Technology became an ever-more-essential part of fashion retail in 2018. Drapers looks back at some of the year’s most interesting developments.
Voice technology in shopping has a way to go before it becomes fully mainstream, but a few interesting developments have emerged this year. Asos launched Enki, its voice-led chatbot available on the Google Assistant, which allows customers in the UK and US to shop popular categories by speaking to the device. However, although it is a new launch and the retailer plans to improve it based on early feedback, Drapers’ technology Hit or Miss found it more gimmicky than useful in its current form.
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Meanwhile, online menswear retailer Jacamo, launched voice shopping on Amazon’s Alexa, featuring brand ambassador Freddie Flintoff’s voice. The idea, says parent company N Brown, is to make shopping easy and fun.
Fit technology started to come into its own in 2018. N Brown Group chief product and supply officer Ralph Tucker told Drapers Fashion Forum in October that fit has become an “obsession” for the company, which owns womenswear brands JD Williams and Simply Be, as well as Jacamo. He said that when the retailer scanned its customers, the teams found that body shapes fundamentally differ between sizes, and even within the same size.
“Adding two inches on to each size is not good enough for our customers any more,” he said. “They want a product that fits absolutely beautifully, and they deserve it.”
The group has increased the number of fitting points on its mannequins from 12 to 256, and is starting to use this data to generate 3D-fit avatars.
Also this year, Asos rolled out its Fit Assistant feature for its app and website worldwide. Built in partnership with Fit Analytics, the feature uses previous purchase and returns data to make personalised size recommendations to customers on product pages. Users can also answer three additional questions about height, weight and fit preference to improve the results.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to be applied to almost any part of the fashion business, as shown by this year’s broad spread of AI-related news.
Marks & Spencer demonstrated its use behind-the-scenes, announcing in August that it would be replacing its switchboard staff with AI to increase the speed it deals with customer complaints and queries. The new technology transfers customers to the correct department, and 100 staff members that were previously doing the job have been reassigned to shop floor roles.
The new technology was rolled out to all 640 M&S UK stores by the end of September, as well as its 13 UK call centres. The system is able to handle more than 1 million customer calls every month.
On the customer-facing side of things, Yoox Net-a-Porter is leading the way. Its Yoox Mirror service, announced in December, provides customers with access to an avatar, Daisy.
The retailer has showcased 250 products in nine outfits in Instagram style pictures on its app, which can be chosen for Daisy to wear. The avatar is customisable by skin tone and hair colour, and the outfits can be mixed and matched.
Yoox is not stopping at the customer experience, either. In November, it launched its first in-house brand, 8 by Yoox – or “Otto” in Italian – which was designed using a range of data.
As well as analysing its own customer insights and sales, Yoox used AI, text search and image recognition tools to review digital content and social media, particularly focusing on fashion influencers. This data shaped the choice of colours, sleeve lengths, neckline shapes, fabrics, textures and price points.