Gemma Lovelock, director of promotions marketing agency Lock-In Marketing, explains the rise and rise of ASOS, the online fashion retailer which today announced that it had made an underlying pretax profit of £25.7m in the six months to 28 February.
As the high street flails, ASOS just keeps on growing. Its latest results, showing an 11 per cent rise in first half profits, demonstrate how the darling of online retail continues to defy the odds.
One reason for ASOS's success is its unwavering focus on growth, at all costs. It has voraciously chased overseas markets but has never taken its eye off the ball in relation to the UK market.
But arguably its biggest reason for success has been its digital platform, which has always been ahead of the curve.
Its key tools, from the iPhone and iPad app to its Facebook shop, English-language mobile site and Fashion Finder tool, aren't just extensions of brand ASOS, they add to the online retail experience. Wherever people are, and whatever people are using, ASOS is accessible.
A live feed on its Fashion Finder page shows off new outfits created by community users, and moodboards highlight the latest trends, styles and colours for inspiration. Naturally, every item is 'shoppable'. This is fashion fodder for ASOS's most prolific customers.
ASOS's social media channels are exactly what they should be: social. There's a human being at the helm and it’s the feeds are full of personal responses to tweets as well as competitions designed get make users engage.
It's surprising how many big companies fail to recognise that creating a personality behind an otherwise faceless (albeit branded) social media channel isn't just a nice idea, it's crucial. In its interim results today, ASOS mentions how it's positioning itself as 'a global online community of fashion lovers'.
And that's the key to its success: increasingly, the customer base is giving way to the community and companies that can see that are outperforming.
Meanwhile, overseas markets have their own ASOS twitter feeds in their own languages, effectively acting as windows into new markets, highlighting trends and offering insight into existing and emerging consumer demand - far cheaper than market research, and real-time, too.
Of course, we must not underestimate the role free worldwide shipping has played in ASOS's recent success. Online retailers need to conquer the lack of touch and feel - people being able to easily try things on – and free shipping and returns achieve that.
So for the time being, at least, expect ASOS to continue moving forward. Its challenge, now, is to keep its offering fresh and relevant to all territories, as well as personal - the primary challenge of any major global brand.