Online sales are soaring across the fashion industry. But, as the market matures – figures from IMRG Capgemini show 2017 growth plateaued at 12.1%, down from 15.9% in 2016 – Drapers identifies the five developments that will shape fashion ecommerce in 2018.
Alexa, Siri, Google – the voice assistant is on the rise, and with it comes the possiblity of a new era for ecommerce. Although the market is still relatively immature in the UK, IMRG estimates that by 2020, 20% of online spend will be driven by voice assistance, and initial hesitance surrounding the technology seems to be waning – with 71% of people surveyed for its E-Retail Sales Index report said that using a voice assistant had been a positive experience.
For retailers, this raises a raft of new challenges. With voice assistants operated by online giants such as Google and Amazon, online marketing, SEO and search trends are all set to be impacted, as the battle to the top moves to a different playing field.
The rise of bots
Online could become more automated in 2018, with bots being used across the sector to improve customer experience. Chatbots are already integrated into many retailers operations, but as customers crave a more seamless experience, this year may see chatbots being integrated into messenger apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to make the process friction free.
Elsewhere, robots are increasingly being used in back-end operations. Last year 20% of Amazon’s packing was done by robots, and that number will rise further this year. By automating these processes, retailers will free up employees for more consumer-facing roles, as customer service becomes ever more important.
Augmented reality comes of age
Analysts have been predicting augmented reality (AR) to cause a radical shift in the retail sector for several years, but as yet responses to the technology have been lukewarm. Retailers and consumers alike have struggled to find the value gained through the technology.
Speaking at the event, Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement at Capgemini, predicted that there will be a change in attitudes this year. AR has the potential to create the retail space of the future – for example, it can be used in up pop-up shops in locations where a brand’s customers are likely to be.
As shoppers become more familiar with it, they may be more willing to embrace the technology.
Consumer trust is key for omnichannel success
With an increasing amount of data on consumers held by retailers, the question of trust and responsibility becomes integral. However, Unadkat believes that building trust could allow for a new approach to multichannel retailing, with linked up data paving the way for a consistent experience across all platforms.
“An opportunity [for 2018] will be deepening relationships with customers and taking an insight driven approach to omni-channel retail – one which arguably remains a gap for many retailers across channels,” he explains. “Many have got it right across certain channels, however not across the whole customer experience across all channels.”
The challenge will be in finding the balance of personalisation and privacy, balancing the use of data to ensure both retailers and consumers see the benefit.
A new approach to innovation
In the past, big retailers were hesitant to experiment with new technology. This began to change in 2017, with a shift in attitude towards experimental technologies and projects. “If new technology actually found a fix for a business problem or a customer need then the brand has a competitive advantage,” explains Unadkat.
This lends itself to a “fail fast” approach to innovation, something anticipated to grow in popularity for 2018. Where an idea is tested quickly to either prove or disprove its efficacy, before either being abandoned or rolled out at a wider scale, allowing retailers to stay nimble and creative. Net-a-Porter, for example, tested its concierge “try while we wait” delivery in Russia last year, a service which is now available to select, loyal customers in other countries.