Comment counts: If we’re going to do fashion and tech, it has to be right for the consumer

Data has a bigger role to play than the industry is yet paying attention to, writes Glenn Ebert of SapientRazorfish, pushing for a customer-first mentality from retailers.

Farfetch Store of the Future

Farfetch Store of the Future

Judging from the nonstop chatter in the trenches of nearly every digital conference and forum this year so far, much of the industry buzz stems from the potential posed by artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), and how big brands will leverage this next frontier of tech.

As the halfway mark of 2017 has now arrived, the fact is the world of fashion and retail still remains an incredibly fragmented, chaotic and fatigued place. While new technologies present an exciting opportunity, the retail industry (especially luxury brands) appear to be even further away from being able to engage these experiential trends, as many still can’t grasp the new fundamentals needed to survive. This is especially apparent when compared to more savvy competitors and entrant disruptors.

After all, many brands are still struggling to find effective, efficient models to overhaul subpar customer experiences and meet the needs of a more demanding and discerning digital consumer. As the retail industry continues to burn and more brick-and-mortar stores shutter, very few retailers have mastered the art of using a data-driven approach to give customers products and experiences they actually want to see.

The fact remains most of what’s currently being created in the fashion tech space is still not wearable, functional, scalable, or even applicable to the day-to-day lives of the modern shopper.

While embedded virtual reality, fitness trackers and Facebook ‘like’ sensors are pretty interesting, are they really what the customer wants? The gap in appetite and comprehension for adaption and innovation is far wider than many fashion companies are aware of; especially when compared to alignment of enthusiasm and cohesion seen in other industries.

One of the biggest voids is in how to use data and insights to provide customers with relevant in-store and online experiences. This is especially true for many luxury brands, which have been stiff and cumbersome in changing how they position and deliver their products and experiences to a younger, millennial consumer.

There’s a need therefore to step back and learn from the brands that are getting this right. Take a look at Amazon’s recent $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods, for instance, which enabled it to combine data it already collects from existing platforms with Whole Foods’ customer transaction data, to create an individually tailored customer experience.

Nordstrom seems to be the biggest bright spot in the industry to crack this code otherwise. Using an effective mix of revamped eCRM-minded digital touchpoints, social media and e-commerce data, and improved in-store technology to make the customer to salesperson experience more efficient, the once in-danger “mall brand” has rebounded to the tune of 50% revenue growth over the past five years.

Luxury e-commerce juggernaut Farfetch meanwhile, added to its list of headline grabbing moments when it announced its Store of the Future back in April. Building on its purchase of London-based department store Brown’s in 2015, the retail space aims to “link the online and offline worlds, using data to enhance the retail experience”, as quoted by CEO Jose Neves.

Using everything from RFID-enabled shopping racks, augmented reality mirrors and dressing rooms, and a full integration of the shopper’s mobile app to enhance the salesperson experience, the move is bold to say the least. While it’s one of the most literal, advantageous examples of putting data at the heart of the retail experience, only time will tell if it will translate to foot traffic.

In summary, as exciting as it may be to usher in the era of the virtual cashmere sweater, there are still many areas retailers should be focusing on first; specifically, better leveraging and integrating data and insights to optimise the customer experience for a new generation of consumers. Furthermore, we should be using such insights to validate whether consumers actually want these types of products, experiences or innovations in the first place.

Glenn Ebert is a senior digital strategist at SapientRazorfish. Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.