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The essentials of engaging through innovation

Delving into the world of innovation and fashion at the Drapers Digital Festival, panellists Alixandra Burn, head of digital at Warehouse, Sally-Anne Newson, customer experience and digital product director at Shop Direct, Lars Rabe, managing director in the UK/EU for True Fit, and Rob Massa, general manager (EMEA) at BounceX, debated the best ways to engage fashion customers through innovation.

Get to know your customer

One key factor to drive innovation for your business is to focus on understanding your customer’s shopping habits and behaviours, the panellists said.

Innovation is very important to driving businesses into the future. However, making sure that initiatives are useful is key, said Burn: “We can do some many incredible things nowadays, but there can be a tendency to go too far. We always have to ensure what we are doing is actually useful. As a single-brand retailer, we are asking a lot of customers to engage with our platforms, so we need to ensure they are relevant.”

Newson added: “One of the most important factors for innovation is to ensure that you are close to your customer to really understand what they want. You may have many great ideas but, if they are not useful, relevant or important to your customer base, then there is absolutely no point.”


Use technology and digital innovation with a pinch of salt – one size does not fit all

Modern consumers use digital platforms with increasing regularity for every function of their lives, and improving technological and digital functionality to address this is paramount, but it is not the “golden ticket”.

Rabe said: “AI is not the win-all for the fashion industry. While it can be a real commodity, at the end of the day, the quality of data fed into the machine is paramount to its applicability and success for your business and that is a problem across the sector.”

Newson agreed: “Naturally, we are embracing new technology. That being said, it isn’t a solution for everything. I don’t think we’ll ever see a world of robots running Shop Direct. Even in warehouses, where automated technology is most frequently found, we still employ humans. We also have to embrace the right technology and use it to remedy problems that are not resolvable by human beings – remembering that it is not the answer to every issue your business may face.”

Massa said: “It is fundamental that retailers make sure to get a return for any innovation in this area. There is so much technology out there at varying levels of cost, but you cannot always be sure of the results. Buying tech needs to be assessed and knowledge of end results needs to be taken into account.”


Do not swear off ventures if they are not immediately successful

“Fail fast and fail often” has been a popular business catchphrase over the past few years. The panellists said that when working in innovation it is important to understand the need to review and revise to create optimal usability and functionality for consumers.

Newson said: “Most recently, we have been focused on the basics and core part of the shopping experience. We have seen 60+ changes in this area to create a relevant and usable experience for our consumers. This agile methodology allowed us to test experiences before customers were exposed to them.”

Massa siad: “Some brands have been nervous about using webpush technology for years. However, we are starting to see a different part. These platforms give you another mechanism to speak to the consumer and although brands have been nervous about it, it is easy to work for your consumer. Anything you can assimilate to email, you can use webpush.”

Burn said: “When you are testing and things do fail, you need to keep reiterating. It is often easy to make changes when products and initiatives have failed fast as opposed to the rather painful period of figuring out if something was successful or not.”


Integrate, integrate, integrate

In today’s society there are many platforms through which brands can connect and sell to customers Personalisation and integration are key factors to drive successful marketing to your consumers.

Rabe said: “In the retail market today, customers are bombarded by messages across all platforms. It is essential within the confines of whatever platform consumers are using that brands provide convenience, relevance and consistency. You need to use digital platforms to engage but also provide a context. It is also fundamental to integrate digital platforms with in-store activity: the online activity of the consumer to the in-store sales assistant. When store staff can drive in-store sales based upon digital recommendations of requirements, preferences and size, for instance, business starts to become quite interesting.

“Now there is a lot of demand from customers to infuse data into every step of the shopping journey – are you as retailer/brand able to recommend product consumers to like, buy and keep? Returns are a major pressure and that economic pressure needs to be addressed. Making the shopping experience as personal as possible through personal engagement and seamless data streams into one universal source means that brands can continue to address the consumer without disengaging them.”


Evolution at pace and scalability

Using innovation initiatives such as design sprints and fail-fast fashion has helped brands to try and evolve products, services and people-management systems across their businesses. The panellists highlighted the need to scale projects up and make changes quickly to work for today’s retail environment.

Newson said: “You need to ensure that you have the technology and infrastructure to allow evolution at pace. Consumer expectations and wants are changing all the time – to adapt to this market, the ability to work at pace is vital.”

Massa added: “Working to scale is crucial. It is important to think in considering innovation: can you scale and by how much? Scaling up from A to B is easy, but A to Z is much more difficult. Just as there is a need to optimise for a wider and larger audience, there is also a need to scale up across multiple platforms.”

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