Decoded Fashion’s 2017 London Summit provided a unique gathering of brands, technologists and fashion industry experts, unearthing vital insights on the future of fashion, retail and technology. From humanised search, to the changing roles of store staff, speakers unanimously agreed that it’s time for physical retail to accommodate the DNA of digitised life.
Five key takeaway trends:
1. Recalibrated brand team roles
The store concept was brought to life with discussions on the changing role of omni-era physical brand spaces and the resulting calibration of the roles and remits of store teams.
Anita Liu Harvey, Barclaycard’s VP Innovation, championed concepts tackling customer expectations including "showroom stores" where mobile POS eliminate cash desks, allowing staff to become consultants.
Expanding this theme, River Island’s CIO, Doug Gardner, explained how the retailer has abandoned traditional KPI’s in favour of handling stores as service hubs. It did so after identifying a suburban store in Liverpool that ranked 198th in terms of sales. But when considered in connection with the city centre store and the role it played in processing related click-and-collect orders and returns, it rose to number two.
This epiphany "completely altered the mentality, about the brand’s internal culture, concerning returns, for instance" said Gardner.
2. Splintered e-storytelling
Content was another hot topic, with key players suggesting that brands can create stronger relationships by tailoring content according to the consumer, and their swiftly changing habits.
Maria McClay, head of industry fashion at Google, referenced a recent Chanel project in which the luxury retailer created four short films for the launch of the new Gabrielle bag. Each film – starring Kristen Stewart, Pharrell Williams, Cara Delevinge or Caroline de Maigret – had a new story and catered to a different set of customers. McClay validated the activity, saying Chanel could do this because it knows who its customers are and what appeals to each group.
An example I cited in my own keynote was that of Lush’s video and radio channel, which is transforming an internal on-demand online resource for staff based around content shot in its own HQ (ostensibly "how-tos" and recorded meetings) into a content hub for consumers that they’ll also be able to buy from. It’s a great example of a brand thinking like a TV business, rather than a retailer.
3. The promise of immersive tech
There’s no avoiding AR and VR-led conversations – it’s an area that holds huge potential and retail has barely scratched the surface. Speakers referenced the emergence of communal digital and socialised virtual, which will seduce consumers with a more interactive, personalised brand experience.
Matthew Drinkwater, head of the fashion innovation agency at the London College of Fashion, highlighted the work of Jenny Tillotson as potentially transformational in immersive experience. Tillotson’s company eScent makes wearable scent dispensers with connected sensors, which use AI to learn from the wearer. Scents can be synced to a person’s emotional, mental or physical state, or their style and personality, and used in real-time.
Another example cited by Google’s McClay was the DressingRoom app by Gap, 3D avatar specialists Avametric and Google’s AR platform Tango, which uses camera devices to overlay digital images onto a physical space. The app includes a catalogue of Gap’s clothing as 3D renders and the capacity to create a basic avatar, which is placed into the environment immediately in front of the shopper.
4. Relationship-led, humanised tech
"Mobile is not just another platform to be optimised but the cornerstone of a new era of relationship-led commerce" – said Matthew Woolsey, MD of Net-a-Porter (pictured above), which now attributes 60% of traffic and 45% of sales to mobile.
Woolsey was one of a number of speakers to discuss mobile tech’s evolving role from a facilitator to achieve "on-the-move" to create a more relationship-led version of brand engagement.
Emphasising this new found power of mobile once more, Woolsey told the audience how the etailer had sold a £65,000 watch via messaging app WhatsApp in May, but was sceptical about chatbots, due to their current lack of linguistic finesse of empathetic qualities.
He revealed that the brand has invested heavily in IBM’s cognitive tech Watson to support the knowledge and capabilities of its customer service team.
5. Next gen search tactics
Several speakers shone a spotlight on the swiftly changing nature of search and discovery, a result of the shift towards voice-activated concepts, where brands and traditional marketing tools are beginning to disappear from view.
American AI powered language processing tool Twiggle proposed a concept to bridge the often huge disconnect between brand taxonomies and the language used by consumers online.
The startup enhances brands’ search by acknowledging human linguistic structures (spoken or typed). For instance, many ecommerce sites show black dresses with sleeves, despite the customer searching for "black dress without sleeves" because of the inability of decoding "without".
With retail now in total flux, it’s essential that retailers recalibrate their store designs, functions and roles to cater to different consumer paces and needs.
Katie Baron is head of retail at Stylus, the innovation research and trends company.