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As internet retailers continue to grow, bricks and mortar stores are increasingly on the retreat. Apparel companies are turning to online retail while new online concepts for sample sales and niche brands are still emerging. New online retailers that specialize in one product (“world’s toughest backpack”) and build-to-order products are also on the rise.
In a competitive world it seems that the value chain is becoming shorter. The middle man who gave you good advice on which camera to buy. The local store that had a nice selection of mid priced brands. The mid priced clothing company that was affordable but offered quality. The middle brands, the middle option, is being challenged by extremely low cost alternatives and niche highest quality offerings on the other end of the spectrum. The internet is an ocean of options.
Ordering online is efficient for consumers and gives them an immediate payoff to a desire for acquiring a product, at any time day or night. By not having much stock and minimizing on taxes, online retail businesses can be very efficient and less capital intensive than traditional retailers. If we believe the stories in the media, we can conclude that a lot of bricks and mortar retail is experiencing a downfall. This doesn’t include the fact that overall retail spending offline is still significantly higher than online. The death of bricks and mortar has been foretold many times, but there will be those who can and will adapt and thrive in the new paradigm.
People still like to shop. Shopping in and of itself has become an activity, a pass time. We like to explore stores feel and touch new things and get surprised. Bricks and mortar retailers are also increasingly embracing online and finding ways to lure in more shoppers. In many ways retail can be more efficient than online both for the consumer and the retailer. The exact recipe for success eludes us however and experimentation abounds. The trendy exciting new concept for everyone to explore right now is Experience. Retailers large and small are looking at ways to increase the shopping and retail experience of their stores in order to find success.
In terms of overall experience fashion brands are turning to a number of key trends to increase their in store customer experience.
Apple still has the highest sales per square foot in retail. The company’s flagship stores are design statements that contain pixel perfect real renditions of the brand, its values and how it wishes to be perceived. The success of Apple stores and other flagships by other brands has a lot of fashion companies scrambling for similar flagships. If we look at LVMH and other high end companies they have in fact been doing this flagship strategy all along. A limited number of stores are opened in high value catchment areas across the world and these are expertly outfitted to espouse the values of the brand. Building ones own flagship store is sure to appeal to C-level egos and sounds like an exciting thing to do. The capital outlay is considerable however and getting flagships right is a difficult undertaking. Ralph Lauren recently closed its flagship 5th Avenue store so maybe flagships are not the way forward for all?
Online and offline mixing
Omnichannel marketing strategies, social media agencies and a perception of excitement around online is causing brands to look to mingled online and offline experience strategies. Often these are no more than separate branding exercises and calls to go to a store. Sometimes integrated campaigns can in a mixed way truly strengthen an in store experience. Often online campaigns targeted at influencers and Insta stars do shape conversations and thinking about what is hot but there is very little tie in with the fashion store itself. Some companies go further however. TopShop’s lauded #Livetrends campaign collected trend information and cast this on digital billboards close to its shops, tying the proof that a trend was happening now to individual items in their stores close by. The immediacy of this campaign and the tie in between digital, data and the store meant that the brand showed us all how in a time sensitive world marketing could be done.
In store digital
Many fashion companies are looking at bringing a digital experience into the store. Screens, touch screens, VR and AR are just some of the things being tried out by fashion companies. Mainly efforts are directed at finding products in the store or letting people buy them online from within the store should they not be in stock. Companies are also experimenting with sizing tools, screens, smart mirrors and scanners to obtain fit. Whereas more screens are glimmering inside stores these in store digital devices don’t usually actually increase the shoppers experience. They don’t in a value added way solve any of their issues. A robotic distribution system inside a shoe store could in seconds retrieve the pair of shoes you want in the size that you want them. This would make trying on shoes quicker and reduce wait times for example.
RFID, IoT & AI
RFID tags, a technological chicken and egg problem, perennially caught between mass adoption and cost can make everything in store more trackable. Other IoT devices and sensors in store could increase the experience considerable. Inditex (Zara and Bershka parent) already closely tracks sales immediately in order to produce quickly within its fast fashion model. What IoT and RFID could do is track how often things are tried on in fashion stores. They could also track what clothes you tried on and put back and what you bought if it were tied to a smart card. In that way the data could be used to guide you to new things that you will surely like, things that are definitely your size. Combined with AI a system could tell you that a thing that you are 80% sure to like and for which there is a 90% chance that you will fit it well is in store now. It is early days for this kind of actual experience enhancing fashion technology however.
In store analytics
Through Google Analytics one can see all the visitors to your site, where they went, how they behaved and what they interacted with. Making a store as data rich and giving it the same “offline analytics” capability is challenging but something more and more companies are looking for. Using facial recognition and camera tracking technology developed for the security services and enhanced to prevent theft in casinos and retail companies can track people through stores. Heat maps can also be created to see which display works, which display converts into sales and which leads to more engagement with the fashion brand. Cell phones also constantly broadcast their MAC address when looking for WiFi and send IMSI handshakes to the GSM network.
These unique numbers could be used to tie a particular cell phone to a particular individual and track that individual around the store. You could then see what Mary was interested in, where she looked and when she left the store. This kind of analytics (which probably will also be a very frightening prospect to many consumers) has the potential to significantly alter the retail experience. Fashion brands could identify core groups of customers and find out that instead of 20 year olds lingering and enjoying the store it is 30 year old professional women who pop in for short 5 minute visits that are responsible for most of their profit. If this were the case it could identify this cohort (or the individuals) and remodel a part of their store just for them to get the items they want quickly. Companies could also look at how an extra cash register or a shorter wait because of a new payment method increases sales. Mobile payments and accepting mobile payments would perhaps save time and also let the fashion retailer connect the mobile phone to a person allowing them to personalize their online and in store experiences. In store analytics through signals and security cameras could take a lot of the guess work out of experience and actually let fashion retailers improve people’s actual experiences.
Data, loyalty cards and tracking are already used for personal offers. Personalized offers meant to lure people to stores and gage their responses to certain new items abound. Through AI and better data management companies can make their personalized offers more personal. They could offer unique in store experiences for you. What is not yet really being done is to micro target experiences at certain limited cohorts. To for example target everyone who likes lilies, clown, ballet, Rachmaninov and Klimt to a store on a certain day for a unique experience which is all about ballet clowns wearing Klimt inspired outfits and dancing to Rachmaninov while the smell of lilies abounds.
Staff training & Happiness
One often overlooked element to enhancing the fashion experience is staff training and happiness. Fashion retail leans heavily on the people in the front lines who represent brands directly to customers. Giving sales, advice and doing customer service they are the brand. The flagship store could be beautiful, I could be tracked around the store getting the best experience ever but if the staffer is unfriendly and rude I’m not going to have a good experience. Some companies invest heavily in training and do try to keep employees happy. Others focus on culture or allure but so often companies do spend money or tools, marketing and branding but forget that the key to any experience on the day is the employee.
Eventually Every store will have a DJ
We predict that eventually every store in the world will have a DJ. Events in store or around the store are increasingly done by many fashion companies. DJs are put in and a designer, article or occasion is celebrated perhaps with some prosecco and snacks. This is a way to celebrate your relationships with customers and to put your experience front and center. This could become an ongoing thing if events are micro targeted at small audiences or significant audiences for your fashion brand. Events will however have to dramatically change and become dynamic and meaningful for them to have continual value.
Stimulating the senses
Fashion retailers have long looked purely at the visual world. Music or muzak has been an afterthought but is now being considered an asset as well. Musical selections meant to strengthen brands or to establish kinship with the customer are being introduced. Psychologically music and musical scores can deeply influence perception and buying behavior. Many fashion designers have a profound love of texture and their pieces reflect this. Apart from the clothes themselves little is done with textural cues inside the retail store. Texture like sound can create and powerfully evoke memories and more should be done with this. Smell was also not initially considered as part and parcel of the retail experience (apart from heavily perfumed Abercrombie stores and the odd joss stick). Smells and vaporizing them throughout the store are increasingly considered to be valid sales and marketing tools. Indeed smells in and of themselves can evoke emotions and memories in a very direct way in the brain. If changing rooms could smell more clean and give off smells that made one more confident this would do wonders for fashion revenues. While in isolation the visual, smell, tactile and auditory aspects are being considered by fashion retailers and brands there is not yet a holistic approach for this. These individual elements would have far more powerful effects if the sound design was done in concert with the smells, visuals and textures of a space.
Mass Customization is also increasingly being considered by fashion retailers. By offering customers individualized or personalized clothing items higher value can be delivered to and for them. Mass customization experiences can also deliver on more brand loyalty from the customer.
In terms of Mass Customization Experience Trends for Fashion we can see a number of emerging trends:
In Store Fashion Mass Customization through Artisans
Companies such as Suit Supply have for a number of years deployed a clearly visible tailor in their stores. This person’s work area, shears and sewing machines are visible to all customers. The tailor can customize your Suit Supply suit, which is a value added service that they provide. The tailor also serves as a decoration and supports the Suit Supply brand. The fact that a tailor is there increases the appeal of Suit Supply brand and makes one think that “even though they’re not that expensive, this is a kind of tailored suit place.” It increases the value of all suits in the store through this mechanism. Kiehl’s staff members wear lab coats to support the power of their advice whereas at MAC the fierce staff holster their MAC products ready to in a burst of energy push you well made up into the catwalk that is your local high street. Retail is theater and so far the production values have been rather local community panto. A mass customization in store advisor or artisan enhances and elevates your brand. It takes you away from a sales approach to a more advisory one. If that person has an ability that then compliments your brand (eg engraving jewels or glass blowing) then one can in a theatrical way make high value customized products on demand. In store customization through artisans also raises your average selling price. It also acts as a “bracket” for pricing making people think more about buying the $200 shirt because another customized one is $500. Connecting artisans to your brand is also a way to create authenticity. Real people with real craft in your stores make your marketing claims seem more authentic. In terms of knitwear, hand embroidery and leather work there is a lot to be explored in this arena.
In Store Fashion Mass Customization through Equipment
Embroidery machines, automated inkjet textile printers, punching and cutting equipment can also let people personalize their own items. If we look at what couture companies have done for ages some of their personalization can now be done cost effectively by machinery inside the retail store of more mass fashion companies. Automatically embroidering a name or credo into a shirt or other clothing item will be done in minutes by an embroidery machine with little supervision from employees. Adding monograms to luggage and other leather items is a low skill process as well. Metals and plastics can be laser cut in store to have custom engravings and shapes. 3D Printing in store could make uniquely shaped objects for customers. Direct Inkjet Textile printers could make patterns, transfers and stickers or print directly on apparel. It would be relatively simple to connect this with a touch screen that would let people design their own patterns for their own T-shirts in stores. Across many equipment categories we see that digitization is coming to manufacturing equipment. Smaller scale and less expensive machines have also been introduced across many product categories. Simultaneously these machines have higher degrees of automation and require much less training and skill to operate as well as effort. The tools are in place now to, using a host of machinery, let the individual retail employee customize clothing for the customer while they wait. As labor costs rise in China and other manufacturing nations more and more equipment will be developed to automate more clothing tasks. This may even let us produce clothing in store.
In Store Fashion Mass Customization Manufacturing
Made in Paris? It may seem ludicrous at first given the square footage price of real estate and the labor costs, but some companies are looking to manufacture inside the fashion retail store itself. Having the clothes made on location is in itself an experience for the shopper. Certain items may be made while you wait or could require an additional visit a few days hence.
Compact automated knitting, inkjet on textile and embroidery machines have become much more productive and affordable in recent years. These machines have become digital and can be tied to touchscreen and other input devices in order to produce on demand and be manned by relatively unskilled labor. By making the item in store marketing, branding and footfall benefits can be had. As per the customer’s wishes, after their payment, the exact item of clothing is made that they need. In this way measurements can be taken and well fitting items can be made on location on demand. There is less risk of unsold inventory and the customer leaves with a unique garment made just for them. Rather than having an engineered experience be created around off the rack clothes retailers experimenting with in store manufacturing are creating an actual experience centered around the clothing itself. The clothing is the experience. This will elevate their interaction with you and the products they purchase from you. By also improving the fit and styling of the product to suit them they will be happier and more comfortable in what they wear. This is not an easy (or inexpensive) path to pursue. But, if you want to be faster than any fast fashion company and deliver on an experience that can not be matched by online retailers, this is the path for you.
We perceive many trends shaping the fashion retail landscape. Should you wish to consider in store mass customization and manufacturing, we’re there for you. Contact us.