Rapid advancements in technology are disrupting fashion retail. Empathic artificial intelligence (AI) is driving customer experience personalization efforts. Blockchain-based developments are driving supply chain transparency. Virtual communities are advocating for sustainable fashion. Smart wearables are bringing new purpose to fashion items. And retailers are under pressure.
Pressure to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry. Pressure to reorganize their business around customer needs and beliefs. Pressure to achieve process efficiencies and to improve the bottom line.
Even though technology is seemingly driving all this pressure, it is, nevertheless, out there for every retailer to access and use. “How to use it?” is indeed the tricky part. But the confluence of fashion, retail and technology points to four common themes trending in 2018: personalization, process, perception and purpose.
PERSONALIZATION. According to an Accenture study, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy from retailers that provide personalized services. And as we’ve seen at the 2018 NRF conference, retailers have truly internalized this fact. They are focused on providing their customers a personalized shopping experience because they recognize the benefits of doing so – higher profits and greater customer loyalty. But they’re still trying to figure out how to strategize around it and what tech capabilities will help deliver more personalized experiences while fitting their business models. Which is no surprise, given the many options out there.
Whether or not you’re one of those struggling to strategize, one thing’s for sure: most 2018 strategies for personalizing customer experiences will include some form of AI.
In recent years, online retailers have leveraged AI algorithms to personalize their customers’ shopping experiences through shopping recommendations based on past purchases. Brands like ASOS have also started to use AI to develop visual search capabilities that allow customers to search for a product they’d like to buy based on a photo of a similar product. And physical stores are catching up, eager to make good use of AI as well, to enhance the in-store experience of their customers. One example is retailer Lolli and Pops that recently announced its plan to implement a solution that uses facial recognition and AI capabilities to identify loyal customers as they walk into the store, and then make personalized recommendations.
In 2018, we’re expecting more online and physical stores to adopt these proven AI capabilities. But more importantly, we’re expecting to hear more about a new phase of AI: Emphatic or Emotion AI. As it proves its worth in other industries, we’ll soon be hearing more about Emphatic AI applied to retail – how it will enable both online and physical stores to detect, understand and react to customers’ emotions, thus taking personalization to the next level.
PROCESS. In retail, process efficiency is crucial to a company’s bottom line. Inventory management, packaging and shipping, and even production for retailers that sell proprietary products are all complex interconnected processes. Because they’re often dependent on external forces like suppliers, service providers, and even weather conditions, they bring high risks which make them even more difficult to manage. In recent years, we’ve seen retailers make use of Big Data analytics technologies to better navigate risks and make data-driven decisions resulting in process efficiencies and savings. We are obviously expecting to hear of more big data analytics uses in retail in the year to come. But what will steal the show in 2018 is another technology shown to improve supply chain processes: the blockchain.
Yes, you read it right. Typically associated with the rise of cryptocurrencies, the blockchain technology has found applicability in numerous other industries outside the financial sector. One of these industries is – you guessed it – fashion.
Fashion brands can use digital tokens to gather and securely store information about a garment – from fabrication details to how it’s being used by customers – into the blockchain database. By accessing that information through a dedicated mobile app, QR codes, or dedicated user accounts, consumers can track and trace a garment back to its origins, verify whether it’s genuine or fake, get details about the production process, and even gather data about their personal use of the garment and decide to sell it to fashion brands (or not).
So by implementing blockchain technology, fashion brands are able to ensure transparency throughout the supply chain. Not only that, they can better mitigate the risk of garments counterfeiting. At the same time, by facilitating access to a wealth of information about garments, they can nurture a sense of social responsibility in their customers towards the people and the environment that contributed to producing the garments, and eventually obtain very personal user data from the customers themselves.
These are just a few use cases that we’ve seen fashion and tech brands like Loomia and Martine Jarlgaard x Provenance experimenting with in the past year. But the sky’s the limit, and we’re expecting to see more in 2018.
PERCEPTION & PURPOSE. Social responsibility, as described earlier, is rarely associated with fashion. Because, let’s be honest: The fashion industry is still being perceived by many as frivolous, superficial and narcissistic. But organizations such as Fashion Revolution and the Centre of Sustainable Fashion are set to change this perception, catering for transparency throughout the supply chain and a more sustainable approach to fashion. And technology is on their side – from blockchain-based applications that help provide transparency, to social media platforms that help disseminate their message with the speed of light.
At the same time, we’re seeing more and more smart fashion wearables, catering to the wearer’s personal safety and healthcare. Which shows that fashion does not have to be about looks only. It can also be about functionality that helps wearers overcome real-life challenges. And this gives fashion accessories new meaning and purpose.
Looking at 2018 and beyond, these trends will continue to unravel. Moreover, as consumers become more aware of the impact fashion is having on workers and the environment, and how it can help them solve real-life challenges, they’ll most probably consider transparency, sustainability, and wellbeing as the main principles governing their purchasing decisions.