The London edition of Decoded Fashion’s summit was held over two days last month and saw industry speakers and panelists discuss topical themes such as technology’s role in-store, retail 3.0, social selling and the power of personalization in a mobile-first digital landscape.
In-store tech: gimmick or UX?
The argument for interactive technology in-stores is increasingly important for retailers that want to both impress and engage consumers on a digital path to purchase. ‘We are still a stores business, so digital is now becoming seamless with retail,’ says Kate Walmsley, digital director Topshop. ‘People talk about UX (user experience) on mobile or tablets, I’m more concerned with the UX in-store,’ she says, adding that Topshop’s recruitment process is increasingly focused on people with half digital, half fashion skills.
FarFetch fosters a seamless stores-to-customer digital experience. ‘We channel UX across our network of stores,’ says Kelly Kowal, global growth director.
‘We want to be truly global in our digital communications, we are starting to think about live streaming localised content through all our social channels in real time in-stores,’ says James Wintle, CTO All Saints. All Saints collaborated with Google in 2014 to ensure the whole company was digitally integrated, explained in this Youtube video.
ROI for the use of innovation labs and no-holds barred blue-sky thinking around technology selling tools was hotly debated at the summit. ‘Playing around with how tech might work in-store is important to recognise if it’s a gimmick or not,’ says John Vary, innovation manager at John Lewis. ‘We created Room Y, where there are no barriers, the team can think by making,’ says Vary who adds one of the team’s recent projects to be tested in-store has been a digital tool for its Any Shape, Any Fabric sofa service, using 3D printing and RFID tags to aid customers making a sofa colour or style choice.
After investing in its ‘connected changing room’ concept in 2014 at new store locations in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong, Rebecca Minkoff has seen a sales uptick. ‘30% of customers who use the service are selecting items they didn’t pick out on their first tour around the store and we’re selling 2.5 times more than we thought we would. We’ve had phenomenal learnings from the integrated technology, it’s not gimmicky,’ says co-founder Uri Minkoff.
Minkoff says brand communications can be hyper localized via the integrated content management system in each store, where where RFID tags track every garment and each customer has a store visit history. ‘We can be relevant by geographical content on the screens, we can serve up great assets per store,’ he says.
Minkoff wants to use the brand’s proprietry store technology to address challenges such as: identifying a more personalised conversion funnel, disrupting its supply chain, facilitating a more convenient shopping experience in-store either by self-scanning products, or just to stop customers self-aborting their purchases. ‘We call it Retail 3.0 others have called it dressing room therapy,’ he adds.
Amazon is preparing to up its game as an online fashion destination.
This summer the e-commerce giant will open one of the largest (46,000sq ft) photographic studios in Europe – purely for its fashion content output.
‘We don’t want to create the world’s largest outlet centre online, so we have to think about selling fashion differently to say media or consumer electronics or food,’ says Sergio Bucher, VP Amazon Fashion EU, adding: ‘we are already one of the top 10 fashion companies in the world, in 2014 we sold 2m fashion items a week.’
For Amazon, future innovations are in ‘silent tech: stuff the consumer doesn’t see, tech that helps us deliver what our customer wants, when they want it,’ says Bucher, who’s goals are to focus on selection, convenience and price. He says the high return rate of between 40-60% in Europe, is a necessary cost the company is willing to bear. But it is addressing these market conditions with complex predictive shopping algorithms. ‘We have recently launched fit reviews for products where we are crowdsourcing accurate fit information. Anything over 50 answers is deemed useful. Or Amazon has started suggesting products based on previous and similar customer profile purchases, where there have been no returns. Here Amazon is using its vast data to reach a probable purchase scenario. When you have 26m items available, you have a lot of customer behaviours to mine,’ explains Bucher.
Returns are a necessary cost for online retailers, but according to Joel Freeman, co-founder of the Tinder-like shopping app Grabble, the bedroom is the new changing room. Freeman says mobile is for younger customers and lower purchases. ‘Its easy to click and buy on your mobile device. Mobile is for snackable content when there’s low risk for pressing the buy button. If you’re spending four figures, you are more likely to use a desktop,’ he adds.
A one-click purchasing experience is becoming increasingly important, especially to impatient millennials. For Grabble, Freeman says it’s about making it as easy as possible. ‘We have a new payment app launching this summer – it’s modeled on Uber. People don’t like to tap words and numbers into their mobile devices but they are happy to just click,’ he says, adding future platforms will have payment details stored for convenience and a more seamless click to purchase experience.
Christian Drehkopf, head of mobile apps at Zalando is watching how messaging apps are emerging as a multi-channel that integrates across both social networks and commerce. ‘Mobile is now about convergence. It’s about engagement at different times of the day. Instant chat apps such as Facebook Messenger are going to be important new channels for marketeers. Developers are building commerce into messages as a new layer, because you can get hold of that customer more regularly – up to 16 times per day. Mobile is an amazing multichannel tool to connect the digital and offline store environments,’ he adds.
Finery London was launched as a true branded retail experience online, says Caren Downie, brand director. ‘You can attract people through organic word of mouth. Advocacy among the right target market is crucial,’ she says. Adding another layer of offline experience was key for an unknown brand. ‘It’s about that initial engagement with the brand, our customers need to understand the quality of the fabrics and the fit, so Finery London’s fitting room pop-up was crucial to drive engagement and then encourage people to get back online to order,’ she says.
Luxury’s digital awakening
For the CTO of MatchesFashion.com, ensuring the company’s website was both totally global and fully mobile optimized was an integral part of the brand’s omnichannel journey. ‘There are no differences between reading our content on desktop or mobile devices, says Sam Lowe. ‘It’s seamless and we have moved to being a globally scalable ecommerce platform with merchandising and payment systems working in tandem so that we can track every single product at any time.’
The editorial, buying, digital and engineering teams all think globally and act locally and apply that thinking to the look of the website for each geographical region. ‘It’s a continuum of how local you can be, for example they produce seasonal trend content around categories and ensure it’s locally relevant, per region,’ he says. ‘By being a global business, online is growing faster than physical stores, however with all sales now done via devices in-store and often delivered at home, the boundaries between the two are blurred,’ says Lowe.
Luxury brands have been blind to the opportunity of e-commerce, says Harriet Williams, group multi-channel director of JAB Luxury, who came on board just as L2, the New York based digital research unit, ranked one of the group’s key brands (Bally) as ‘digitally challenged’ in 2013.
‘From a brand point of view, the most important initial consumer interaction is a brand website. One of the most predominant behaviours is to research online then go into store to purchase. 90% of luxury brands don’t have a reserve online and collect in store service, we are learning from luxury department stores, who have been much better at integrating the digital and retail experience in-store.
‘Since 2013 we have been integrating our online and offline offers. Now customers can order online anywhere and purchases will be fulfilled from stores instead of warehouses. Now omnichannel is happening across the group’s portfolio of brands including Jimmy Choo, Belstaff and Bally.
‘Mobile is very important for us – 50% of our online traffic comes from mobile devices,’ says Williams. ‘All our brands have responsive mobile websites, this is the way people shop and the way forward. Integrating content and commerce via detailed ‘how to get the look’ and shoppable look books has also led to more engagement from email marketing, where we get 70% of traffic,’ says Williams.
JAB Luxury is also pursuing a virtual retail approach to the digital shopping experience. ‘Customers can use Google Maps to shop our stores virtually. For example at Jimmy Choo’s bridal boutique, or Bally’s made to order and monogramming services,’ says Williams. ‘By launching with a minimal viable product we can get speed to market and create an experience from the technology, online is more than just about driving the conversion rates.’
Real time social feeds
Twitter’s real-time experience is turning into a live one, courtesy of new app Periscope. ‘Now Periscope is changing the landscape,’ says David Wilding, Twitter’s head of planning. ‘It’s a broadcast app that makes whatever you are doing live to all your followers. It has huge potential for fashion weeks or events.’ He gives the example of Davina McCall (TV presenter) giving a live red carpet commentary on Periscope for the BAFTA TV awards earlier this year. ‘Think about how fashion brands can include fans into content – now possible live and immediately on Periscope,’ says Wilding.
Early adopting brands have jumped onto Periscope to experiment with content for followers. For example, Urban Outfitters has broadcast live bands in-store via Periscope feeds and social media influencers including Tom Green and Eliza Licht have taken to promoting their respective latest film/book with live Q&As. Burberry was the first fashion brand to live stream a show on the platform, when it travelled to Los Angeles for its recent womenswear show.
According to the same research, 56% of users say Twitter gives them access to influencers, while 47% of fashion and beauty fans buy from their favourite brands through Twitter.
YouTube can be a useful brand activation social tool where followers of the platform’s growing roster of beauty, fashion, fitness, food and DIY personalities are driving sales. ‘Video influences purchase in real time,’ says Katie Jenkins, industry manager, fashion, luxury and beauty, who adds one in three users say they’ve bought something from a how to video.
‘It’s a very competitive landscape with key fashion and beauty influencers including Zoella, Pixie Woo and Tanja Burr dictating new consumer behaviours. Brands can learn their language and see new selling techniques via regular video updates. Fashion and beauty fans want their questions answered, they want authenticity and they want real life role models – they get all these things on YouTube.
Net-a-Porter’s new social shopping app, The NetSet is a democratic approach to luxury, mixing a highly engaged social community of global fashionistas with user generated trends and visual search data. ‘Everyone can have a social shopping experience on the NetSet,’ says Sarah Watson, Net-a-Porter’s VP social commerce. ‘The more you contribute to the platform, the more you get out of it, it’s a pyramid approach, we want people to talk about all the content they are creating and to foster new connections. We’re not looking for mass, this is niche commerce, our KPIs are based around engagement, we hope it will inspire people to find new fashion inspiration and shop via the app.’
* An edited version of this report first appeared on LS:N Global (sub required).