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Fashion Tech: how retailers are accelerating the app phenomenon

[Did you ever think that your mobile can be your remote control for shopping? It's getting there. Guest author Zabetta Camilleri reviews how mobile apps are changing Fashion Retailing with brands such as Burberry, Forever21, Shopkick, Shopstyle, SalesGossip, Chanel,Tommy Hilfiger & Clotheshorse leading the way in mobile app innovation.]

There’s no doubt ‘Fashion Tech’ has become the latest buzzword in retail. The innovation we’ve seen in the Mobile apps space has already disrupted the age-old industry of fashion retail. Now we are witnessing some important trends that will continue to change the way we shop for fashion online as well as on the high street.

Apps entering the fashion industry

Mobile App innovations will have a huge impact on retail over the next few years. From launching basic websites that have been rendered to fit most smartphones to developing more sophisticated native apps, designed to leverage each functionality of the specific operating systems – the trend continues. The total number of UK subscribers buying via mobile phone grew by nearly 5 million in the last two quarters – a rise of almost 33% (According to mobileSQUARED). A recent survey conducted by the Luxury Institute confirmed the importance of apps in the luxury world by showing that 80% of wealthy smartphone users had downloaded an app and two-thirds have shopped on their smartphone. The survey even showed that luxury shoppers were most interested in using apps to gain access to discounts, whilst early access to sales was the second highest incentive to shop this way. If the high-end retailers were worried about losing their brand value, the key seems to be to translate the same aura of exclusivity to the digital world by giving mobile customers greater access than the average shopper.

Shoppers are using their mobile devices to support the whole customer-shopping journey, from discovery of new products and brands through to purchase. Shoppers can research and explore new product features, compare prices, read reviews, find store locations, take pictures of products, scan barcodes, download digital coupons, actually buy something and then, in the long term, expect the customer support needed to establish a long-term relationship. Whatever it is – there’s an app for it, and shoppers are using them more and more.  In addition, as shoppers become addicted to any kind of fashion sales, they are becoming increasingly responsive to any promotions pushed through their phone. In short, Fashion Tech is helping the consumer become much savvier and more demanding than ever before.

Opportunities for developers

The window of opportunity is now wide open, developers can still get an early mover advantage if they come up with simple ways they can help retailers add value. We see a few market leaders. High street brands, such as Forever 21 and Jigsaw, through to luxury labels like Chanel are driving this forward with the creation of highly engaging mobile websites and apps. What we’ve seen up until now has been pretty basic but is constantly evolving with features that include locating stores, checking if a product is in stock and QR code scanning to capture product information as well as discounts. Companies such as ASOS and ShopStyle have developed apps that are some of the smartest shopping portals in the digital world, and they are certainly generating sales. Neiman Marcus, another high-end retailer, on the other hand are leveraging simple app technology to enhance your shop experience by through the NM Service; an app that lets customers know which of their favourite sales girls are on the floor.

A number of new entrants have also muscled their way into increased effectiveness and have snatched a piece of the pie whilst it’s still hot. For example, New York’s Shopkick has come to epitomize the potential of location-based technology. Its participating stores are outfitted with a microphone that emits a high-pitched tone which the smartphone picks up to automatically give you rewards for simply walking into a store. Shopkick reported 700 million product views in its first year and boasts 2.3 million active users.

One size doesn’t fit all

One issue that keeps popping up as a major barrier to shopping for clothes and shoes online is the question of size and fit. The fact that sizes are not standard across all brands contributes to a high percentage of returns – an extremely expensive issue for all online retailers. To address this problem Tommy Hilfiger has started using the “augmented reality” concept to launch its own augmented reality fitting room, allowing users to superimpose images of clothing onto themselves using the phone’s camera.  These types of “virtual fitting-rooms” are certainly proving to be a popular phenomenon especially when new technology is implemented to make size and fit recommendations. Clotheshorse uses an algorithm based on questions about the user’s body measurements and previous purchases to recommend the best size possible for the shopper, whilst UPcload is a “virtual tailor” that scans your body via your webcam, then uploads a 3-D template of your body and cross-references it against a database of 100,000 people to make a recommendation for clothing that will fit your size and shape.

The Future of Fashion is in Tech

One thing is clear: Mobile Retail is here to stay. As technologies improve, it will continue to have a greater impact on the traditional shopping journey. Changes are already starting to show – Take Fancy, for example is a social media site that essentially crowd sources interest in a product and allows merchants to sell them in real-time. It puts demand at the heart of the business model, not supply. It is now up to retailers to stay on top of changing customer behaviour and evolving technologies to increase sales both online and in their brick-and-mortar stores.

  • spektacle

    Nice article. There's a quite good report called the Future of Retail produced by PSFK which highlights some of the actual applications in how apps are changing the way we educate ourselves about fashion products, how we buy them, and even have how we have products delivered.

  • Jeff Davis

    A good read. Something not mentioned but I feel is fundamental, is the role mobile plays in supporting customer loyalty.
    A new and exciting step forward is coming to UK retailers, Morelex; they provide Brands with a bespoke looking service that creates consumer specific/unique and relevant offers based on consumer purchase history and individual profiles.

    Morelex.com

  • Gyanee

    Fantastic article! Some really good examples!

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