Robert Vis

Fashion is an industry built on firsts. It’s not about now, it’s about what’s next. True fashion innovators don’t just stay ahead of the next trend, they set the next trend. Through a combination of intuition, instinct, acumen and creative flair, they keep ahead of the curve — predicting the “next big thing” in fashion and dictating it to consumers before they know what they need or want. But, when it comes to selling those signature styles to the masses — smart retailers know success requires meeting the right customer with the right products at the right time. Selling fashion isn’t simply a transactional experience, it’s a relationship. Building brand loyalty hinges on having a strong connection with the consumer, understanding their needs and meeting them where they are.

Digital, On-Demand Retail

In our increasingly on-the-go, mobile world, retailers can no longer wait for consumers to seek them out. Today’s shopper is able to interact with a retailer long before the point of sale. Before they spend a cent, they can follow retailers on social media, sign up for e-newsletters, and download and scroll through apps. Even the best brick-and-mortar stores are losing out to the customer experience that only technology can deliver.

With so many available channels for a consumer to connect with brands, retailers of all sizes — from mom-and-pop shops to big-box stores — are realizing that traditional approaches to developing and maintaining customer loyalty aren’t agile enough to keep up with our busy, on-the-move, on-demand world. Yet, many still rely solely on outdated technology such as dial-by-number customer support calls, catalogues or impersonal marketing blasts to communicate with consumers. It’s a head-scratcher in an industry that’s otherwise so forward-looking and innovative. Retailers wouldn’t sell the same clothes they did decades ago. So, why would they continue to communicate with consumers the same way they did back then? Especially when modern technology enables seamless, on-the-go interactions that rival an Amazon-like, end-to-end customer experience without the need for an Amazon-sized developer budget.

Touching the Future of Customer Experience

It’s 2019 and a perception gap still exists between technology and the customer experience — or rather, the idea that incorporating automation and technology into the customer experience will somehow make the relationship with a retailer feel cold and impersonal, instead of warm and inviting. According to a survey from Total Customer, 86 percent of consumers say they would pay more for a better customer experience, with customer experience projected to overtake product and price as key brand differentiators by 2020. Shoppers want their loyalty reflected in a personalized, seamless customer experience that accounts for their unique relationship with the brand. But, they don’t want to sacrifice the human touch, even if their touchpoint to a brand is digital.

In our digital age, the customer experience doesn’t have to feel like it’s “part of the machine.” In fact, as counterintuitive as it sounds, adding automation and technology can help add a more human touch to the customer experience. The key here is context. Consumers will respond to communication as long as it is relevant, with all the context of their shopping history, and delivered via their favorite communications channels — whether it’s SMS, messaging apps or voice. It’s one thing to tell a customer you’re having a sale. It’s another thing entirely to tell them you’re having a sale on an item in their size, in the color they like and at the store location closest to them. Suddenly, your customer isn’t just another number in a database or one line item on a bulk mailing list. They’re a real person with unique tastes and preferences whose purchasing past influences their buying future. And that’s a combination that’s just as powerful to the consumer as it is for the brand.

Case Studies Deem Real Value

These benefits aren’t hypothetical. They’re proven. SuitSupply, a retailer that helps men, and now women, find their perfect fit in tailored fashion by incorporating tailored technology into the customer experience, starts with their Fit Finder app. Customers are lent a helping hand as they select, size and style their looks. And this service extends to the Box Office, connecting customers with personal stylists via WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, phone and e-mail. Based on the customer’s input and preferences, the stylist mixes and matches looks from the SuitSupply collection while handling both ordering and shipping. With proven success, SuitSupply is now spread across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, with 31 brick-and-mortar stores up-and-running in the U.S., with a new brand for women, Suistudio, about to launch.

Fashion brands aren’t the only brands benefiting from tailored technology. Take Catawiki, the curated online auction platform that helps consumers and collectors buy rare items and impossible gifts without an impossible shopping experience, as another example. Catawiki accounts for users’ unique tastes by leveraging real-time alerts via their preferred channels, so prospective buyers know the moment they’re being out-bid for one-of-a-kind, one-in-a-million treasures, such as a T-Rex jaw bone, the world’s most expensive Lego set, a lock of Napoleon’s hair or a 1982 DeLorean.

It’s the same technology that Hugo Boss and Rituals Cosmetics use, not just to blindly tell customers when products go on sale, but to inform customers when their favorite products go on sale. And, with advancements in cloud communications software, including no-code programs that can be used intuitively by non-developers, it’s easier and more accessible than ever for retailers. Regardless of size, retailers can give customers the ease of use they need, especially during the holidays when there never seems to be enough time to get everything done.

To be on the cutting edge of retail, you need cutting-edge technology. It’s time to consider how back-end technology can revolutionize the front-end retail experience for the consumer, making consumers feel like their hands are still being held throughout the shopping process, even if they’re only shopping via a handheld device.

Robert Vis is chief executive officer of MessageBird, a company-customer interactions solution provider servicing 15,000 global clients.

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