LONDON — Retailers need to wise up about customer data in this mobile-first age, speed up the mobile experience and understand what matters most to customers, said Ruth Ballet, industry manager of fashion and luxury retail at Google.

Ballet, a keynote speaker at IMRG’s Fashion Connect digital retail conference, which took place here on Thursday, also emphasized the importance of staying close to online customers. “Increasingly, we’re really living online and that is primarily through mobile devices. Our phone is this thing that is basically attached to us, we see this just accelerating and accelerating. As retailers, it is something that we really have to get our heads around.”

She said searches in the fashion category in particular grew 50 percent compared to last year and that mobile searches on Google have evolved to include photos from fashion shows, news updates and trending content. The trend is having a big impact on retail.

“We know instinctively that a lot of those moments and fragments of time spent on your camera phone is commerce related,” said Ballet. “So you know that people who are looking to buy certain things or research products that (eventually) they’ll be buying. One example comes from a McKinsey study from last year. They found that three-quarters of all in-store sales had some kind of digital influence as part of that journey. It could’ve been research or browsing on a designer’s site. No one was told to buy in-store and that’s, you know, really valuable information for retailers to know.”

Ballet also spoke about how machine learning and artificial intelligence will open up even more interesting experiences, particularly in retail and fashion.

She pointed to Google Tango, which allows the phone to offer an augmented reality experience. “This is an experience that enables you to visualize products on mannequins in front of you,” she said of the app. “You can imagine this becoming useful in a store or shopping at home and you can actually chose a relevant side to show and view. This is very much an early stage. I think increasingly you’ll see this kind of artificial intelligence embedded into experiences that retailers can bring to customers. Again, it’s driven by mobile.”

IMRG, a British industry association for e-commerce companies, held the conference in east London.

Another speaker was Mark Wright, managing director of digital at Jack Wills. He said the company has been using qualitative and quantitative research to understand what the customer is looking for. He pointed to Instagram and said getting “likes” on posts is important to them. He the brand looked to different methods to reach their customer. “We’ve been working up an approach, affectionately called Fabric of Jack, which is how we source our products and it’s about putting British heritage right at the center for the business. In 2017, fabric in British doesn’t mean what it meant in 2016 so it’s really important we take the growth from the back and think about what it really means today.”

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