Technology in fashion has now gone beyond mere novelty and is now a significant differentiator and major driver of brand-consumer interactions.
For brands in this highly competitive industry, ‘FashTech’ is offering opportunities to differentiate themselves in ways that consumers value. That includes personalisation, rapid delivery, and offering an exceptional online user experience.
International eCommerce platform Zalando turns over £3bn annually in fashion and footwear sales but the brand is planning radical changes to the way it does business.
Founder Robert Gentz is looking East, towards China’s high-tech fashion platforms, and aims to revolutionise its business approach and turn the brand into a ‘fashion technology company’.
He wants to emulate Chinese fashion brands that offer delivery within a three-hour window and the chance to chat to a stylist using instant messaging. Zalando has been inspired by Chinese connectivity, and customers already seem to be responding to FashTech companies that are offering them new ways to shop.
China’s high connectivity fashion platforms
High connectivity seems to be the prevailing theme on China’s high tech fashion platforms, which integrate with the popular WeChat messaging app.
WeChat enables both customer service and in-app purchasing as well as connecting customers to stylists. Inspired by this service-focused approach, Zalando plans to move away from its current iteration as a mere fashion company and develop itself into a fashion ecosystem, the West’s first fashion technology company. This will require it to offer local inventory through a network of partners and rapid delivery agents.
Further innovation in the fashion sector is coming from social curation platforms such as Lyst, which curates fashion from across various designers and stores to create a personalised shopping experience for each user.
Lyst enables fashionistas to track the progress of clothes they like from the catwalk runway to the store.
As soon as each fashion show finishes, items from that collection appear on Lyst. Users check items that are of interest to them, and Lyst notifies them once those items appear in store.
Major fashion houses such as Proenza Schouler and Oscar de la Renta are already on board. It’s a way for these major brands to open up the excitement of the catwalk preview of their clothes to a wider audience. Perhaps more usefully it’s a way for them to gauge the likely interest in different items of clothing in particular locations, making supply and demand easier to link together.
Lyst was one of the fashion pioneers of the so-called ‘universal shopping cart’, which enabled customers to browse across multiple retailers but remain on-site to complete purchases from different brands. This includes being able to purchase from retailers in a variety of global locations.
Lyst’s early adoption of the universal shopping cart approach helped it move away from the affiliate model to become more of a marketplace. Marketplaces are certainly a significant force in fashion, particularly in markets such as China where the major fashion marketplaces including Taobao have huge influence. It’s part of the same trend that Lyst is following: a consolidation of individual fashion brands under one roof, to provide greater choice to customers along with a seamless user experience.
It seems as if cross-category shopping is what the consumer wants, in fashion as well as in other industries. Witness the success of other consolidated platforms and marketplaces such as ASOS and Net a Porter, Amazon and Tmall. But Lyst CEO Chris Morton challenges the idea that fashion retail can be easily compared to other product categories in eCommerce. He feels that buying fashion is based on very emotional decision processes, unlike buying other goods on a platform such as Amazon where the decisions are based on cool examination of the commodities on offer.
Experience is everything
The customer experience is particularly important when it comes to high-end fashion shopping. Luxury labels have always made the buying process itself a significant part of their offering.
Lyst’s been successful because it supports two different and equally important user journeys: a focused hunt for a specific item the customer has already identified before visiting the site, or a discovery type journey where the customer is browsing more for entertainment than with any aim in mind. It’s the difference between coming to the site looking for a pair of Diesel ankle boots that were unavailable in store, and idly browsing the latest menswear arrivals knowing that you’ve an annual bonus coming soon.
Personalisation is key
Customers have come to expect companies to know who they are and what they’ve previously purchased in order to offer recommendations. But brands need to offer personalised experiences beyond what consumers expect. True personalisation is a developing trend in fashion and one that continues to be enabled by technological developments.
Burberry has experimented with online personalisation of its products using the ‘Burberry Bespoke’ tool that allowed customers the chance to personalise the colour and fit of their classic Burberry trench coat, or have it monogrammed.
Fendi also experimented with the personalisation trend, opening a “made-to-order” app and a room in its London flagship store which enabled customers to choose the colour and finish for one of its famous bags. Knitwear brand Knyttan takes the personalisation trend even further (and faster). Customers can design their own jumper online and it will be electronically knitted in only 90 minutes.
Speed is one of the key elements of fashion tech. Lyst notify you the moment goods hit stores. ASOS is making response time a key focus for its next tech refresh. Burberry customer service is responsive on Twitter 24/7. Organisations need to change to match any tech that’s implemented, offering services such as round the clock customer service. That’s a significant challenge for organisations in any kind of industry.
One of the other key organisational challenges when it comes to making the best use of technology for a modern fashion brand is that business strategy can change faster than the technology that supports it.
Technology investments typically require a lifespan of around five years, whilst business strategies can come and go within this lifespan. Flexible IT solutions are essential but few are flexible enough to cope with the challenges of the fast-moving fashion world. This technology comes at great cost. ASOS plans to invest £75 million in technology over a two-year period with the aim of expanding global operations.
FashTech is enabling some exciting user experiences that are likely to lead to high customer engagement from delighted audiences. But the technology behind these experiences is not going to be easy to implement. Those fashion brands that get things right are revolutionising the fashion industry and enabling incredible experiences for fashion fans from east to west.