Your most valuable asset: outsource or insource?

How to protect your most valuable asset in fashion e-commerce. 

By Maurits Teunissen, CEO of StyleShoots


Gaining competitive advantage in the fashion e-commerce retail industry has shifted over the last 10 years.

While secure payments, appealing return policies, next day delivery practices and competitive pricing once gave companies the competitive edge, these so-called "perks" are now the standard.

Content is how such enterprises can advance in the brutal industry, currently and in the decades to come. You can read my detailed insights and thoughts on this here.

After establishing that producing and sharing quality content with a brand’s audience is no longer a factor that can be neglected in fashion e-commerce, it is now time to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the best way for my business to gain competitive advantage with content?

2. How do I protect my most valuable asset?

Let’s start with some facts.


Your unique brand makes you stand out from everyone else

Most e-com fashion retailers have strong roots in either brick-and-mortar retail or stand out as a wholesaler with a powerful brand image.

It all boils down to brand.

Everything that reflects your brand or retail formula is, in most cases, very well thought of and under the control of your own buying, sourcing, marketing and sales department.

The involved departments are essential and belonging to the core activities of your traditional business. In some cases, this has been the case with your brand for decades. Your brand or your retail formula is your biggest asset.

It is who you are and what your customer expects you to be. It is the identifier to your customers and involves a great deal of aspiration. It is what makes you stand out from the crowd. Of course, you would want to protect your heritage and brand in every possible way.


The change that took place

10 to 15 years ago a new channel emerged on the market and it managed to create one of the biggest challenges for the fashion industry.

I'm talking about online e-commerce and its implications. For fashion companies that meant gearing up and selling online as well as offline.

The rise of e-commerce required fashion brands in the industry to start producing a lot of visual content to solidify their digital presence. Many decided to let someone external take care of their online content production (visuals).

To this day, outsourcing is still quite popular and plenty of companies do not manage everything content-related in-house.


Outsource vs. Insource

Both outsourcing and insourcing have their benefits.

The one thing that you need to be cautious of at all times, no matter which way you decide to go, is to be aware of how your brand is represented in your content.

Offering a perfect mixture of lifestyle and product communication online enhances the shopping experience of your potential customers and it actually converts them. That’s where your brand image comes in.

Your brand is your currency. It is what you work on day in and day out, year after year.

Benefits of outsourcing:

  • Good solution if you don't have enough space to set up your own studio

  • No need to hire qualified staff to take care of process

  • Could help with optimizing workflow

What to be aware of?

Make sure that throughout the outsourcing process, your brand manager is there to supervise how the content is being produced and works together with the service provider to match your style guide.

That is not to say that the outsourcing entity is not as capable as you are, but to remind you to make sure that your brand is communicated the right way, even in the details.

"Offering a perfect mixture of lifestyle and product communication online enhances the shopping experience of your potential customers and it actually converts them."

Benefits of insourcing:

  • Complete control of brand image

  • No risk of lack or delay of delivery

  • Option to re-do and change whatever you like, whenever you like

  • Could save valuable resources like time and money if done smart

What to be aware of?

Your different departments need to work in sync with each other in order to produce splendid results. That means that info about deliveries, organization and ideas need to be communicated correctly.

Everyone needs to be on board with the final decisions. Your team will make your brand so be cautious of this process.

It’s a fact that fashion brands like Nike don’t outsource. But many other successful brands do. So what it all really boils down to is which decision will fit your business model and day-to-day operations best.

Speed to market is essential for success

The rules of the online game are so different (yet also so alike) from your traditional channel to market.

It is all about speed to market. That, we have learned from the likes of H&M, Zara and now also Uniqlo.

So speed is one thing but quality of imagery is another. In the almost 10 years of our existence, we at StyleShoots have witnessed the severe bottlenecks that could be resolved by simply making the right decision for each business.

The most important asset of an apparel company is the brand image. Managing and producing your visual content is as important as managing your brand and retail outlets. It is what makes you, you. It is as crucial as having the right designer, buyer, marketeer or sales staff in-house.

And with the growing market share of your ecom activities we suggest you seriously consider taking control of this as soon as you can.

Many brands and retailers have successfully done that. And I’m proud to say that StyleShoots is an important part of such business models. For the last decade we have been helping brands to improve their efficiency and cost spending.


So should you choose insource or outsource?

When looking at the scale of your business, it sometimes makes all the sense in the world to outsource your content production. And vice versa. In the end, it is all up to you to make the best decision possible for your business.

To summarize? Take control and guard your brand image as if your life depends on it. Your company’s lifespan sure does.

Start influencing and increasing your online conversion with content that reflects what you stand for, your heritage and your vision. Whether that is in-house or not, protect your brand at all costs.


About Maurits

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Maurits has decades of experience in the fashion retail e-commerce industry. In the early 90's, he founded RunTime BV - a successful software company operating in the apparel market. He later founded Visual Retailing, a company that focuses on visual planning and merchandising technology to fashion brands and retailers. In 2012, Maurits co-founded StyleShoots and has attracted customers like Zalando, Marks & Spencer, Nike.