On the heels of the launch of a new cloud-based platform tailored for the fashion industry, Salesforce is hinting that what’s coming next may lead the cloud computing company into unexpected territory: a consumer-facing mobile app and wearable devices.
After officially introducing the application for fashion brands and retailers, which is called FashionForce internally and has been in a private beta test with San Francisco-based custom clothier Artful Gentleman since late last year, Salesforce has begun discussions to offer the app as a white label service to brand partners seeking a fashion-specific solution that manages customer relationships while bridging the gap between physical and digital shopping experiences.
“What we know from every retailer we’ve talked to, they want to extend that brand experience well beyond the time the person is in the store. They want a relationship with you when you’re in front of your closet. They want to be your adviser when you’re at the moment of decision of whether or not a look is right for you,” said Lisa Hammitt, vice president of marketing for Salesforce communities.
Built on top of the Salesforce Community Cloud platform, FashionForce is capable of capturing an image of a customer when she’s in a brick-and-mortar store, then displaying that image on a mobile device or monitor during her visit and saving it in a profile for later use. A retailer could use the image to help a customer ask for and receive real-time feedback on a garment or look via private messaging from a trusted community of influencers or experts using chat functionality. Brands can also use the platform as a closed, controlled space for sharing products and receiving feedback from customers on potential styles and colors, new arrivals or suggested items to complete a look. Salesforce has partnered with Deloitte Digital to assist retailers with customizing FashionForce.
Underlying what sounds like a gamelike entrée into a brand’s retail experience is a vast web of variables that make a concept like FashionForce a technically complex endeavor, said Vanessa Thompson, research director for market intelligence firm IDC. There are usually concrete answers to customers’ questions about many consumer products. That’s not often the case with fashion.
“High tech is kind of basic and explicit. In fashion, it’s preference and people’s opinion, so there are far more options,” said Thompson, who is familiar with FashionForce. “There has to be much more behavior analysis behind the platform itself, and it has to be more flexible in how you’re able to build and manipulate the community to encourage positive behavior within that community.”
The community at work in the beta test came from Artful Gentleman’s own network and style advisers, but Hammitt imagines a future where a shopper could glean real-time advice from top influencers such as YouTube star Michelle Phan or bloggers tied to networks such as PopSugar.
The company is considering a summer roll-out of a version created for consumers, who could download the app and use a single profile to interact with different brand partners, according to Hammitt, who said, “We are definitely discussing for the June time frame that this may be a downloadable application that’s a true B2C, where you can span multiple communities.”
Such a roll-out could facilitate participation from fashion bloggers, vloggers and other influencers whose feedback could, in turn, create a better experience for shoppers using the app to make purchasing decisions, increase sales and reduce abandoned shopping carts and returns.
Where brands have long relied on forecasting, market research and focus groups, FashionForce can act as something of a real-time engine for obtaining customer information and interpreting that information so that it yields a higher rate of positive customer experiences and, obviously, higher sales.
“We can use on-demand data and be reactive,” said Artful Gentleman cofounder and creative director Jake Wall.
Not only can that help Wall make decisions about which garments and styles to put company resources behind, but it also “removes customer hesitation, and it improves customer satisfaction,” he said, without requiring much more time or a larger team. It’s a theme that’s rippling across industries as social technologies are projected to add as much as $1.3 trillion in annual value, according to McKinsey Global Institute analysis.
FashionForce’s combination of data science, artificial intelligence and community interactivity can lead to feedback that results in shoppers stepping beyond their usual habits to try new garments, styles and colors — thus extending brand reach in a new way. While a store associate can tell a timid shopper all day long that she does, in fact, look good in green, having a flood of strangers confirm this via FashionForce is likely to be more convincing.
“Having the community endorsement and having you step out of yourself just a bit, you’re actually more willing to consider green,” Wall said.
What if a shopper falls in love with the green dress, buys it and discovers she’s not the only one who felt the same way upon arriving at an important social event? Enter the wearables play. In the future, as Hammitt sees it, the technology behind FashionForce could connect to a wearable device to alert the wearers and call upon a retailer to immediately remedy the aforementioned fashion emergency through local delivery. While it’s unlikely such a solution will prove viable on any mass scale, the underlying idea has endless implications — in retail and beyond.
“In exactly the same way technology is applied in the army to determine how you prevent friendly fire, it’s a completely different domain, but it’s using location-based services and personalization in the system in a community, so that you have these inputs and you can take action on a shared interest,” she said.