Young consumers have a ‘see now, buy now, wear now’ mentality particularly when it comes to fashion, a trend driven by big fashion houses making the latest designs and styles available to buy straight from the catwalk.

This insatiable appetite for fast fashion will inevitably continue as these shoppers age. There is no reason to believe that younger consumers, who have grown up wedded to devices and social media, will expect anything less than instant gratification in years to come and continue to possess the same sense of style and image. Fast fashion is here to stay and retailers need to improve their operational agility to respond to the factors that are influencing their customers’ demand for current trends.

While retailers know that they need to put their customers at the heart of their organisations, managing the different cohorts is easier said than done. Many retailers are restrained by legacy technology and operational structures, which can impact their responsiveness to evolving consumer demands. For instance, while many CEOs may not swipe through social media as part of their daily information diet, their customers certainly do. The majority of young shoppers are influenced by what other people wear – their friends, people in the street, celebrities and pictures on social media.

We recently surveyed 2,000 UK consumers about their shopping habits. Almost half (48%) of 18-24 year-olds, and 37 percent of 25-34 year-olds, say they are heavily influenced by their friends when it comes to deciding what to buy and wear. Store displays, interestingly, are also an important influencing factor with a third of 18-24 year olds (32%) saying this is where they get style inspiration.

As such, visual search is one of a myriad of emerging technologies that retailers should explore. Visual search offers some attractive characteristics, particularly in its suitability for things like fashion apparel, colours and styles. Experimentation could lead to visual search becoming a dominant part of the arsenal of brand communications and customer engagement. It should be something that falls into the remit of “guerrilla” teams, exploring and experimenting with lots of different technologies and testing them with their customers to see how much they like them.

With technology moving at a rapid pace, retailers need to be comfortable with experimentation and new systems need to be scaleable, adaptable and ideally future proof. Working with a major IT systems platform that assumes no change to the operating model for five or 10 years no longer makes sense.

Having decided what fashion line needs to be part of their collection, the next challenge facing retailers is to get it to market fast. Spurred on by the speed of fast fashion retailers, traditional retailers have been working hard to reduce their lead times.

One leading fashion pure play is now delivering new lines in two to three weeks; yet speed is only part of the success equation. Price is still a major factor, given that most of the younger generation see their clothes as disposable. According to our research, more than half of younger consumers keep an item for less than a year, and a quarter less than six months before discarding it.

With production costs rising, retailers are having to look at their total cost to serve to try and either reduce expenditure or offer greater value to their customers, both of which requires changes in mindset and culture with a flatter and more flexible management structure that will speed up the decision-making.

Retailers need to accurately analyse what is selling in real-time and be in a position where they can react quickly. According to one major fashion retailer there is now only a 24 to 36-hour window from browsing to buying. Retailers that actively engage with their customers, analyse shopping and social media habits, and pre-empt future trends, will be the winners in the fast fashion market. 

Siobhán Géhin is managing director at Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy.