Fashion Retail: Future or Present?
As I’ve written in previous articles, technology is becoming more of a driving force than ever and it’s no less the case in the world of retail fashion. There are already big name brands out there embracing technology and no doubt, many more to follow.
Let’s take a look at a couple of retailers who have started to use technology to enhance the in-store consumer experience and also to drive sales. First is M&S. The new Amsterdam store is essentially an e-shop, with two routes to purchase. The first is a touch screen catalogue, where you can browse through all of the clothing and make a decision of what to add to your basket. Once you’ve made your choice, you can swipe your card and buy the items, which are then delivered to your home.
Now this may seem like it’s just something that you can do online anyway, without getting up, getting out of your house and heading to a store. However, what you get in addition is the chance to take a look through some of the clothing and feel the ‘fiber of their fabric’, so to speak. This is via a more engaging secondary technology in the store. The user can pick up items, touch and feel the material and look, before swiping the bar code and seeing the item on a large touchscreen. The consumer can then decide to pull the item into their basket and email their basket contents to themselves, ready for future purpose.
These are both pretty interesting applications, for smaller stores especially, however there are some who have gone a little further. TopShop used MS Kinect technology, to allow the user to get an idea of how an item would actually look on.
This is more of a time saving device, perhaps, rather than taking multiple items into a dressing room to try, the consumer can get a feel for the ‘look’ before trying and buying.
There will always be the question of touch. We’ll likely always want to feel the product and get an idea of exactly what it’s like. Now we’ve already discussed how M&S cover this, but how can it be done another way?
In Cannes this year, there was a particularly interesting item on show. IBM have already been looking at a tactile digital product, that could be programmed to give the ‘feel’ of a particular piece of clothing or material. This could sit alongside the technology that M&S and TopShop are using and provide the consumer with something they can get their hands on.
These are just a few examples of how retailers can use technology to help the consumer, but this isn’t where the line will be drawn. There’s a great scene in ‘Minority Report’, which shows Tom Cruise going through a mall and a store picking up his ‘identity’ and offering new products to him. This really isn’t too far fetched anymore. With the ability for people to allow themselves to be tracked via device, they could be updated with products while shopping. Allowing a store to have access to your whereabouts via an app on a mobile device, for example, would mean that there’s the potential of picking up your proximity and getting in contact with you. This maybe a bit painful having multiple apps on your device all running at the same time for each store, but one store aggregator application would be able to make it more manageable for the user.
There are also plenty of opportunities through other technology. Google are making strides with Google Glass and with news that Sony have created a chip small enough to fit inside a contact lens, the tech is there for us to start using. Imagine being able to simply take a shot of someone in the street wearing a coat that you like and then being able to buy it.
You could be in a position to shop anywhere. “I like that coat”, “I want those shoes”, it wouldn’t matter what the article was, but the ability to connect to an open shopping application could be the next stage and could be pushed forward by people like Google and Amazon, as two options. You could take that snapshot, be given the item detail, locations of stores near you, or even go straight through to purchase.
So where does this lead us? Is this part of the future of fashion retail? I think it’s probably more like the present, or at least near future. Most of the technology is either here already, or on the way very soon, so maybe retailers of all sorts, not necessarily just those involved in fashion, should be looking at taking these steps and start to get ahead of their competition.