How to Digitally Promote your Clothing Brand (Shein Case Study)
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Shein, a fast-fashion e-commerce retailer, was founded in 2008 by Chris Xu, with headquarters currently in Singapore and a dominance over fashion in the app store. This post will go over the tactics Shein has used in their digital marketing, influencer marketing, supply chain and more, to teach you how to grow your clothing brand—whether just starting or already established.
1. Superior SEO
Founder Chris Xu wanted to create a fast fashion clothing brand by optimizing its website, and more importantly its mobile app, for search. This was a rare strategy for fashion in 2008, most likely achieved by providing relevant products for the most common searches in clothing and apparel; and as Neil Patel would point out, brands most often achieve success in SEO by pursuing a long-term strategy.
On top of their already effective search engine approach, Shein also uses PPC, (pay per click, or paid search ads) paying for a total of 632 keywords and already ranking in the top 20 for 45 of them, allowing them to cover more territory.
The takeaways from this part of their strategy are
Pursue SEO as a long-term strategy
Supplement it with PPC if it's within your budget. (Note that these points are best applied to brands with a large digital presence and not for brands like Supreme or Chanel that rely on a limited number of boutiques and stores.)
Look for a possible gap in the market - if not a need that's unmet then simply a place your competitors aren't reaching as well.
A dedicated set of Google and social media searches will tell a lot about who your competitors are and what their niches are like, but so will tools like Rival IQ, Semrush, Buzzsumo, and Hootsuite if you have the budget.
One research idea is a gap analysis where you would list your competing brands and what they specialize in (e.g. Gucci - sleek, luxury, Italian fashion; Gym Shark - quality, form-fitting athletic wear) and what 80% of their marketing strategy consists of (fashion magazines, SEO, video content, etc.).
This reveals the marketing opportunities that your competitors may not be serving as well that you should research further. In the case of Shein, they realized that brands like The Gap, H&M, and Zara were prominently crowding the fast fashion market, but none of them had the search engine savvy or the mobile app presence that Shein now possesses. This presented an opportunity to reach customers in a unique way and launch their sales by dominating the app store space.
2. Shein's Presence in the Middle East
According to some easily-discovered online reading and the content on their Facebook page, Shein has quite a hold on the middle eastern market. This was another under-served market space that they realized they could profit from.
Other brands expand their geography as well to grow their presence and revenue; the skate brand Element was formed in the US but only in the past few years opened stores in Japan, Europe, and Australia. Uniqlo is an originally Japanese brand that sells in the North American and European markets.
If you're nimble enough or established enough, you can infiltrate a different geographical market and increase your revenue after some competitive and cultural research.
3. Social media and influencers
A search on their Instagram or TikTok account will show that Shein heavily uses influencers collaborating with bloggers, models, and e-girls alike. Organic endorsements will also appear with Youtubers and TikTokers showing off their Shein hauls. They also occasionally collaborate with celebrities like Katy Perry or Nick Jonas.
Blogger and fashion expert Alexis DeSalva adds: "investing in paid social/influencer campaigns can have a bigger, positive impact by leading to organic shares, which will build the brand's awareness and customer community. I think some brands, especially smaller brands, need to understand that if they invest in a small or one-time influencer campaign, they may reap an even bigger return. But they have to make the initial investment."
I've never studied a brand that hasn't used influencers to some extent. This is why Banana Republic, a high-quality, travel-esque brand, reached out to Monroe Steele, a New York City blogger with mature tastes in fashion. Steele styled the items herself and showed them off to her thousands of readers, making consumers more aware of Banana Republic and more likely to buy from them in the future.
To do this successfully you need to hunt around for influencers or figures who are aligned with your brand's image and who your target audience will be receptive to. You can use agencies like Style Coalition, Reward Style, Magic Links, and Viralnation to find them.
4. Supply Chain and the Walmart Model
Another part of Shein's competitive positioning is their notoriously low prices. Though brands like H&M and Forever 21 come close to selling men's necklaces at $1.50, Shein takes the cup in budget fashion. They provide the perfect pricing for their targeted younger demographic.
I’d like to explore something, though: how do they get their prices so low?
The first possibility lies in their choice of manufacturers, whom Shein has developed close relationships with over the years. That tightly woven network allows them to rapid-fire their designs by creating and shipping a small number of items at a time very quickly.
All considered, it's uncertain whether Shein achieves their low prices by exploitation, congenial B2B relationships, hunting for good deals, or by using a model similar to Walmart (selling select products below profit to attract consumers, but still profiting off the bulk orders). Whatever the method, the result is a pleased and loyal customer base.
This isn't to say your brand needs to sell lower to compete. The best price point is suited to your audience, and because Shein's audience is largely young and privy to social media, Shein's approach works well. However, Louis Vuitton is still ahead of Shein in revenue and their prices are obviously much higher because they target an older, luxury audience instead.
Deep discounting won't sustain profits in the long term, and price erosion in general can be difficult to reverse. Should this happen to you, however, know that the way out is usually a set of new products and a better long term targeting strategy.
How do you know what price suits your audience? The simplest way to do this is to compare prices set by other companies.
If you're making handbags, for instance, you'll want to look at the prices of companies like Chanel, (whose handbags average roughly $2,000 each) Moynat, (average of $4,000 or so) or Wandler (average of $700). You'll then set a (proposed) price depending on the quality of your products and your ability to differentiate. Hence the Australian brand Lanamara found the appropriate price point for their unique brand by coming in at the low end and selling stylish, non-luxury handbags at around $300 each.
Note: There are other methods of speculating and testing prices - like the Van Westendorp Model - that deserve your time and research. (Don't use the Westendorp in fashion, though, because it's best suited to disruptive products.)
Shein has done an excellent job in positioning itself in the fast fashion and digital spaces. Here are the key lessons to be learned from them:
Plan a long-term approach to SEO, and if your brand leans digital then invest in PPC.
Find gaps in prices, geographies, or platforms (like the app store) to take advantage of.
Hunt for influencers that align with your brand's image.
Look at the prices of products that are similar to yours to get an idea of what pricing will suit your audience.