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Drapers Digital Forum Q&A: What does it take to appeal to consumers today?

Fashion retailers need to evolve their propositions to succeed at home in the UK and be more targeted overseas, a panel of retailers including Topman advised at the Drapers Digital Forum yesterday.

The panel comprised founder of jewellery etailer MyFlashTrash Amber Atherton, Kieran O’Neill, who was recently named as one of Drapers’ 30 under 30 and is chief executive and co-founder of Thread.com, a men’s personal styling website that combines stylists with an advanced algorithm, Levi Young, co-founder of Enclothed a men’s personal styling website, Topman international trading manager,  digital, Chris Rodger, and Felix Zirkler, chief executive of online styling website Looklet. 

What are your customers demanding?

O’Neill: “Customers expect a lot, they want things to be easy and simple. From our point of view, we focus a lot on how to make it as easy as possible, combining personal stylists with an algorithm.”

Young: “I think we will see a lot more companies like ours – personal styling services. The millennial customer is expecting us to be in tune with what they want. Making things as personal as possible is the future of retail, and that is why you see things like this popping up.”

Atherton: “Our customers aren’t interested in seasons – it is about digital trends and moments, and memes. We totally stay on top of digital trends, because it is all about what is happening now. Our strategy is all about social too.”

Rodger: “We have just over 50% of traffic coming from mobile and it represents just over 30% of sales. So, we are looking at how we can engage people through that journey. Facebook, Instagram and the like have all introduced “buy” buttons in the past year, but it still feels quite invasive. If you look to countries like China and platforms like WeChat, I think you will see more of that in the UK in the future, and that is what we are looking at.”

Zirkler: “For me, mobile is the game changer. I think we will see retailers focusing much more on that user journey.”

How have you had to adapt your businesses to serve international markets?

Rodger: “We have 250 stores in the UK and more than 150 internationally. These days, we have multiple ways to sell across the international markets. For our strategy, a lot is around pricing. Our research in China found they are shopping across a number of channels and comparing prices. So pricing consistency and checking out competitors is important. We have really had to pinpoint how markets work to know how we target each one.”

Are bloggers losing their importance?

Atherton: “During the last year, bloggers have started charging a lot, and I think it is just really obvious to the consumer that it isn’t a genuine endorsement. So we have shifted our focus away from bloggers to our own customers.”

Chris: “We do a mix of things at Topman. We have brand ambassadors such as Nick Grimshaw in the UK and Nick Jonas in the US. We want to do more with bloggers, but it is time-consuming and you can’t necessarily dictate how they talk about your product. It can also be very resource heavy.”

How will stores need to adapt?

Atherton: “There is an opportunity for stores to change up space, a bit like [London restaurant] Sketch does, by bringing in different artists to redesign the space and making it a talking point.”

Rodger: “I think it is difficult. In an ideal world, we will have lots of concept stores. Our customer definitely still wants to touch and feel the product. In the US, we have fairly low brand presence. When we open a store, we get a massive initial jump to the site, and then it becomes sustained traffic. I absolutely think stores have a future.”

O’Neill: “If we can personalise the experience in store, we would definitely want to go there more often. Physical stores will continue to be important.”

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