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Customer data: Learning curve

Retailers and digital experts discussed how they are using data in all areas of the business.

Technology continues to be the driving force behind innovation in the fashion industry, as brands and retailers strive to analyse the increasing amount of consumer data available to them.

During a recent Drapers roundtable discussion at the Soho Hotel in London, businesses agreed that using all the data available is easier said than done, particularly as social media platforms grow in both number and significance.

Hugh Raeburn, head of IT at Reiss, said current measurements of the success of social media do not provide enough insight because, for example, often tools simply count the number of Facebook ‘likes’. He said: “[Ideally] it’s about measuring sentiment and how people are feeling about your brand and your products. In the next few years you’re going to see a lot more methods and measures [to do this].”

Domenico Antonucci, fashion sector manager at multichannel software firm K3 Retail, said the business is developing reporting tools that take information from social media streams such as Twitter and Facebook and integrate it with sales reports, because “what is going on in social media about brands is affecting sales in real time”.

Customer segmentation has always been vital to retailers and brands to better target their customers, and A Suit That Fits co-founder David Hathiramani said the tailoring etailer has 41 different segments to recognise where shoppers are in the buying process. Hathiramani added: “We are trying to send them all personal emails at the right time. It’s really important to us to be using all the data we have to not only make their experience better, but to save a bit of time for our teams.”

Another area where data is helping retailers is stock management. Francesca Herman, head of buying and merchandising at boardsports etailer Surfdome, said it forecasts performance through internal systems that monitor sales, stock and web trends. She also worked closely with suppliers during the unexpectedly long summer to make sure it had appropriate stock in the warehouse. “We work with suppliers and try to build relationships with them to try to get them to hold some stock for us or hold it at their risk until a certain date, and then we pull it in or cancel it if we don’t need it,” she said.

Raeburn agreed, saying Reiss is reacting better to changes in weather patterns by “being more savvy on holding back” new season stock if the weather doesn’t correlate with the product.

Technology in product innovation is also helping retailers to improve sell-through. Murray Macadam, European marketing associate at Gore-Tex Footwear, said improved technology can help brands and retailers to increase the price of garments: “We saw research recently that found consumers see a technology upgrade to a product without a price increase negatively, as if it might be a marketing ploy. They almost expect a price increase with a technological innovation, provided it adds value.”

But Gore-Tex Footwear’s UK sales director William Fletcher warned that no matter what innovations are added, the product still has to visually appeal to consumers. He said: “We believe in fashion with functionality because if the shoe doesn’t have style or shelf appeal, no matter what functionality we put in there it won’t be a success.”

Herman said that function combined with style is the ultimate combination. “People are willing to pay more for something that looks really good but also performs well, as well as a product that will last for years because it is an investment piece.”

Hathiramani said product innovation has been core to A Suit That Fits, with the made-to-measure business introducing new features, such as allowing shoppers to choose any image or photo to be reproduced on the lining of a suit.

Businesses are also innovating online when it comes to fit. Recently, Warehouse upgraded its virtual fitting tool, Metail, in a bid to increase conversion rates and tackle returns, which is often down to fit and sizing.

Antony Comyns, head of ecommerce at shirt retailer Hawes & Curtis, said it uses virtual fitting room Fits.me, which takes measurements to create a digital mannequin that replicates the customer’s size to “wear” the garment. Since rolling it out, Comyns said it has helped reduce returns and new sizes have been added as a consequence.

He explained: “You’ve got lots of people putting dimensions into the software package so you learn what you’re not selling [and need to].”

Businesses are also looking to evolve their ecommerce offers by adapting to more traffic coming from mobile devices.

Etail trade body IMRG and management consultancy Capgemini’s e-Retail Sales Index found that total online retail sales averaged about 15% growth from the beginning of 2011 to the second quarter of 2013. However, excluding mobile, the rate of online growth has declined steadily since 2011.

Vintage fashion retailer Beyond Retro, which has four UK stores in London and Brighton, is building a responsive design site for mobile and tablet. Its web designer Jason Ford said the functionality of a PC website, such as the ability to hover the cursor over a product image for further information, often does not translate to touchscreen devices, which can leave customers frustrated.

Ford said: “The step from desktop to tablet is bigger than tablet to phone because you just change the sizes [in the tablet], so you need to think about how your site changes from desktop to tablet first and then tablet to mobile.”

With the continued development of the 4G network, the rise in smartphone ownership looks set to continue, with media agency ZenithOptimedia predicting it will jump from 55.2% to 75.5% of the UK population by 2015.

Antonucci believes touchscreen devices will be the go-to kit for etail. “There are huge culture changes towards embracing mobile devices. Web usage and design will change to facilitate mobile use and customer demand to shop and browse items when convenient to them,” he said.

Consumer adoption of touchscreen technology is also changing the nature of physical stores. Kiosks and iPads are connecting consumers in stores to the wider stock pool of online, which allows businesses to offer more choice while freeing up space on the shopfloor. Hawes & Curtis uses touchscreen kiosk technology to allow it to sell virtually the whole range in small stores. Comyns explained: “If someone comes in looking for a summer item in the middle of winter we can serve them. If they are in the vicinity of a warehouse, we can get that to them the same day.”

Reiss uses iPads in stores and Raeburn said the technology also provides internal benefits for the staff. He said: “We’ve tried to make it flip between a front-of-house and back-office function so store staff can also go on the intranet.”
Like John Lewis and Ted Baker, Reiss also offers free Wi-Fi in store, which requires customers to provide an email address. In the future Reiss is looking to leverage this data capture element for a more personal service in store.

Raeburn said: “Because people are entering their email addresses willingly, the next stage for us is then integrating the data with ‘clienteling’ [using an individual customer’s purchase and shopper preference data to personalise service in store]. So when a customer comes in store and signs on to the Wi-Fi, we know what he bought last time he was here and can then try to develop an electronic version of the black books that most of our managers have for their VIP customers.”

In store and across the channels, retailers are exploiting data to ensure they have the right product at the right time and to provide customers with relevant communications and a personalised service. Retailers will have to continue looking at these innovations to remain competitive and meet customer expectations.

Innovation in Fashion Report

In the fiercely competitive world of fashion, businesses are using innovative technology to get the product right and to tailor customer service across the channels.

Drapers’ Innovation in Fashion Report explores how brands such as Bench and Wrangler are using fabric technology to enhance product with benefits such as increased breathability, without sacrificing aesthetic appeal.

Technology is also key to ensuring product is in stock across the channels, whatever the weather. The report looks at how retailers such as White Stuff and Matalan are tackling inventory management, restocking and forecasting to get the right stock in the right place at the right time.

Businesses are also developing strategies to better understand their customers. The report explores how Harrods and My-Wardrobe.com are capturing and exploiting data to target customers with more precision.

The bricks-and-mortar store is also evolving, adding interactive features to make shopping more exciting. The report highlights the forward-thinking technologies Burberry, Topshop and Marks & Spencer are using to lure customers in store.

In turn, ecommerce is attempting to give customers the ability to try before they buy. The report reviews the online fitting solutions that give consumers a more accurate preview of fit and tackle return rates.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Data is still a huge opportunity for fashion retailers to fully exploit. With the introduction of many new digital channels through which consumers can shop, their behaviour has fundamentally changed. The sale online is just the beginning of the process in many ways, to customers the point of sale is no longer when they purchase, but when they actually decide to keep.

    Ellie Turner
    Clear Returns

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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