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Can technology revolutionise fashion retail?

London Fashion Week is over – but while the stage lights have been switched off, the Gucci gowns slid back onto their hangers, and the debris of a hundred front-row influencers swept aside, the inevitable question of the future of fashion lingers in the air.

In 2018, a long line of brick and mortar retailers met the death knell of the high street – and high-street fashion shops were amongst those left with the most significant losses. Yet, swept up in the news stories of store closures and plummeting profits were the reflections on the evolution of UK shopper spending habits – and how retailers could best align their strategies to meet consumer needs.

The question then becomes: how can we resuscitate fashion retail? Already, a number of stores transitioned seamlessly into a more tech-driven approach, injecting much-needed innovative lifeblood into the industry. In light of the juggernaut of digital, technology and apps have already galvanised an evolution in fashion – from the supply chain right through to highly-targeted social media posts. Other stores have cleverly ramped up their experiential tactics in order to tap into the highly desirable tribe of digital native millennials.

Just for you: the audience of one

Today, acknowledging there’s no such thing as the average customer is the starting point for any fashion brand that wants to connect with their customer. But by digging deep into data around customer behaviour, brands can engage in a highly personalised way, with individual responses tailored for every one of their wide and varied audience.

What does this look like for the standard shopper? Well, if you’ve liked a #AW18handbag post from an Instagram star at a catwalk show, then engaged with an ad for a handbag brand on your phone, savvy brands can personalise the marketing email that hits your inbox during prime Sunday evening peak purchasing time. Watch out for a discount offer when your lunchtime quest for 10,000 steps just happens to take you down Oxford Street – and past the stores where marketers who are paying attention already know that you have previously purchased goods within 24 hours of an Instagram session.

The perils of getting it wrong

So far, so shiny new world, with personalised fashion on demand is available to everyone. The flipside is that with expectations now running at an all-time high, getting it wrong can have a significant impact. Fashion brands today are held accountable like never before, as disgruntled customers take to social platforms to share any dissatisfaction with their products or service – be that online, chatting with a virtual assistant or in-store.

With the bar set this high, there’s a longer way to fall. Sending a highly personalised email, full of tempting buys from around the world, that reflect the individual’s preferences, budget and priced in their local currency, is great. But failing to act on location data which can tell you that the customer is in the UK, and so the recommendations should only include products available for international shipping - is incredibly frustrating.

Just bought the shoes in-store using your loyalty card, but still seeing ads for the same pair on your favourite news or sports site? That will undermine your trust in the brand – instead of boosting it with an ad for the matching accessories or special offer for loyal customers. Integrating every touch point and interaction can enable brands to build up a full and up-to-date picture of their customers. Miss out on one piece of the data jigsaw, and you risk jeopardising your audience’s trust.

For consumers, it’s all omnichannel

Another blind spot for brands is their distinction between digital and offline. Whilst customers expect the same of a brand whether they’re on the website or browsing in a bricks-and-mortar store, the reality is not always a consistent experience. Click & collect, showrooms and pop-up stores are all part of the contemporary shopper’s high street reality, and many successful brands eschew a permanent physical presence.

Omnichannel marketing is a buzz word for brands, but customers see no reason to distinguish between the channels and screens that they flit between on a daily basis. So for brands, the onus is on them to really understand the data to create a smooth experience – from each and every channel and from every interaction – but also to connect the dots between consumer behaviour:  visiting a store after watching an ad at home, or browsing a retailer site after engaging with an ad on their mobile.

Ironically, we often think of fashion as transient. Yet the game-changing ways that retailers, designers and shoppers are now interacting signal a permanent revolution in the lucrative business of what to wear.

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