The athleisure retailer tapped search technology from Searchspring to help shoppers narrow down their product search. This helped the retailer boost search-based revenue 23% year over year.

Athleisure grew in popularity, particularly during COVID-19, when consumers ditched work pants for more comfortable options. And Fabletics, which sells workout leggings, sports bras and other comfortable sportswear, felt the effects of that—but only after addressing some challenges posed by its online store.

“We were able to capitalize on market opportunities around ‘at-home activewear,’ which put us in a strong position throughout 2020,” says Ryan Darling, director of product for Fabletics, which is owned by TechStyle Fashion Group.

Athleisure apparel refers to clothing that is both “athletic” and for “leisure” (hence the name athleisure) that consumers can wear for sport and for everyday comfort. And research firm The NPD Group estimates that active clothing accounted for 28% of total apparel dollars spent in the 12 months ending May 2020, up 4 percentage points from 24% of the apparel market in the 12 months ending May 2018.

In a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 950 online apparel shoppers last summer, 64% bought athleisure online. Plus, 22% increased the amount of athleisure they purchased online in the past few years. Notably, only 13% of consumers don’t wear athleisure at all.

Although Fabletics’ online sales lifted in sales amid the pandemic, it had 50 pages of products for consumers to sift through to find what they wanted. So, shoppers who came to the site without a specific product in mind struggled to narrow down what they wanted because its search was not very robust, Darling says.

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Initially, the retailer wanted to build something to solve search in-house because it doesn’t typically work with third-party vendors. “Most of our technology is built proprietarily in-house,” Darling says.

Fabletics decided to implement Searchspring’s search technology because it offered customizable features “that would have taken us much longer to build if we opted to build this in-house,” he says. “We had the need to implement a solution more quickly as our customer base continued to grow and outpace the speed at which we were able to deliver an in-house solution.” Darling declined to reveal the cost of the investment in Searchspring’s technology.

It took about two months to implement the search upgrade and launch to customers globally. Shoppers can now—as of fall 2020—enter search terms such as “blue sports bra” or “leggings with pockets” and see text suggestions, as well as visual product suggestions, appear as they type.

Fabletics’ revenue tied to search has grown 23% for February 2021 over February 2020, with a 21% increase in transactions driven from the search function, Darling says. In addition, its average order value for its customers who use search is $13 higher than non-search customers. Search also drove a five times higher conversion rate.

“Customers who use search tend to have a much higher intent to purchase since they are searching for specific products,” Darling says.

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Aside from the main benefit of delivering the most relevant products to shoppers based on their search query, Fabletics also has greater merchandising control over search results through Searchspring’s platform. Its marketing team can use the platform to create custom campaigns that boost or deprioritize specific products within the search results page. It can also use merchandising control to boost results for popular search terms or for influencer or celebrity collaborations, Darling says.

Searchspring’s dashboard gives Fabletics insights into what customers are searching for, which helps the marketing and merchandising team create new campaigns and products, he adds. Plus, Fabletics can also adjust product category pages based on popular products, curate product pages to feature limited-edition collections and create landing pages for specific influencers that showcase the products and promotions from their specific platform.

For example, Madelaine Petsch, star of  CW TV show “Riverdale,” is an influencer working with Fabletics. So, when her new collection drops and she shares photos or promotional codes on her Instagram, Fabletics can craft a landing page with the products she promoted, as well as highlight any coupons.

Landing page for Madelaine Petsch’s Fabletics collection.

In the coming year, Fabletics plans to add trending searches to its search results, as well as personalized recommendations, Darling says. Searchspring is rolling out the latter in 2021 in which its platform will recommend products to shoppers based on past search history and recently viewed items, he says.

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“We’re also in the midst of a major platform migration of our ecommerce technology that will enable us to enhance and expand our website in innovative new ways and continue to meet the demands of the modern online shopper,” Darling says, without revealing more details.

TechStyle, No. 58 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, grew online sales a Digital Commerce 360-estimated 21% year over year in 2020. The retailer, which owns Fabletics, JustFab and Shoe Dazzle, does not break down sales from each of its brands.

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