The second largest clothing retailer in the world has just launched its US online store today. H&M has offered online shopping in a handful of European countries, but until today the only way to purchase the brand's ever-popular affordable clothing in the US was from one of the company's nearly 300 physical stores. The company has twice previously committed to opening up its online shop, first in 2011, but both times management decided to pull the plug after citing logistical and security issues.
Those two failed attempts and today's ultimate launch serves as a reminder of just how difficult it can be to set up a profitable online shop in the US. Retailers like Amazon have made online shopping for all sorts of goods seem commonplace, but that isn't the case. Serving such a country like the US — which is a huge market with low population density — makes speedy and affordable shipping difficult to achieve. Clothing and apparel presents its own set of complications for online retailers: since customers can't tell if something fits until it arrives, many items are returned. According to Reuters, customers return up to half of all fashion items. Even with these issues, H&M competitors like Zara, Uniqlo, and American Apparel have long sold their goods online in the US.
The solution? A flat $5.95 shipping and return fee
H&M's solution to the online shopping puzzle is pretty simple. The company is charging a flat $5.95 shipping fee, no matter how many items you order, and you'll have 30 days to return items. Customers have to pay a $5.95 flat shipping fee for a prepaid return label, and there's no option to bring items into local stores for exchange or credit. That approach may turn off some buyers. Amazon's clothing site offers free shipping and returns, as does Zara, which also lets customers return items in-store. H&M is offering its entire catalog online, however (some expected the company to limit online purchases to more expensive items), and there will be additional sizes and styles that will only be available from the web store. All that remains now is to see if it all works out for the Swedish retailer.