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Care and repair: how can bricks and mortar fashion stores make it work?

Ian Moore
17 May 2023

An ever-increasing focus on the environment, combined with a challenging economic climate, mean that many consumers are rapidly moving away from unsustainable products and practices. According to global research, in-store repair services or recycling points are the top services related to sustainability that would positively influence any decision to visit a physical store.

We also know that more than half (54%) of UK consumers claim they regularly buy second-hand items as they care about the environment and want sustainable or circular shopping. With days out shopping now very much back on the agenda, and with physical retail making a comeback after more than 2.5 years of constant store closures, bricks and mortar fashion stores must stay ahead of the curve by appealing to the rising demand for a more sustainable shopping experience.

How to make it work

Swap linear consumption for circular services

Retailers should make sure they don’t use sustainable offerings to promote products; instead, they should ensure products are given a new lease of life and used more, by offering repairs and other circular services in-store. A great example is Selfridges who installed a robot developed by Parley for the Oceans to 3D print designer items such as sunglasses, clothes and homeware from ocean plastic. Retailers should focus on using their space for the likes of refills, resale, rental and repairs, which should take the place of a more linear model. Selfridges' circular latest venture, The Stock Market, (main image) enables customers' pre-owned items to be valued, exchanged and repaired in a space playfully inspired by the London Stock Exchange.

It’s refreshing to see influential tech brands such as EE and Apple launching in-store repair services in recent years, however, the fashion industry is the sector that seems to be leading the way in this area. As well as hosting sustainable services such as the 3D robot, Selfridges also throws regular car boot sales, and we’ve also seen Zara launch its pre-owned service; Harrods introduce in-store repair centres; and Net-A-Porter join forces with The Seam to offer a repair service.

Use existing space smartly

In recent years, we’ve seen more and more retailers host pop-up shops and in-store services alongside their regular retail offerings. This makes environmental sense as these services will run off the same electricity etc., so using the existing retail space in a smarter, more hybrid way, can certainly be a greener option than seeking premises elsewhere which would command yet another set of energy bills. A hybrid approach also engenders a great sense of community, with stores becoming local community hubs as they welcome services and social spaces such as hairdressers, networking zones, cafes and bars.

The Body Shop incentivises customers to refill product

Be clever with incentives

We’re witnessing an increase in brands offering incentives that encourage customers to be more eco-friendly. The Body Shop incentivises customers by offering extra points for additional discounts if empty bottles and packages are returned to the store. Retailers could also consider how people travel to their stores and could incentivise more sustainable options, such as walking, cycling and public transport. One idea could be a points system for customers redeemed by showing the steps built up on their fitness tracker as they travel to the store by foot.

Opt for sustainable store design

It’s not enough to shoehorn sustainable products into a traditional physical store - lighting, heating, energy and the cooling of a building all need to be sustainable too. Stella McCartney’s boutique store in Old Bond Street has often been referred to as the most sustainable store in the city. All materials used to build the store’s interior were handmade, organic and ethically sourced, including recycled foam and wall panels made of paper waste collected from the company’s various London offices. The store also uses biodegradable mannequins and has an air-conditioning system that uses nano carbon tech to make sure the circulating air always remains as clean as possible. High-end fashion brand, Versace, has also opened a sustainable boutique London store that emphasises the use of sustainably sourced materials.

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney's sustainable store design

Make sure you have the right tech in place

Not only is automation vital for helping retailers become more eco-friendly - from offering paperless services such as email receipts and cloud storage for company records, to streamlining equipment and processes, reducing scrap and using less space so less energy is used - but it’s crucial for enabling retailers to successfully pivot to their new approach and deliver operationally without any hiccups.

Retailers should consider working with a third-party agency who can ensure they have the right digital systems in place so that everything operationally is connected, seamless and organised. Brands should also take time to explore new innovations such as AI solutions to enhance customer experiences whilst freeing up their workforce to be more productive on other tasks that the new, more sustainable approach might demand. AI solutions can go a long way to ensuring the new approach is delivered as smoothly as possible as they help to optimise inventory management, streamline supply chain operations and automate other key business processes in a retailer’s tech stack.

Final thoughts

It’s vital to remember that significant plans to pivot to a brand new circular in-store model with an array of sustainable offerings need to be supported by effective technology. Retailers should be savvy about getting the right technology in place to ensure an ongoing, friction-free, omnichannel customer experience and shouldn’t be afraid to explore new innovations such as AI to help streamline processes. Integrating an end-to-end solution is essential for helping retailers adapt to changing consumer habits - whether that’s the resurgence of in-store shopping or increasing demands for a greener customer journey. This approach will be essential for brands looking to adapt to a more circular set up in-store - it will help businesses change and scale up their operations without risk and give them a 360° view of their business, all in one place.

Ian Moore is founder and head of services at Excellent Zephyr.

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