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5 brands tapping virtual storefronts to drive engagement and push conversion.

Brands are using virtual experiences in physical locations to provide shoppers with the benefit of an interactive in-person experience without needing to carry inventory.

These “invisible” or virtual storefronts – usually in the form of augmented reality content visible via smartphones – are being used to drive sales, collect data and boost branding efforts. At a time when physical retail is struggling, such mobile initiatives aren’t just eye-catching, they’re more convenient by providing curated products that can then be delivered on demand. 

To date, we’ve seen brands doing everything from collaborating with artists and social media platforms to creating personalized assortments using such virtual setups. Shoppability is key. Here’s a highlight of some of the more recent success stories…

Havaianas
Havaianas’s boardwalk virtual store

Early this summer, footwear brand Havaianas launched a virtual storefront focused on driving sales for one day only. Located on the Venice Beach boardwalk in Los Angeles, shoppers passing by a colorful mural discovered it was actually a virtual pop-up store. Snapping a photo of the designs they liked directed them to a shoppable microsite at  StepIntoSummer.com, revealing a curated style guide with various tips on what to buy. 

The concept was powered by Google’s Cloud Vision AI platform, which helped Havaianas pair merchandise with colors from the mural – a big step up from QR codes. The brand collaborated with street artist Buff Monster on the mural and featured fashion tips from stylist Tara Swennen.

Lego
Lego’s augmented reality store

To promote its first limited-edition clothing line for adults, Lego opened a pop-up shop with a twist in February: the store was entirely empty. Shoppers in London’s Soho neighbourhood arrived to find a Snapcode (a QR code for Snapchat) displayed on a pedestal. Scanning the code with their phones then surrounded them with a virtual storefront in AR. 

Customers could choose between three different types of merchandise – sweatshirts, caps and t-shirts – and view them on a Lego character. The pieces then sold through an integrated “Shop Now” feature on Snapchat, which led shoppers through to a dedicated e-commerce page that displayed the products on a real-life model, enabling them to choose their size before completing purchase.

Macy’s
Macy’s Santa Monica Pier displays

Macy’s partnered with Pinterest to display scannable Pincodes at vibrant gathering spots in the US, such as Central Park in New York and the Santa Monica Pier in LA. Scanning a code took shoppers to a Pinterest board curated with ideal summer looks for their location with links to the online store. 

Unlike most immersive retail experiences that are fixed to a specific location, or indeed online only, this campaign was designed to inspire customers with virtual catalogs that meet them where they are. 

Nike
The Nike Air Jordan III “Tinker” sold out on Snapchat

Nike is another that has been experimenting with the idea of using specific virtual spaces to release new products. In 2018 it also used Snapchat, this time to release its Air Jordan III “Tinker” for those in attendance at the NBA All-Star after-party only.

 Achieved via a partnership between Nike, Snap, Darkstore and Shopify, users could scan exclusive Snap codes to buy and receive the shoes by 10:30pm that same night. All of them sold out within 23 minutes.

Outdoor Voices
Outdoor Voices augmented reality experience

Austin-based activewear brand Outdoor Voices launched an augmented reality app experience at SXSW in 2018 that encouraged fans to get outdoors to find particular virtual products in the middle of the park. Once discovered, users could explore them in 360-degrees, find out more information as well as click to purchase.

How are you thinking about new technology? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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data product Retail technology

Chanel’s new Paris flagship will test augmented retail concept

Chanel
Chanel

Chanel’s newly-opened flagship in Paris will serve as a testing ground for the label’s digital initiatives, aiming to create an increasingly omnichannel retail experience. 

This is part of an innovation partnership with Farfetch announced earlier this year, which will see the luxury brand develop new clienteling tools both online and in-store. Called Augmented Retail, the vision will use data and other digital capabilities to create a personalized shopping experience, according to Farfetch founder and CEO José Neves.

Speaking on the partnership in February, he said: “It is truly an honour to be partnering with Chanel to accelerate the development of technology-driven initiatives which will ensure they remain at the forefront of retail excellence and elevate the already unparalleled level of luxury experience for its clients that Chanel is renowned for.”

Among the digital features set to be rolled out over the next six months is the launch of a dedicated Chanel app, which will focus on giving its most loyal shoppers more access to the brand, as well as a more tailored shopping experience.

Beyond tech enhancements, the five-storey space has a heavy focus on its VIP customers, with the two top floors dedicated to exclusive experiences, such as enjoying private meals and even taking a shower. 

Luxury brands and retailers are increasingly dedicating shopfloor space to providing its most engaged customers with experiences that go beyond shopping. Earlier this year, online retailer Matchesfashion.com opened its first physical space at a townhouse in London, featuring floors with the sole purpose of hosting events such as book signings, podcast recordings, exhibitions and exercise classes.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Alibaba pilots AI-enabled store with Guess

Alibaba's FashionAI for GUESS
Alibaba’s FashionAI for GUESS

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with Guess to pilot an artificial intelligence-enabled store of the future concept, where the technology will improve and further personalize the shopping experience.

Located on the campus grounds of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for one weekend in July, the concept store is showcasing Alibaba’s FashionAI technology that is built around the e-commerce platform Taobao.

“By partnering with Alibaba, a dominant technology leader, we are changing the retail experience as our customers also evolve,” said José Blanco, CEO of Greater China for Guess. “It is important that we continuously invest in new technology and platforms. This entire project came together in just five months thanks to a strong partnership between our two companies.”

Upon entering the store, users can check in with their Taobao QR codes or via facial recognition. All items are RFID-enabled, and when picked up, show up in a smart mirror. The mirror also suggests outfits to complete the look either based on the user’s previous purchases or entirely new items, while directing shoppers to where such suggested items can be found in the store.

Shoppers can also use the smart mirrors to add items they would like to try on to a virtual shopping cart, while staff populate the fitting room with their choices. When entering the fitting room, shoppers have their Taobao code scanned, which triggers a dedicated smart mirror. Interestingly if shoppers cannot find what they are looking for at the Guess-branded store, they can add clothing from other Taobao virtual stores via tablets, thus shopping cross-brand. To complete purchase, they must use the Taobao virtual shopping cart.

The store also works as an opportunity for Alibaba to refine the FashionAI concept, while better understanding how the resulting data can help brands be smarter about ordering and maintaining inventory.

“Guess and Alibaba share the same vision to understand customer behaviors through technologies, ” said Zhuoran Zhuang, vice president of the Alibaba Group. “With Guess’ retail expertise, we are able to train and refine our FashionAI system, and marry technology with fashion in a way that’s never been done before. We are looking forward to deepening our partnership to innovate personalized services offered in retail shops.”

E-commerce brands are increasingly investigating how the technology that they have refined online can be leveraged in the brick and mortar experience to give demanding consumers the same level of personalized service. In April 2017, Farfetch revealed its store of the future concept, which we delved into in further detail with the project’s managing director Sandrine Deveaux for TheCurrent Innovators podcast in June. The retailer has since announced pilot programmes at Browns in London and Thom Browne in NYC, as well as a long-term partnership with Chanel.

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Retail

The Future of Luxury: First Comes the App, Then Comes the Store

Red Home

Commerce is changing in China at rates unseen in any other market. Possibly the biggest change is in the attitudes and shopping behaviors of modern Chinese consumers. These shoppers demand the kind of convenience technology can provide, yet are increasingly seeking meaningful ways to engage with brands in the real world.

Despite China’s love of online shopping, e-commerce platforms have discovered that – to meet the needs of modern Chinese consumers – having an online presence is no longer enough.

Digital giant Alibaba’s “New Retail” strategy attests to this phenomenon. By investing in brick and mortar stores, Alibaba is pushing forward the integration of online and offline retail to create a seamless omnichannel consumer experience.

Their main competitor, JD.com, is embracing the trend too. The e-commerce company says it plans to open a total of one million smart convenience stores in the next four years, claiming that they will open an average of 1,000 a day in 2018. Many of these stores will be unmanned and allow customers to pay with facial recognition.

On June 16, China’s popular social e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu (RED)became one of the first of the smaller e-commerce players to join the giants in their journey into brick-and-mortar, by launching its first offline store RED Home in Shanghai. In just a couple of weeks, the store has proved popular with Xiaohongshu’s loyal online user base.

The store is a case study in the future of retail and how to create a space specifically designed for the young, modern Chinese consumer, incorporating the major trends of Chinese retail.

1. Socialization and community

Xiaohongshu representatives often emphasize that it is first and foremost a social platform; e-commerce is a secondary component added in response to the needs and requests of its community.

In an interview with Chinese tech media outlet 36KR, Xiaohongshu explained that the main goal of the offline store is not to increase sales but to be an experientialplace for its community to meet offline.

The store features a café and ice cream shop deliberately located adjacent to the home goods department, offering customers the chance to hang out and spend time with each other and the products.

The store’s inventory does not include all items available on the Xiaohongshu platform, instead featuring only the most highly ranked products from its app. In this way, Xiaohongshu is using the preferences of its online community to curate the offline store’s inventory.

2. Technological Integration

Augmented reality in store

Constant exposure to new technologies and innovative social media campaigns have become an everyday part of Chinese consumers’ lives. Physical shops need to adopt these technologies and integrate virtual activities into real life, in a way that is practical for the consumer.

For example, beauty retailers including the Yves Saint Laurent store in Shanghai have added augmented reality screens that use facial recognition to enable customers to virtually try on different makeup looks. Beauty and skincare are the most popular product categories on the Xiaohongshu platform, and so this technology was also added to the app’s new offline location.

The core feature of the Xiaohongshu app is product reviews, an aspect that has been seamlessly integrated into the offline experience. Instead of the customer pulling out their phone to search for reviews online, the offline location offers screens located throughout the store. Customers can bring any item in the store over to the screen, and the screen will then pull up review posts about that particular product on the Xiaohongshu app.

3. Experiential

RED Home Claw machine

For brands looking to foster a deeper connection with Chinese millennials, an experiential approach is the key. With nearly 80 percent of its users under the age of 35, this was extremely important for Xiaohongshu to keep in mind when creating its offline store.

In addition to the café and ice cream counter, the Xiaohongshu store also has a Lego building area. Following the vintage arcade game fad happening in China right now, the store has claw machines with prizes such as designer lipsticks.

The Xiaohongshu platform centers around a community who love to take photos of their lives and share them online. Because of this, the store aims to be a selfie-lovers paradise, having clearly been designed with social media in mind.

Interestingly, in an interview, Xiaohongshu shared that the staff responsible for designing the store had no previous offline retail experience. Instead, it was their years in online retail – especially in the fashion and beauty industries – that led them to think outside the box when it came to the store’s layout, décor and technological integration.

Xiaohongshu is not exclusively a luxury e-commerce platform and therefore its offline store cannot be completely comparable to that of a luxury brand. However, RED Home offers some key insights into the future of retail in China, showing how offline retail spaces can be designed in order to capture the attention of young Chinese consumers, integrating technology in a way that complements the behaviors of a brand’s target audience.

By Lauren Hallanan

This article was originally published on Jing Daily, a content partner of TheCurrentDaily: The Future of Luxury: First Comes the App, Then Comes the Store

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data e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast Retail

Farfetch on the store of the future

Rosanna Falconer and Sandrine Deveaux
Rosanna Falconer and Sandrine Deveaux

The store of the future is about solving the problems of today in an innovative and meaningful way for the customer, says Sandrine Deveaux of Farfetch, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to guest host, Rosanna Falconer, at a live FashMash Pioneers event in London, the managing director of the e-commerce company’s store of the future division, explains that her focus in not just on new technology for the sake of it, but on creating better shopping experiences driven by personalization.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

Following the announcement of Farfetch’s Store of the Future concept in April 2017, Deveaux has been building a series of beta tests in place in Browns East in London, Thom Browne in New York and Chanel in Paris. But the result doesn’t mean big flashy screens or variations on augmented reality, as she is so often asked about.

Instead, it’s about better servicing the customer; understanding what they want when they walk into stores thanks to data, but also making things like the payment experience a much more seamless one.

She says the store of the future is really about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon, so as to keep in line with increasing consumer expectations.

And so the end goal,for her team, she says, is to provide brands and boutiques with full visibility around customer behavior and customer intent, mirroring what’s possible online in the offline space.

“85% of customers, we don’t know anything about them. So that’s what the store of the future is really getting to – it’s about how we leverage the platform we have with Farfetch, and try to really look at online behavior and take that online behavior into an in-store context,” she explains. This is something Farfetch calls “enabling the offline cookie”.

On this episode, Deveaux also talks to driving disruptive innovation through healthy internal tension, how she’s changing the way luxury brands think, and why the ultimate sales associate for the store of the future might just be a unicorn.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Podcast Retail

Lego on the importance of play at retail

Lego's Martin Urrutia with Rachel Arthur
Lego’s Martin Urrutia with Rachel Arthur

Lego’s most important feedback often comes from six year-olds, says the brand’s head of retail innovation, Martin Urrutia, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to Rachel Arthur at this year’s World Retail Congress in Madrid, Urrutia says focusing on the relationship between the user and the brick, and constantly listening to consumers’ wants and needs, has been pivotal to the Danish brand’s longevity.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

“Prior to rolling out anything important in our stores we actually sit at a table and present this to children and listen to them. And of course sometimes you say ‘Am I going to let a six or eight year old child tell me what to do in store?’ and the answer is yes, of course. If you present this to them, if you listen to the feedback, it’s going to be interesting,” he explains. “I’ve seen so many companies changing their essence and changing many things,” he says, “and the only question that comes to my mind is – have they really asked their core users what they want?”

In order to serve all types of consumers with the right interaction, the brand prides itself on being truly shopper-centric. Understanding the consumer is particularly key to a brand that is in the unique position of having such a vast fanbase – from small children to much older adults. This means engaging with core fans through a continuous conversation informs not only R&D, but also store design and interactive experiences. There have been many ideas that looked good on paper but were scrapped when they received negative feedback from real consumers or partner retailers, Urrutia explains, for instance.

Lego's AR in-store
Lego’s AR in-store

During the episode, he talks to the idea of store experiences that engender memories, and always bringing in an element of play to everything the brand does. Such is the importance of the physical toy for the 85-year-old company, in fact, that it is often found in its meeting rooms worldwide, and its workforce takes one day a year to put work aside and play with the brick themselves. This internal strategy feeds into a larger purpose that encourages customers to play and engage with the toys at any given moment – be it at home or in any one of the brand’s increasing retail spaces.

Throughout the conversation, Urrutia also explains about the importance of choosing the right technology for retail; both that which is easy for staff and customers alike to interact with, but also simple to update and scale. He also notes other imperative brick-and-mortar retail tools, such as an invested and knowledgeable staff, as well as ensuring that there is something for everyone within that physical space.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Nordstrom’s new NYC menswear store is enhancing the retail experience with technology

Nordstrom
Nordstrom

Nordstrom is opening a new tech-enabled menswear store located in the heart of New York City, as part of its ongoing focus on new retail formats.

The three-floor location at 57th Street and Broadway, aims to combine an old school retail experience with cutting edge technology to provide a unique shopping experience to its customers.

It will be home to Nordstrom’s full-line of menswear, shoes and grooming supplies with a focus on streetwear. Brands that will be present in the store include high-end names like Comme des Garçons and Christian Louboutin, as well Vans and Adidas.

While shoe shines and tailoring are part of the traditional focus of the store (there are 16 tailors on staff, contributing to one of the largest network of tailors in North America, as well as five personal shoppers), there’s also a big interactive element enabled to drive both convenience and experience for shoppers.

Technology in its tailoring section for instance, includes digital screens that display an avatar of the shopper so they can try on an array of custom-made jackets.

Meanwhile, a new fully digital returns system will also be in place to assist on the customer journey. Returned items can be scanned at a digital kiosk and deposited in a bin, limiting the need for human contact throughout the process. The only other Nordstrom store to use this system is in Seattle.

The store also enhances the online shopping process by offering 24-hour collection. This means customers can order items online and collect them from the store – a Nordstrom employee will meet them at the store entrance no matter the time of day.

Nordstrom already operates two of its Nordstrom Rack discount stores in the city, but the investment will serve as a test of the future of department stores as people choose to shop online more frequently.

It also follows the launch of the retailer’s Nordstrom Local concept, a service-orientated store that doesn’t hold any inventory, and instead focuses on appointment-only services including alterations, tailoring and personal styling, as well as online collections and returns.

The store serves as a prelude to the opening of Nordstrom’s womenswear location, expected in 2019.

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e-commerce Editor's pick mobile Retail

Nike announces retail app for connected in-store experience

Nike

Nike has announced the launch of Nike App at Retail, a mobile concept that provides in-store customers with a personalised experience via their devices.

The app will allow consumers to be recognised when entering a store, opening up exclusive products within their proximity. It will also allow them to scan product availability in all nearby Nike stores, as well as check out and pay for their in-store purchases.

For customers using the app elsewhere, they can reserve products in a personal locker in-store for try-on and purchase later. The brand is said to be testing several other features that will eventually be incorporated into a wider range of stores.

The debut, which will happen in Q4 in two locations – Portland and Los Angeles – follows the recent acquisition of Zodiac, a consumer data and analytics startup whose expertise the sporting brand will leverage to build skills in-house and better connect with customers.

Nike's scavenger hunt
Nike’s scavenger hunt

At an earnings call on March 22, CEO Mark Parker stated that digital and mobile apps are playing an increasing role in how the brand launches key innovations, which is reflective of how consumers are behaving and shopping. He explained there will be a lot more storytelling coming to life from a digital standpoint as it becomes a more important part of the brand’s overall strategy.

In the future, Nike’s in-store experiences will blend physical and digital seamlessly and effortlessly complement one another, he added.

Nike has recently been experimenting with providing super fans with one-off experiences leveraged by their digital behaviours, particularly in terms of gamification. Last year, it promoted an AR scavenger hunt that enabled fans to get their hands on a limited shoe collaboration by scanning NYC posters, while this February it gave fans at a basketball match early access to limited edition shoes via a shoppable Snapchat filter.

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data e-commerce Editor's pick Retail technology

Chanel and Farfetch team up for Store of the Future partnership

Chanel & Farfetch announce partnership
Chanel & Farfetch announce partnership

Chanel and Farfetch have signed a multiyear innovation partnership that will see the companies collaborate to develop a series of digital initiatives in-store and online.

The companies have been working together for several months on merging Farfetch’s expertise in digital innovation with Chanel’s expertise in luxury retailing to create enhanced customer experiences in this Store of the Future bid.

José Neves, founder and CEO of Farfetch, calls the company’s future vision “Augmented Retail”, in which the physical boutique experience and the advantages of online and digital competitor come together. Speaking of the Chanel partnership, he says: “It is truly an honour to be partnering with Chanel to accelerate the development of technology-driven initiatives which will ensure they remain at the forefront of retail excellence and elevate the already unparalleled level of luxury experience for its clients that Chanel is renowned for.”

The vision provides in-store experiences that are personalized to the customer with the use of data and other digital initiatives. Farfetch’s launch of its Store of the Future division in early 2017 promised to enable the “offline cookie” for retailers, by connecting customers in the physical space with data relevant to their own behaviors thanks to a universal login system. It has been working in beta with Browns East since, and is soon to launch in Thom Browne in New York also.

With this partnership, Chanel will customise their own version of the Farfetch Store of the Future operating system, the specific terms and details of which are undisclosed. The first example of it will launch in a France-based boutique later in 2018.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s fashion president, says: “We are very enthusiastic about this Innovation Partnership and look forward to implementing the first steps of our projects together. We want to offer our clients the opportunity to further experience the brand values and to feel something which is authentic and unique to Chanel. We strongly believe that digital will never replace the feeling of being in a fitting room and trying on a Chanel piece. We are confident that Farfetch’s innovative technology will help us develop an even more outstanding customer journey by combining a great e-service offering with a genuine Chanel boutique experience.”

As part of the partnership Chanel has invested in Farfetch, joining its existing list of shareholders.

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business data e-commerce Editor's pick product Startups sustainability technology

The big innovation trends shaping 2018

Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads
Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads

Underpinning the fashion and luxury industries right now is both a tough retail environment and a landscape of intensifying competition – from Amazon to the bevy of new direct to consumer players. While sales are steadily on the rise, with The McKinsey Global Fashion Index projecting global industry growth from 3.5 to 4.5% in 2018, there are still big challenges ahead.

As we’ve seen time and again, survival is no longer a guarantee merely based on heritage; innovation in an age of rapidly evolving consumer expectations is what will drive staying power.

However, while that word – “innovation” – means newness in a literal sense, when it comes to looking at trends for the year ahead, we are very much talking about evolution not revolution in terms of what matters for retail and fashion brands.

For 2018, then, the big areas of focus will continue to be around augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the voice interface, blockchain, the circular economy, new materials, customisation and fulfillment.

Those tech terms tie into some big overarching trends shaping the future of the industry too; namely the sense of an increasingly frictionless shopping experience, more personalised and relevant consumer interactions and the drive of a serious sustainable agenda.

Here are the things you need to be thinking about…


Augmented reality

In 2017 we saw the launch of Apple’s ARkit and Google’s ARcore, making augmented reality development on the devices we all use everyday incredibly simple. This push into the mainstream has led to a forecast of 900 million AR-enabled smartphones by the end of 2018, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital. With that of course comes increased consumer expectation – research from Digital Bridge shows that 69% of shoppers now want retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months.

We’ve already seen the likes of Ikea, Anthropologie and Burberry doing so to both facilitate shopping and make for some fun experiential use cases. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vogue: “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website.” 2018 then is your year to tool up. What is your AR strategy going to be?


Artificial intelligence

Big data strategy is more of a reality for retailers and brands than ever thanks to the role of machine learning within artificial intelligence. Now, decisions can be made based on detailed and real-time consumer insights. The largest benefit for businesses at this point lies in providing greater relevancy or personalisation to the consumer – from tailored recommendations to highly individualised messaging.

We’ve seen this gaining velocity over the past 12 months from the likes of Sunglass Hut, Yoox Net-a-Porter, Shop Direct and Topman both vying to increase conversions, but 2018 will bring us all the more. Look out for the way in which the store of the future continues to evolve off the back of data-led insights also, and don’t forget to keep on top of the ever evolving chatbot space as a fundamental part of your customer service approach.


The voice interface

There will be an estimated 1.8 billion users of voice assistants – like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – by 2021, according to Tractia. That kind of progress is already well underway, hot on the heels of simple facts like Amazon’s Echo devices being the biggest sellers on its website this holiday season. Last year we saw retailers starting to figure out where their place was in this landscape – Walmart teamed up with Google Home; others like Perry Ellis launched a fun personal styling app through Alexa.

Based on the simple mantra of needing to be where your consumers are, it’s time for the rest of the industry to start exploring how they too can use voice. At some point we’re going to see such technology assistants as the gatekeepers to shoppers, turning traditionally targeting and messaging on its head.


Blockchain

Blockchain is another tech word that’s been bandied about nonstop of late, but the chips are starting to fall as to what this can really mean for the industry. While cryptocurrencies are having a real do or die moment, the more relevant applications of blockchain for fashion brands lie in authenticity and transparency. Authenticity is about anticounterfeiting above all else, while transparency sits alongside sustainability. Both are about validating supply chain data, with blockchain by its immutable nature supporting that very fact.

London designer Martine Jarlgaard recently led the charge in terms of transparency, turning to storytelling to showcase each step of her supply chain through blockchain company Provenance. Expect 2018 to see more of these types of initiatives on a marketing level, as well as a broader movement to start thinking from the ground up in terms of integrating such technology into the foundations of the organisation.


The circular economy

On the subject of sustainability, the drive for less waste, and the move towards a true circular economy is also gaining headway. In 2017 we saw H&M announce its goal to be fully circular by 2030 and to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. No small task, but a bold statement highlighting the work that’s got to go in between now and then.

The key, according to Nielsen, is that 72% of millennials and 73% of Generation Z say they would pay more for brands with sustainable offerings, meaning doing good is also key to strong business today. It’s not possible to be in this industry without thinking about this side of things in some way or another as a result, making this year a critical time for all involved. Strategy around the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle, will be a big focus for 2018, from new innovations shaping the possibilities around recycling techniques themselves, to a continued focus on areas like the sharing economy and resale sites.


New materials

One key area of innovation central to the sustainability or circular economy movement lies in the actual materials used. Bioengineering is particularly picking up pace. Biofabricated leather from Modern Meadow just got its first outing with the launch of Zoa, while lab-grown spider silk from Bolt Threads saw its first luxury partnership with designer Stella McCartney in 2017.

Other names like VitroLabs are also worth keeping an eye on, as well as those experimenting with different fibres produced from the byproduct of harvests including pineapples, mushrooms, oranges and grapes. If last year was about experimentation, 2018 gives us the opportunity to move towards application and real commercial viability.


Customisation

If you pull together some of the above trends – personalisaton and sustainability fundamentally – there’s little escape from the idea of customisation as a penultimate thought for 2018. If you can make something tailored to the individual, waste is lower, usage lasts longer, conversions are higher… the list goes on.

This is not new – we’ve been monogramming for decades – but the continued roll out of flexible manufacturing options from start-ups like Unmade, or with Shima Seiki printers as the likes of Ministry of Supply have used, as well as large scale automated systems like the Speedfactory from Adidas, are making this both quicker and more possible at scale. If that wasn’t enough, beware the A word once more: Amazon recently won a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system for apparel. That could be a game changer.


Fulfillment

In case Amazon hasn’t yet been mentioned enough above, one final point to note continues around just how to make your time from order to delivery faster than ever. With the e-commerce juggernaut setting the precedent amid a consumer landscape of instant gratification in the on-demand economy world, it’s become somewhat of a race to the bottom for fulfillment.

The fact is, if we’re offered 30-minute drone delivery down the line, or even more realistically the 90-minute arrivals of our Gucci wares from Farfetch, as we saw launch in 2017, we’re more than likely going to take it. The question of need no longer comes into it. This space is ripe with start-ups offering all manner of assistance – from types of delivery options to opportunities for simplified returns. So what are you doing to pick up the pace? Time is quite literally of the essence.