The Future of Fashion Retailing

Is the hassle of high street shopping a thing of the past? Kate Wooding muses on the use of technology to improve customer's in-store experience. All this over a pair of jeans...

I am sick of trailing round shops to find the perfect pair of jeans, only to find that the shop doesn’t have my size in stock today. My problem is not that I won’t buy things online (I often do, even though much of it gets sent back once I’ve tried it on at home). My problem is that (like many people, I would guess) not everything suits me – I need to try stuff on to find out if it fits and flatters. I like the experience of shopping on the high street, but so often end up frustrated by its hit and miss nature. Which, of course, is why many people now prefer to buy online. So how can the high street hit back?

Shops as showrooms Take the Apple model one step further: their stores are places for people to play with their products. Tear down the stockroom. Ensure that each branch has at least one of every size and every colour. Then don’t let those clothes leave the shop. Customers can try them on, buy them, and you can deliver a pristine item from your warehouse to their address very quickly. But one in every size and every colour stays in-store for customers to try. Your staff can be far more engaged in delivering great customer service and sales than they are in restocking the shelves.

Encourage pre-selection Allow customers to browse your website from the comfort of their own home (or on the journey into town) and add things that catch their eye into a ‘try-on’ list which sits on their mobile. It’s much easier to search a well-optimised website or app than it is to search the shop floor anyway. They could send their ‘try-on’ list ahead so you can have everything waiting for them in a dressing room – and when they walk into your store you already have a good idea of what they’re looking for and can make sensible suggestions. They don’t have to waste time trawling the rails and the shelves if they’re in a hurry – plus they feel like they’re getting a boutique service.

Encourage in-store scanning Of course, all your items will be in-store, ready for them to see, touch, and try on (in whatever size and colour they want) for those that do have the time to browse. A quick scan of the barcode with their phone will add an item to their ‘try on’ list. This also means you can deliver lots of additional content based on the barcodes they scan – videos showing the item on the catwalk, information about where and how a product was made, customer reviews. These sorts of innovations are already being pioneered by Burberry in their Regent Street store using RFID tags.

Better merchandising Because customers will be browsing items online even when they’re in the store, it’s easy to make lots of suggestions about other items that complement – to sell a whole outfit, rather than one item – a technique pioneered by ASOS. So, if I scan the barcode of this shirt, tell me about other items you have that will complement it – and more than likely, I’ll add them to my ‘try-on’ list.

Customisation and personalisation Since the items aren’t going to leave the store with the customer, you have the opportunity to offer all sorts of nice add-on services – such as alterations, personalisation or customisation – before you deliver to their door. Monogrammed shirts? A choice of button styles? Different colour piping and trims? I think so! Technologies such as Embodee are already helping customers to visualise these customisations before they leave the store.

Phone as cash register Despite the fact that they’re in store, the whole purchase process can happen online. Since customers have already pre-selected items to their ‘try-on’ list, it makes sense for these to be easily transferrable to an online basket, and for sale completion to happen on their mobile. No queues, no cash register (and making it easier for you to achieve a single view of the customer across all channels). Now all you need to do is deliver their goods to them pronto.

Get a single view to foster true loyalty Giving your customers the convenience of searching, shortlisting and buying items from their mobile, even when in-store, gives you an easy way to build up a picture of their style, their likes, and their purchases – making it easier for you to suggest items that match previous purchases, or offer them discounts on items they tried but didn’t buy – perhaps using sensors such as Estimote. Getting a single view of the customer across all channels will make it much easier for you to tailor communications and loyalty offers to them personally.

By Kate Wooding, Strategist and shopping enthusiast.