The Fashion Retail Runway

The world of fashion and apparel retail is barreling towards change at a blistering pace. Disruptors in the industry range from wearables to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Virtual & Augmented Reality. There has never been a better time to be a consumer, and never a more trying time for companies to venture into the rapidly burgeoning world of fashion technology. Although there are products emerging every day that are trying to change the way we shop, most don’t understand what shoppers really want out of their shopping. Women don’t shop the way men do. Furniture buyers have completely different requirements than do apparel purchasers. So the big question is – how do we really shop today?

There are lots of reports available on the net. Some agree on what people want to buy and how. Others have viewpoints ranging from mundane, cautious predictions to wildly creative and highly improbable ideas. Despite the plethora of websites out there that are trying to sell old stuff in new packages, there are a few that are going above and beyond. True disruptors, to say the least. But for people to talk about a brand, they need to have memorable experiences worth sharing. So what are the underlying, fundamental shifts that are really redefining the fashion retail landscape, and won’t fizzle out like the housing and food tech bubbles?

One of the emerging trends in fashion today is pay-as-you-go retail. We’ve seen this business model with cell-service providers and e-wallets, but now for the first time fashion brands are adopting it. There are big bets being placed on shoppers who want to wear something different every day and don’t mind paying for single-use apparel. 15% of Americans and 17% of UK shoppers have indicated keen interest in renting apparel from their favorite stores. Unsurprisingly, millennials top this cut at 35% in USA and a whopping 46% in the UK expressing a desire to rent clothing.

Another trend warranting closer attention is lifestyle loyalty. Nike launched a vending machine in New York where consumers can trade sweat points from their Nike Fuelbands for merchandise. Lifestyle retail is the next step for brands to boost loyalty with their customers and keep them coming back for more, while at the same time rewarding them for improving their entire lifestyles. Big brands are placing bigger bets on becoming integral parts of their customers’ lives with this approach. Although the concept is neither new nor novel, technology is now enabling brands to connect with their shoppers like never before. Another trend similar to lifestyle-loyalty is classroom retail. Fashion brands encourage consumers to purchase from them with a range of value-added offerings that educate and improve the lives of their customers. Their approach to this is by imparting creative skills, personal style education, and behavioral tweaks to create happier, better informed, loyal customers.

The inside-out retail approach dabbles in the realm of the experiential, overloading consumers’ senses with visual, auditory, tactile and even olfactory stimuli. It has long been known that appealing to more senses positively impacts purchase behavior. Technology is an enabler in this space, allowing consumers to really ‘feel’ a brand’s personality.

Finally, the dragon slayer of the fashion retailing world – Enhanced Assistance – is here to change the way fashion retail works forevermore. Enhanced assistance is a loose term being used to describe a combination of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Using these technologies, reality and fantasy blend together seamlessly to create virtual shopping experiences that are far preferable to the traditional physical approach. The hard data agrees – only 39% of US shoppers and 36% of UK shoppers prefer human to virtual assistance when browsing in a store. VR and AR fitting rooms are already seeing rapid adoption, with demonstrated benefits to both consumers and retailers. With this tech, shoppers get recommendations, styling guides, social sharing and, most importantly, an in-store experience from the comfort of their homes. All while using only their smartphones and any of the simple, ubiquitous VR viewers available today. Retailers are boosting sales, and seeing fewer stock-outs, less disappointed customers, and far fewer product returns. We’ve already covered how it all began in a previous post which you can read here.

A new frontier for fashion is beginning – frontier-less retail – and these are only a few of the many, many emerging trends. It’s an exciting time. This is how we shop now. What’s going to be next?