gross margins apparel retailers

Retailers and fashion brands have a lot of tools available that can help move the needle on sales and profits. Whether it’s leveraging data from social media to build consumer profile composites or using augmented reality in the product development phase to reduce waste and redundancies, technology is a positive enabler for business.

Here, WWD offers five tips from technology experts that can help improve results.

Mix It Up

Mark Hardy, chief executive officer of InContext Solutions, said companies should use “mixed reality to test new ideas.”

“One innovative technology that is quickly becoming more and more popular with retailers is mixed reality,” Hardy said. “It lets forward-thinking retail teams create, test and collaborate on concepts faster and more accurately than ever. By setting up virtual stores, retailers can learn how real shoppers interact with new virtual store layouts and aisle flows, react to new signage, and engage with a new display type — without the need for a mock store and before implementing changes in the real world.”

Hardy said the software behind the technology and the simulations it generates “gathers data that retailers can use to make more confident decisions around merchandising, store planning and design. In short, mixed reality enables a process of decision-support that is faster, cheaper and more convenient than anything that exists in analogue.”

Hardy said a good first step with deploying this technology is to take on a “digital-first mentality.”

“A digital-first mentality is key for staying ahead in today’s competitive retail landscape,” Hardy explained. “This is as true for brick-and-mortar stores as it is for those that exist solely online. Shoppers are using tech in both settings and expect retailers to accommodate their digital shopping needs, whether that means comparing prices via smartphone when they’re out and about or browsing merchandise from the comfort of their couch using a virtual reality headset.”

Hardy said hybrid experiences are also emerging such as Amazon Go, “that streamline the physical shopping experience with the same speed and convenience of online shopping. The trend of blending the digital and physical shopping experience isn’t going anywhere. But the key to staying relevant is to find a way to stay true to your brand while improving the customer experience by incorporating digital strategies.”

Communicate Thoughtfully — and Proactively

Harsh Jawharkar, vice president of marketing and partnerships at Narvar, noted that 50 years, department stores were “famous for turning customer care into an art form.” And that’s exactly what is needed today.

“They trained store associates to recognize regulars, remember personal details about them, and personalize their recommendations for coats, shoes or clothing based on their previous purchases,” Jawharkar said. “While e-commerce has moved many of these interactions online, retailers can still find ways to show their customers they understand them. Proactive, personalized communication is one way to do this.”

online shopping

Jawharkar said it was important to also be thoughtful “about the frequency and content of your messages as well as the channels you use.”

“E-mail isn’t going away, but shoppers are getting more comfortable with technologies like voice and bots,” Jawharkar added. “Look at trends in engagement and seek to understand your customers’ communications preferences so you can provide thoughtful customer care in the channels they prefer.”

Consider the “Human Touch”

John Waldmann, ceo and founder of Homebase, which is a human capital management service provider, said 20 percent of its clients are physical retail stores and includes Los Angeles-based Reformation as well as Modern Citizen. “The number-one piece of advice is to remember that the human touch — of customers to products and teammates with customers — is the primary differentiator from digital commerce,” he said adding that retailers and brands should “hire and manage with that in mind — [and] use software to smooth the day.”

Localize the Experience

Elery Pfeffer, ceo and founder of Nift, which uses AI to connect shoppers with merchants, said companies need to tap their local networks while also investing in “experiences.”

“Digital ads on Google and Facebook drive clicks to your web site, not customers through the door,” Pfeffer said. “Building a strong local business ecosystem should rely heavily on word-of-mouth marketing, and business-to-business referrals is a powerful way that adds value holistically through sharing your best customers.”

With experiences, Pfeffer said in markets such as Boston, which have densely populated neighborhoods, “focusing on excellent customer service allows businesses to stand out and keep people coming back.”

“Always greet your customers to welcome them into your store and you can say thanks with point-of-sale discounts and free gifts,” Pfeffer explained. “Unique experiences can further be supplemented through tech platforms, such as visibility into customer reviews, as well as what they share and post on social media, which can be used to fine-tune your offerings. Our research shows that by investing in social contracts and relationships in this way, you set yourself up to wow customers and give them more reason to rave about your business to their friends.”

Smooth Out Processes

Coye Nokes, a partner in the retail and consumer division at OC&C Strategy Consultants, urged brands and retailers to focus on improving the customer experience as well as the “ease of purchase [and return] on everything from mobile devices to voice — to improve conversion and target a greater percentage of the overall transactions. This includes everything from the look and feel of sites to online assistance.”

Nokes also said it was important to target consumers more effectively. “Utilize customer data to improve product assortment by channel. [What do consumers really buy/want to buy and where?] [And] tailor local propositions to local demand in offline channels” while delivering “the right online proposition.”

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