Image Source: zozo.com
Retail is in both a time of despair and on the edge of exciting opportunities. Online purchases are creating ever increasing challenges for the high street, brands are experiencing constant questioning of ethical practices and ‘fast fashion’, and technology such as AI and AR are enabling digitally advanced brands to leapfrog over competition to connect with the consumer. In addition to the above, the customer wants more involvement in the journey of their clothes and the ethics of their fashion brands. Brands are trying to be transparent on their apparel lifecycle, informing the customer about the origin of materials and the process from design to manufacturing, providing them with knowledge and assurance. This personal involvement in fashion also comes in the form of personal customisation, omnipresent from fashion-followers adapting their clothes, through to monogrammed accessories. More recently current personal needs have been highlighted by the explosion of personal stylist services such as Try Tuesday; personal shopping services such as Lookeiro; specific customisation such as 'Vans Customs'; and the emergence of on-demand fashion illustrated with brands such as Kit. All these trends are growing alongside new and intelligent technology, powering brands to provide a completely individualised and relevant offering.
So in order to remain relevant, brands and organisations need to connect to their audience, as an individual, with their own unique needs. As McKinsey and Business of Fashion highlighted in their ‘The State of Fashion 2018’ consumer trend report, personalisation is on the increase with consumers expecting a much more tailored offering. This could be in the form of customisations, individual recommendations or specific communications that connect to the consumer. By creating a hyper personalised service, brands can speak directly to each of their customers, staying relevant.
Below are some of the exciting examples of these practices we’ve discovered:
To make the shopping experience individual, companies are using previous purchases, style preferences and browsing data to curate the most relevant products to each customer. This is then communicated to them with techniques such as tailored emails regarding stock, scarcity countdowns and cart abandonment help, through to using machine learning to combine different data sources to recommend best products; Pintrest emails recommended pins frequently to encourage return visits.
High street brands have for a while now empowered customers to customise their items. Brands such as Vans with Vans Custom and Nike, with NikeID allow the consumer to customise their trainers from basic trainer templates, even including the colour of the heel loop or textures. Many high end brands offer customers the service to monogram their accessories for a more special and unique possession and indeed a literal reflection of their identity. Increasingly brands in the luxury industry are developing this offer by providing customers with the ability to customise products, involving customers online in the design of their fashion apparel.
Personalised Stylist and Shopper service
Over the past year customers have been able to receive a curated wardrobe, chosen and delivered by a personal stylist following a consultation on style, size and interests. Companies such as Stitch Fix, Thread, The Chaper and Trunk Club to name a few, provide a service where customers receive their curated box, try on the clothes, pick and pay for the ones they like and simply return the others. As well as efficient, convenient and inspiring for your wardrobe, receiving a box of clothes in the post can also be an entertaining and exciting experience.
Brands are also providing add on services to improve the customer shopping experience, take ‘Try Tuesday’ for Marks and Spencer. The customer can receive a monthly or quarterly free ‘style edit’ to showcase new products in store, how they fit with seasonal trends and how to create an outfit. This service matches predetermined style preferences and is also communicated directly from a stylist. It feels like a personal service and a good reminder of what clothes are online and how best to match them to the customers unique style.
On demand manufacturing
‘Unmade’ are looking to disrupt the fashion industry, with software linking to sewing machines to provide a seamless and quick process of customised products allowing for personal taste, size and colours alongside reducing waste from over stock. They refer to this as ‘curated customisation’. High end brands are already starting to use this software such as ‘Farfetch’ where you can alter specific parts of an item of clothing to a colour, style or texture you prefer.
Their aim is to increase the personal choice of the customer and reduce waste and over stockage of clothes. Adidas with their ‘knit for you’ and Eileen Fisher are both experimenting with on demand clothing production allowing customers to design and create a jumper using body scan technology and 3D printing to identify the exact size and style to produce their own unique item.
A service to increase levels of personalisation is offered by ZoZo, who have developed a body suit which customers use with their phone to scan each part of the body to create a perfect size specifically for them, marking the end of fitting to a general size. They are creating a clothing line starting with the individual to create bespoke items which are tailored to the customer. They are currently giving their body sizing suit away for free, and have essential capsule wardrobe basics on their site and a really glorious video campaign which you can watch here.
Although this type of on demand manufacturing is still in the development stage, as a recent article from the BBC reported the suits providing inaccurate measurements, innovation does involve trial and error and feedback so I will be patient with this trend. An interesting question for me is how scalable is on-demand fashion, and will it be a commercially viable solution and how this will change our purchase behaviour?
There are clear advantages in terms of the environment and our approach to fast fashion and in terms of reflecting identity and uniqueness in our style. Similar to most industries now the power is in the customer data and technology. Perhaps, once your preferences, sizing and lifestyle data has been uploaded to the software the chances are not only will you receive unique clothing that fits, also eventually a predictive service of an outfit to wear for the weekend with careful considerations of your data plus trends, weather and type of event. When the software becomes sophisticated enough and the 3D printing and manufacturing technology produces quick enough, will this just become a similar supply chain, albeit with more individual designs? It will be interesting to see how this develops and acknowledging the scalability issue companies such as Kit have declared that although scalability is important their model is based on quality and personal service so have to be very aware of their growth levels to keep these brand promises.
Brands are using data to speak to and service their customers in a personal way and using technology to create bespoke items which may transform the way fashion retail produces clothing. Interestingly enough alongside this trend of bespoke clothing items, in ‘The State of Fashion 2019’ McKinsey and The Business of Fashion observe that rental, such as ‘Rent the Runway’ and ‘Hire the High Street’ as well as pre owned and refurbished fashion will continue to evolve leading to the reduction in importance of ‘ownership’ for consumers.
It is an fascinating time for fashion retail as the consumer has more personal control over choices, sizes and styles creating an altogether new purchase behaviour. After all, once Amazon Prime opens out their patented on-demand clothing service and AR virtual mirror to the masses, the whole industry will be considering their options.