Changes in digital technologies, increased online connectivity, and new shopping habits have all played a role in the shift towards an omni-channel shopping experience. The choice and personalization of services that consumers now experience online also needs to translate across to physical stores.
Physical retail spaces are evolving into ‘connected’ stores where technology links consumers, devices, and data, and bridges the divide between bricks and mortar and online shopping. Ubiquitous computing and the Internet of things means that it is possible for fashion businesses to transform their physical spaces, improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve performance.
Increasingly retailers are experiencing the need to focus on creating retail experiences in which stores become meeting spaces, are used to foster a sense of community, or to provide ‘store theatre’. This can include the use of in-store technologies, more opportunities to access customized products, and stores with a wide range of services such as cafes, galleries, and salons. Retailers can benefit from greater stock visibility and use real-time analytics to monitor sales, allowing them to quickly respond to changing market conditions, competition, and customer demands. Information gathered about customers can also be used to build a detailed customer profile in order to provide tailored services or promotions.
|Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick (2012)|
Using a Bluetooth signal allows retailers to take advantage of location targeting. Beacons can be located anywhere in a physical store to send individualized messages to a shopper’s mobile device. They can also be used for in-store traffic measurement or to turn a customer’s phone into a point of sale checkout via PayPal.
Sales staff are using tablets in a number of ways. They can access a customer’s purchase history, allowing them to suggest suitable items for customers, as well as being able to pull together whole looks from collections, thereby offering a more personalized shopping experience tailored to the customer’s needs. Tablets can also be used to instantly check on sizes and color, to find out how many items are available or when they will become available, and how soon they can be delivered to the customer.
‘Through Twitter’s listening power, we can allow our global consumer to shop the trends as and when they happen, and give them insight and access into runway shows. The idea of live advertising is just beginning, and thanks to the Ocean Outdoor sites, this will be a first example of real-time shoppable billboards.’
|Sheena Sauvaire, Global Marketing and Communications Director at Topshop (2015)|
Virtual dressing rooms have been tested in some physical stores. Kinect sensors are used to scan the customer and project their image onto a flat screen monitor. The customer can then select from a menu of on-screen items such as clothing and accessories. The chosen items are overlaid onto their on-screen figure. This allows customers to ‘virtually’ try on multiple items at once.
The system is also connected to the retailer’s inventory databases, which can recommend additional products based on the customer’s preferences and actions, such as how many times they have tried an item on and whether they have shared a screen grab of that item on social networks.
In 2014 Rebecca Minkoff collaborated with eBay to improve the shopping experience in her New York store. Customers were able to choose garments using a large touch screen display and were notified by SMS when they were ready to try on. Fitting rooms used sensors to read the RFID tags on garments, providing the customer with information on additional sizes, styles, and colors. Touch screen mirrors allowed customers to place products in an online cart to purchase or to ask store associates to bring additional items to try on.
|Rebecca Minkoff (2014)|
Since the late 1990s NIKE has been developing customization services for consumers. For example, they have made it possible for customers to design their own personalized shoes, trainers, and bags, using NIKEiD, available online and in-store.
YR stores and pop-ups provide customized T-shirt design with an in-store printing time of around ten minutes. They have also produced a customization app #liveinprint, which can be used to design unique customized T-shirts, crop tops, and accessories. Customers receive the bespoke garment within 24 hours.
|Jennifer Bougourd and Philip Delamore (2007)|
|Susan Postlethwaite (2013)|
Pop-up shops have become a popular way of building consumer interest, experimenting with ways of creating innovative brand experiences, often in unconventional spaces, and testing out products, locations, and markets. They make it possible for retailers to link online and offline spaces in different ways; for example, online-only retailers can try out bricks and mortar retailing, while the pop-up experience can work to drive business online.
Concept stores gather together carefully selected merchandise and often include eating areas and performance or gallery spaces. The focus is on individual curation and in creating a careful mix of brands that makes the store unique. Colette in Paris, for example, showcases fashion, beauty products, books, music, and design and exhibits photography, painting, and sculpture.
The space has themed floors and biannual ‘tachiagari’ (or ‘beginnings’) when the store closes down and reopens a few days later with new collections, spaces, curated shops, installations, and pop-ups.
‘I want to create a kind of market where various creators from various fields gather together and encounter each other in an ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos: the mixing up and coming together of different kindred souls who all share a strong personal vision.’
|Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market (2015)|
The Denim Studio was the first of its kind, combining new technologies with traditional skills by offering an interactive Jeanius Bar and the services of expert denim tailors to create a personalized fit. Their philosophy is to be ‘fashion democratic’, attracting customers of all demographics.
Selfridges has differentiated itself from its competitors with a personal shopping concept called the ‘Fit Studio’, staffed by a team of denim experts. It has a hands-on pop-up space dedicated to ‘Denim by the Kilo’ and selling reworked vintage denim.
|Judd Crane, Selfridges Director of Womenswear (2013)|
Over the years, the new importance of connectivity through technology has led to a displacement of consumer spending away from fashion to smartphones. According to the research company Euromonitor, the UK spent £4.5bn on smartphones in 2014 compared with £4.3bn on designer labels.
As manufacturing and development costs come down, battery life increases and technological components become smaller, smart fabrics and wearable technologies can now be integrated into garments and accessories.
One of the new challenges for the fashion industry is to provide wearable technologies. The launch of the Apple Watch has been an important moment in the shift to everyday wearable technologies that will come to be seen as essential. The use of sensor technologies in accessories and fabric provides new opportunities to create stylish wearables that are useful and meaningful for the consumer.
|Stéphane Marceau, co-founder of OMsignal (2015)|
|Francesca Rosella, Creative Director at CuteCircuit (2015)|
Wearable technologies in sports and casual clothing are particularly useful for monitoring health and well-being. For example, there are garments that change color in response to sound, wind, and heat, outfits that can tell whether the wearer is getting enough exercise or if their blood pressure is too high, and fabrics with patterns and colors that change depending on how the wearer is feeling. Ralph Lauren has designed a ‘salvo sports’ shirt that monitors heartbeat, respiration, and stress levels.
Fashion brands are developing utility jewelry that bridges the gap between technology and style. These are decorative accessories with additional functions such as bangles that are phone chargers, brooches that are GPS trackers, and rings that connect to your smartphone.
They can also function as technology filters, providing a ‘digital detox’ by screening the information received by smartphones and only notifying their owners about texts, emails, calls, and notifications from particular people, with specific keywords, or at specific times.
DVF was one of the first fashion brands to use Google Glass both on the catwalk and backstage. Visuals captured by Google Glass from the spring 2013 show were featured on DVF’s Google+ and promoted on social networks at #DVFthroughGlass. Diane Von Furstenberg said she was ‘excited to introduce Glass to the fashion world and use this revolutionary technology to give everyone a unique perspective into fashion’.
|Kate Unsworth, founder and CEO at Kovert Designs (2014)|
3D printing was invented in the 1980s but it is only recently that 3D printers have become widely available. 3D printing is one of a number of additive manufacturing processes used to make a three-dimensional object.
In fashion, 3D printing is playing an important role for haute couture designers whose work is experimental, intricate, complex, and detailed. Iris van Herpen is well known for her use of digital technologies and works with the additive manufacturing company Materialise to produce her boundary-pushing collections which are favored by performers such as Bjork. Her black lacy dress—claimed to be the first flexible, wearable, and washable 3D garment and shown during Paris Fashion Week in 2011—was named one of the best inventions of the year by Time magazine.
3D fashion designer, Melinda Looi, claimed in 2015 that ‘3D printing will change the world … Maybe not now, but in times to come 3D printing will usher in a new era by enabling machines to produce objects of any shape, on the spot, and as needed’. Potentially cheaper and more efficient than other forms of manufacture, 3D could revolutionize the way that clothes are made. The implications for ready-to-wear are particularly interesting because of the possibilities 3D printing offers for mass customization. Using body scanning and 3D modelling techniques would allow for the printing of clothes which would fit perfectly and which could be adapted to match customers’ preferences for color and fabric.
|Iris van Herpen (2013)|
An immersive experience is one set in an artificial environment but which simulates being physically present, usually by recreating a range of sensory experiences such as sight, sound, and touch. UK fashion retailer Topshop created this kind of experience to open their 2014 London Fashion Week show, held at the Tate Modern gallery and working with a production company, Inition. The award-winning experience was made possible with the use of the reality headset, the Oculus Rift. The show was transmitted live to Topshop’s London flagship store where five competition winners watched it through the Oculus Rift.
3D sound was also used, while live tweets were presented as though written on leaves and dropped by flying crows. Time-lapse footage offered a view of the set being built. Hundreds of fashion fans visited the store and were also able to experience the show on demand in the days following the event.
‘Our main ambition was to create a memorable, immersive experience, so we were pleased to see the theme of the overwhelming volume of press coverage and individual feedback was all about how amazing it was to be able to step inside this coveted show.’
|Andy Millns, Creative Director at Inition, 2014|
Fashion retailers are increasingly experimenting with closing the gap between customers’ experiences of bricks and mortar and online shopping. Brands such as Jimmy Choo and Karen Millen have replicated their physical stores online, with the use of virtual shopping tours and complete 360° scenes. These brands use an online space, Avenue Imperial, to provide an interactive virtual shopping experience, which can be used on desktop and mobile devices. Shoppers can interact in real time with shop assistants and access the stores. They also have the option to access additional information and pricing at product hotspots.
‘A virtual showroom is the perfect way to give people an interactive preview and the opportunity to pre-order their favourites to avoid disappointments. The virtual showroom will enhance our multi-channel offering by allowing customers all over the world to get the magic of the Jimmy Choo experience online.’
|Pierre Denis, CEO Jimmy Choo (2014)|
Harrods’ ‘super-addictive new game for shoeaholics’, Stiletto Wars, was designed to showcase the diversity of brands in its ‘Shoe Heaven’. Players were challenged to match at least three of the same shoe either vertically or horizontally for points to win gift cards, beauty treatments, and personal shopping appointments.
|Deborah Bee, Director of Creative Marketing at Harrods (2014)|
Augmented reality, combined with printed material, can create a powerful and engaging marketing message. Using the ‘Layar’ app, you can experiment with augmented reality by scanning an image that reveals layers of content including websites, video, and tweets. This is a great way of creating an enhanced interactive experience for the consumer, connecting offline and online worlds.