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Customers come first when talking about a retail revolution

This week, Drapers held a round-table discussion over breakfast with the title ‘Innovation in Fashion’.

I was intrigued to find out what this meant for our guests, which included Marks & Spencer, Jaeger, Monsoon Accessorize and Reiss, to name a few. Inevitably, social media was the dominant topic of conversation early on, but what I found more interesting was the discussion around data, and the sheer amount there is available to retailers. Whether it’s from social media, tills or click-and-collect, retailers feel overwhelmed by the data available to them – and the technology to analyse that data – so they don’t often know what to do with it.

As Monsoon’s international ecommerce manager Lou Ashton said about the fashion industry in general: “We’re very good at analysing from a product point of view but we’re not quite there yet from a customer point of view,” and I think this is key. Product alone – however great it is – just isn’t enough to tempt shoppers to stores or websites, and the majority of this data, if decoded correctly, will give answers to consumers’ buying patterns and choices.

I was interested to hear from Jaeger marketing co-ordinator Millie Graham, who said its Canary Wharf store is a lot like a “kiosk”. Sales generally come from city workers who make purchases online at their desks and pick them up in store, rather than from passing trade, raising the question around the room if product on display was even necessary. This could be a step too far, but it’s an interesting debate because it made us question traditional retail models and how we can break them up and start from scratch if the customer, however unwittingly, demands it. Because that’s what innovation is about: taking risks, based on research and evidence of course.

Back to social media, and everyone agreed that their customers are becoming increasingly engaged with it – even M&S’s older shoppers embrace Facebook – but it was clear no one knew how to turn that into direct sales.

In fact, many thought it would be unwise to try, what with social media being about engagement with your customers rather than a direct selling or marketing channel. Instead, they see it as a way of understanding their customers, of building customer service and brand awareness and, at a more sophisticated level, improving their business’s SEOs. At this stage, data from social media is helping retailers adjust their buy, based on comments on Facebook, for example, but this is still qualitative rather than quantitative data. The latter, according to our guests, is the next phase, which could mean even more data.

But rather than fear it and to avoid information overload, businesses must focus on their customers’ needs rather than always engage in the latest craze – whether it’s an app or new social media platform – because everyone else is. Sounds simple, but we know it isn’t.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I couldn’t agree more with the conclusion that “businesses need to focus on their customers’ needs rather than always engaging the latest craze.” It is easy to get caught up in talking about the ‘next big thing’ in retail and jumping on the bandwagon just because everybody else is. In today’s difficult economic environment, in particular, retailers need to focus first on the customer and finding out what makes them tick.

    Instead of diverting time and resources into up-and-coming trends, they need to concentrate on driving customer engagement and profiling and getting their buying decisions and their ecommerce strategy right. In our view, effective merchandising is key to helping retailers do this, ensuring that they buy just enough of what they know their customers will want, rather than getting sidetracked by the latest passing fad.

    Christina Grzasko, Managing Director, Anya Media

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