Everybody shops online these days. When it comes to clothing though, there are definite gaps in the way people shop in stores and the way they buy online. E-retail struggles with the basic needs of a customer – to try on clothes and see how they look and fit before purchasing. Many successful apparel retailers today are online-only clothing brands and while they are stealing valuable market share from brands with physical stores, they are still trying to bridge these very gaps.
Several e-retailers have adopted a try-at-home approach which gives them some savings on product returns. Increasingly however, retailers such as Amazon, Bonobos, Myntra, Lenskart and Zivame which started out with online-only sales are now realizing the need for physical stores and are investing in physical outlets for their products. Another trend seen in retail today is that customers often try on and select outfits in stores but go home and purchase them electronically in order to avail online discounts. This is the other side of the picture wherein customers are trying to close the divide between look and fit themselves while still making the more economical choice.
Mass customization of clothes that come from a production line couldn’t anytime soon, economically speaking, become a reality. It is a dimension saved for Bespoke and Made-To-Measure (MTM) clothing. For these services, it is immaterial whether a customer purchases online or in stores. However, for mass produced clothing, brands need a solution that delivers what their customers require without making them jump through hoops for it. Several brands have found that virtual dressing rooms effectively enable customers to find their look and fit without having to make a trip to an actual store. For online-only retailers, this technology is a veritable boon. 67% of customers who use a fitting room are likely to buy a brand’s products. Compared to the likelihood of purchase when browsing without trying – only 10% – the difference is huge. Anthropometric data gathered through virtual dressing rooms always delivers the right size and fit right for customers regardless of whether they are buying online or in-store. Short of touching garment fabrics, virtual reality can give customers everything else they need from a great shopping experience – clothing trials, loyalty benefits, and immersion in brand culture.
But do rapid technological advancements mean that physical stores need to suffer? Absolutely not. Customers are looking for shopping experiences that are memorable and satisfying, irrespective of online or physical locations. Several brands globally are experimenting with physical stores that focus not on selling but on delivering the brand experience. Their objective is to create and maintain brand loyalty, and their “experience” stores are a way of doing just that. So whether the focus is online or physical, the key lies in connecting every aspect of a brand-customer interaction seamlessly. With two billion people now carrying smartphones and using them to shop, it is imperative that retailers be able to deliver a connected shopping experience. The customer can then be conveniently in-store, electronically or physically, anywhere and anytime.
The collision of clicks and mortar makes it essential for brands to deliver a well-rounded customer experience, inclusive of narrative, uplifting experiences, and ease of use. Emerging brands like Away, Shinola and Everlane are using this approach to rapidly grow revenues and brand loyalty, and established global players like eBay and Amazon are using it to expand and integrally connect with their customer bases. Past performance is no indicator of future success in an age where technology is disrupting everything. Brand synergy is key and retailers who get it right stand to win the most, perhaps even unseating titans of the industry very soon. It’s time to rethink how to grow, holistically and connectedly, physically and electronically.