets of eyes, without adding to their marketing budgets
The Hunt is a community-driven product hunt that helps fashion lovers find exactly the item they want by posting a photo of what they're looking for. The Hunt community will then help locate it, style it or find it for cheap.
Individual brands can harness this tool by regularly checking relevant tag sections (for example, a lingerie brand can regularly sort through to the #bra tag) to see if any of their products are being hunted.
Another find-a-product tool, Snap Fashion, allows you to snap a photo of any clothing item you see and instantly see similar products.
In contrast to the Hunt, which works on community suggestions, Snap Fashion scans through products from its 250 retailer partners to what you're looking for. Snap Fashion isalso organized better than the Hunt (you can sort by price, color, or style), and it allows shoppers to sign up for email alerts when an item goes on sale.
Brands can have their products displayed on Snap Fashion by applying to become an affiliate.
Donde Fashion (still in beta) is different from other shopping apps, because it relies totally on visuals. There's no need for customers to type in their specifications or search for certain brands; they just select what color, size and cut they're looking for, and Donde will present matching products from its database of over 6,000 brands.
Like other shopping apps, Donde allows users to purchase straight from the app.
Trend: Shopping communities mix social commerce and social media.
Wanelo and Spring represent a second trend in fashion ecommerce startups: the mixing of social with shopping.
The best way to explain Wanelo is that it's sort of like a social network just for shopping. A Pinterest-like feed shows suggestions based on users' interests and past likes, and users can upload items, follow other users and follow their favorite brands. The site offers an enormous marketplace: more than half a million stores and 30 million products.
Retailers like Urban Outfitters have already started selling directly in the Wanelo app, and Shopify stores can apply directly to be put on the waiting list to join the marketplace.
The second etailer in this category, Spring, is similar; it also offers a photo feed of products that can be purchased with a swipe. Spring has no shopping cart. After users fill out their credit card and shipping information, they just swipe and the product is on its way. Spring also doesn't hold inventory; it just acts as a medium between its 800-plus brand partners and shoppers.
With free shipping, Spring is a quick, low-risk way for fashion divas to finally buy all those beautiful clothes they lust over on Instagram. The curated feed features established brands as well as new designers, and users can follow their favorite brands, to keep up with sales and new items.
Spring also integrates with Shopify, Magento, Stripe and other ecommerce software providers, allowing brands five different ways to plug their inventory into the app.
Trend: Discount sites seek to simplify sales and cheap retail.
One of the biggest challenges for fashion brands online is figuring out how to provide quality at an affordable price. A few startups are trying to solve these pricing issues with platforms where customers can easily find cheap retail, and stores can advertise their sales.
First up, Wish. Wish knows that the current methods for customers to find discount items is limited. Finding items on Aliexpress, for example, is like sifting through a bargain bin at a garage sale. Wish aims to solve this problem by merging global bargain-hunting through the mobile route -- think an online Wal-mart.
Wish allows users to put together wish lists, connect with the shopping app and purchase items at cheap prices from Chinese wholesalers and retailers. For retailers, Wish is able to instantly access a customer base of European and U.S. shoppers.
The second app in this category, Love the Sales, compiles discounts from 500 brands to make it easy for shoppers to find the latest sales from their favorite stores.
ThundR, meanwhile, is re-inventing flash sales. Rather than offer shoppers tons of irrelevant deals, its algorithm is built to personalize deal offers by providing location-based, contextual suggestions.