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Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Swimsuit Season Now Starts Online

A company’s channel strategy includes all the paths taken to get a product into the hands of the end customer. This channel strategy example in US women’s fashion illustrates how online channels are disrupting the assumption that consumers need to try on clothes in person before buying.

The Problem with Swimsuits and Retail:
Channel Strategy Example

For many women, buying a swimsuit is a tricky operation. It’s challenging to find the right size and shape for your body type, in a color or pattern that you like and that will perform as needed. A 2012 study of 102 female undergraduates revealed that trying on swimsuits alone in a dressing room is likely something a woman isn’t looking forward to:

“The researchers found that women who had imagined themselves in a bathing suit were more likely to self-objectify and be in a worse mood compared with when they imagined the jeans and sweater scenarios. Interestingly, women were more likely to self-objectify when imagining being alone in a dressing room than they were when imagining being in public.”

History of Swimwear Distribution:
Channel Strategy Example

Before online channels became an option, swimsuit brands were mostly limited to brick-and-mortar retail, with a small amount of direct-to-consumer catalog sales. Consumers were pretty much stuck with the trying-on-a-suit-in-a-dressing-room scenario.

Channel strategy examples included:

  • Department stores, i.e., Nordstrom or Macy’s
  • Big box retail, i.e., Walmart
  • Discount retail, i.e., Kmart
  • Standalone stores, i.e., Land’s End or Everything But Water

Constraints placed on brands by non-standalone retail distribution channels were considerable:

  • Limited shelf space
  • Limited season
  • Untrained staff

Swimwear companies had to offer designs that would sell quickly and appeal to the majority of consumers. A consumer looking for a swimsuit off-season or one to fit a particular purpose was usually out of luck.

Rise of Online Sales in Women’s Sports Apparel & Swimwear:
Channel Strategy Example

Even though the consumer experience in-store was unappealing, few predicted how rapidly online distribution would take hold.

Swimsuits are part of the broader category of Sports & Swimwear. Unsurprisingly, global online sales of this category started to take off in 2020, with 31.5% of sales made online. The trend to buy online continues to grow. By 2025, Statista predicts 48.2% of women’s Sports & Swimwear sales will be online.

Global Sales Distribution for Women’s Sports Apparel & Swimwear

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Globally, the US is the largest consumer of these products, and online vs. offline sales match the global trends.

Consumers Start Looking for Swimsuits Earlier:
Channel Strategy Example

One side effect of this online channel strategy example is a shift in the swimwear shopping season. In the US, peak popularity for the search term “swimsuit” has been inching earlier in the season each year. Within the last four years, Google Trends data show that 2022 was both the earliest year for peak popularity and the year with the most searches (The current year hasn’t yet reached peak season).

Peak Week of the Year for Google searches for “swimsuit”Search Term Popularity Index
May 26, 201987
June 7, 202090
June 6, 202189
May 15, 202297

Search data show that consumers are starting their research into swimwear well before actual “swim season” in most of the US.

This information indicates that women can no longer be depended upon to make their swimsuit purchases on impulse, i.e., grabbing a swimsuit off the rack at Target while shopping for something else. The consumer trend is towards finding the right swimsuit through research and trying it on in the privacy of one’s home.

How More Consumer Research Impacts this Channel Strategy Example

More than ever before, brands need to understand why and when women buy swimsuits, for instance:

  • Summer swim season
  • Summer vacations involving beaches, lakes or pools
  • Tropical vacations any time of year
  • Aquatic sports, outdoor or indoor

Women can also be expected to replace their swimsuits about once a year, so building brand loyalty through an online channel strategy can be valuable for lifetime sales.

Frequency at Which Women in the US Buy Swimwear

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Swimwear Brands Reach More Customer Segments:
Channel Strategy Example

Online direct sales allow for more styles of swimsuits to be offered to meet the needs of discerning consumers. Brands aren’t restricted to broadly-popular stock to fill limited shelf space. Specialized swimwear for various customer segments include:

  • Secure styles for active lifestyles, i.e,. paddleboarding
  • Modest options for cultural sensitivity
  • More coverage for sun safety
  • Resort-ready separates that go from beach to brunch
  • Alluring styles more for lounging than swimming

Online Ad Executions Illustrate Swimwear Channel Strategy Example

Women are right to skeptical that a swimsuit picture they see online may not look the same on them as on the model. For this channel strategy example to be successful, marketing execution needs to:

  • Identify with the woman’s purpose for buying a swimsuit
  • Be timed for when the woman is researching and shopping for swimsuits
  • Provide convincing evidence the swimsuit will “work” for her, i.e., look and perform how she imagines

Here are four ad executions showing how different brands approach online channel strategy. Examples are from Athleta, Cupshe, Summersalt and FARM Rio Global.

Online Channel Strategy: Example Ad Execution Athleta

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Online Channel Strategy: Example Ad Execution Cupshe

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Online Channel Strategy: Example Ad Execution Summersalt

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Online Channel Strategy: Example Ad Execution FARM Rio Global

Channel Strategy Example in US Women’s Fashion

Channel strategy begins the process of convincing consumers to buy. When products are distributed in a way that is welcome to consumers, it’s noticeable in the market. In this swimwear industry channel strategy example, online channels have seemed to make women more interested in and excited by purchasing swimsuits, which drives them to buy earlier. Will this consumer behavior also result in more dollar and unit sales, given the buying season is potentially longer? I’m inclined to believe it will.

For more on this topic, I recommend Michal Clement’s article “Channel Strategy Example: The Witcher Brand,” along with Insight to Action’s Channel Strategy Resources. To get regular business insights, sign up for our newsletter.