The recent troubles of House of Fraser and Debenhams demonstrate that the traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail model doesn’t wield the same power that it has previously. In these troubling times for retail, the sector needs to adapt to survive and many believe technology is the answer, writes Natasha Frangos, partner, haysmacintyre.
Achieving a seamless instore customer experience needs to be at the heart of all fashion brands, but customers are increasingly turning to online stores. Many believe that tech solutions could go some way to improving customer experience both instore and online, and ultimately change the face of bricks-and-mortar stores, for the better.
Tech centric partnerships have been working well to improve brands’ online offering. One great example is the tie-up between Swedish fintech payment provider Klarna and H&M. Klarna offers shoppers a ‘pay later’ option at the online checkout, giving customers increased control over their payments. Similarly, the online personal shopping platform Stitch Fix uses information from short online surveys on personal preferences to compile and send personalised boxes of clothing and accessories to customers. As the software becomes more familiar with a shopper’s likes and dislikes, the app’s selection of clothes improves.
Partnerships such as these are an example of increasing tech integration across the retail industry, but payments technology is far from new to the sector. The vast majority of fashion and retail businesses will use some form of payment platform, for example PayPal and Stripe. These platforms smooth the shopping process for customers, creating a faster check-out and removing the hassle of remembering or finding bank card details.
Payment tech can also bring benefits to business owners – data provided from this tech is usually easier and quicker to integrate into their business’ own financial software, however the benefits of using finance solutions can only be fully appreciated if businesses understand how to maximise their use.
It’s not just the high street, but also high fashion brands that are realising the benefits of tech. Harper Concierge works with luxury brands, allowing shoppers to try on their purchases in the comfort of their own home. The consumer returns any unwanted goods to the courier, keeping and paying for their chosen items. This, like Klarna, is an example of an ‘anytime, anywhere’ solution.
Technology is also helping to change the face of high street stores. Businesses can use technology to better analyse customer data, helping enhance instore and online shopping experiences for consumers. We are seeing stores on the high street becoming more like showrooms, focused on the shopper experience and what customers think and feel, rather than the traditional instore atmosphere. Savvy brands realise the importance of really knowing their customers. By analysing shoppers’ habits and behaviour, brands will be able to able to identify the particular sizes, colours or styles that are flying off the shelves, so they can then produce better products that sell well, epitomise their core brand values and resonate with their target consumer.
Blockchain technology is also becoming more widely used in supply chain management. Despite the technology being in its infancy, blockchain has the potential to dramatically improve the transparency and reporting process of stock, all the way from production right through to shipping and final sale.
As technology continues to develop, we could see AI and virtual reality become commonplace in the retail sector. Fashion brand Burberry has already made use of AI to personalise the shopper experience with technology that allows clothing tags to communicate with shoppers’ smart phones, to offer suggestions on how to wear particular items. AI is also allowing commonly counterfeited brands to crack down on forged products. Whilst we can expect to see tech becoming a more prominent force in the retail sector, AI technologies are still in the early stages, so will need to be refined before the potential can be fully realised.
Tech is not only becoming more prominent in shopping experiences, but is also having a presence in products themselves. Wearable technology, such as the Apple Watch or Fitbits, are increasingly commonplace, and there is little doubt that these smart watches will soon become more integrated with the traditional jewellery market. Smart tech fabrics could also be seen more in the future, offering benefits such as heat control or the monitoring of some health factors such as heart rate or even posture.
Every fashion and retail business strives to offer innovative and exciting products alongside a seamless and unique customer experience. With consumers leading increasingly busy lives, tech has the potential to improve not only how we shop but also what we buy, with investment in this space only set to grow.