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Retail-tainment: The future of in-store experience

11th Nov 2019
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Since its conception, the fashion industry has evolved at the speed of seasonal shopping. Not anymore. The time it takes to upload a new look on social media feeds, shared by millions instantly, is the new normal. The sector, now in hyper-drive, is not for the slow-moving.

At the same time, fashion companies have less power to drive trends, which come and go as quickly as it takes to upload an image. The industry may depend on the illusion of change, newness, and must-have trends, but this has reached dizzying new heights.

Technology has been rapidly changing the way people shop and style themselves. Consumers crave fashion and lifestyle-related digital content. This is not just about inspiring a new look, it’s about entertainment, with many digital-first fashion labels acting like media brands in their own right. Online retailers are making money as physical stores continue to struggle.

That’s not to say that brick-and-mortar stores are dead, they just have to evolve to stay relevant.

The rise and fall and rise again of in-store

Physical brick-and-mortar stores remain the best way to make a direct and powerful connection between fashion garments and customers. This was the conclusion of the 20 super winners in McKinsey’s report. And the fact that DNVB brands are investing in stores shows the importance of physical garments in a branded space.

H&M and Inditex have said that they are still in growth mode when it comes to brick-and-mortar. Their net store count is expected to increase this year. Both firms say that online is still less than 15% of overall sales, in contrast to around 27% in the U.S.

Fashion still benefits from meaningful physical engagement. Brick-and-mortar should not be viewed simply as a retail strategy. It is better to think of it as an extension of a brand’s marketing and advertising.

With the costs of digital marketing on the rise, screaming into a saturated, expensive online mass is also an issue. In some instances, it remains more beneficial to open a physical store. The idea of a physical store, however, has changed for good.

Reframing the store to experience

Stores are an essential tool in the multi-channel pantheon of offerings. What’s different now is that they need to complement other channels, and not purely be a sales space. It’s why pop-ups, physical experiences and showrooms are on the rise.

Physical retail isn't dead, it’s just evolving.

The ‘store’ is the last word the industry wants to use to describe these spaces. There’s guide-shops or spaces, concepts, showrooms or long-term pop-ups – just don’t call them stores. This reframing is about giving shoppers and brands more flexibility. These physical spaces aim to connect people with products and brands in different ways.

Connecting both the offline and online worlds is another concept that brands are looking at. It’s why Farfetch is talking about the ‘store of the future’ and ‘augmented retail’, raising questions like: “why doesn’t the retail staff know my previous purchases?” and "why, as a loyal customer, am I not given the same treatment when visiting a store in New York as Shanghai?”

Farfetch is looking to solve these problems through in-store data. Collecting data in-store and using new technologies like smart mirrors and interactive screens gives visibility to retailers in a similar way to online data. The store of the future is all about offering the experience of Apple, but the convenience of Amazon. The aim is to provide full visibility around customer behaviour and intent, mirroring what’s possible online. Think of it as the physical cookie.

The future fashion store

The fashion industry is in the midst of transformation. The perfect storm of fast fashion, social media, eCommerce and experiential retail has super-powered the turnover, creation, and speed-to-market of garments and trends. In the instant-gratification age of Snapchat and Instagram, consumers flock to be seen in the hottest look – or just the hottest store – while wanting to buy faster, more conveniently, and with more fun.

Data and artificial intelligence become further engrained in the fabric of fashion business, from forecasting trends to streamlining supply chain efficiency. Digitally-driven business models have led to the rapid growth of digitally-native fashion brands. Agile inventory management, revolutionary speed-to-market, consumer-centric social media and content, and the evolution of frictionless online or mobile purchasing experiences push fashion into a new digital era.

These technologies are slowly creeping into the physical retail environment, as brands continue to evolve the in-store customer experience to engage and inspire consumers, while gleaning vital data and behaviour insights. The future of fashion will see brands drive further innovation to the in-store experience, which remains a powerful connection between garment and consumer. A vital revenue driver will be aligning physical retail with digital media and eCommerce.

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