30 seconds. That’s the time stamp being aimed for in a number of retailers’ click and collect services – an objective to get the customer in and out in the quickest way possible. It’s an ambitious goal, but a level of convenience that’s highly relevant, not to mention desired, by time-starved customers.
Arguably for fashion, however, there’s a much smarter move. Nordstrom, for instance, is starting to prove the need for something a little more personal in the transaction too.
It has just introduced a new “Reserve & Try In Store” feature to its app – a way to help make the shopping experience easier for customers who like to touch, feel and try on items before buying them. The basic premise is that you reserve up to 10 items on your smartphone, select your closest store and then head to it in person where a personalised fitting room is waiting for you with those specific pieces. You don’t part with any cash until you decide what it is you want to buy.
It’s all about the convenience of online shopping but with some real world experience thrown in; all of that negating the need to drag a package home, try the items on once you get there and then realise what it is you don’t want before going through the often laborious returns process. It follows others including Westfield, Asos and Jaeger trying out real-world fitting room services attached to online orders in the past.
The whole thing is also just a lot warmer. Let’s face it, no matter where you go, the majority of click and collect systems feel like a cold and hard transaction. You show up to a counter often hidden at the back of one of the floors, stand in line for a considerable amount of time (despite that 30 second goal), hand over your information and wait while the parcel is found for you. Generally speaking, when it comes out, it’s not even wrapped in the nice packaging you might get in store, but in the sort that usually comes with an online sale.
Everything about it is impersonal. In fact, there’s little to differentiate it from standing in an Argos store waiting for your number to be called to collect the box on the rack you’ve been waiting for. Great for Argos, not so suited to a tactile fashion brand.
And all of that comes at a time when consumer demands have never been higher. Click and collect is an expectation now; not a novelty but the norm. If you don’t offer it, you’re behind.
In fact, omnichannel at large is an expectation; 68% of millennials now demand an integrated, seamless experience, regardless of the channel, according to Accenture. With services like click and collect, there’s more need than ever therefore for fashion brands to do something different to stand out from the competition.
After all, 78% of millennials also say they’d rather now spend money on desirable experiences over products. Never before has the experience economy been so ready for exploitation. Having a fitting room attached is almost not enough of a leap therefore, which is why artificial intelligence (AI) has a part to play.
Beyond the offer from Nordstrom, what if the reserve opportunity became a personal shopper service? Not in the traditional sense, but in a way that means those 10 items you’ve reserved also come with further suggestions for items you might like. Some basic data insights tied in, and the system should be able to recognise other pieces you’ve browsed ahead of time, perhaps lingered over for a little longer on the app, watched the videos for and so forth.
Add in a recommendation engine, that AI in action, and it could also include another rail with looks it knows match your tastes, coordinate with the ones you’ve reserved and even marry up to your purchase history. All of that done on an opt-in basis, of course. It’s a ripe opportunity for upsell and cross-sell, not to mention with an engaged customer already committed to dwell time.
That fitting room you try it on in should also be a connected one, like the Polo Ralph Lauren experience from Oak Labs (as above); with a sales associate on speed dial to get you other sizes, colours and more, as well as immediately check you out. This heightened version of convenience is also the perfect move for renewed clienteling; more than just a member’s club with a stylist on hand (as Nordstrom also offers), but a hands-on personalised experience enriched by machine learning.
This would suit luxury brands – especially those already operating in a relatively connected space, like Burberry. But so too could it run the gamut of digitally-savvy high street retailers, department stores and beyond.
Yes there are going to be those consumers who want to get in and get out; pick up their order and leave, make use of lockers, drive-thrus and more, but there are also those who would like something a little more enriching, seamless and useful for the time spent. A personalised version of what’s otherwise become nothing more than a transactional Argos encounter, rather than an engaging brand experience.