From dynamic personalisation to same-hour delivery, from efficiency drives to Brexit volatility and folklore fashion, industry experts give their predictions for 2017.
”Customers are becoming ever more discerning and are demanding products to market in a faster time” - Richard Price, CEO, F&F
2016 has been a competitive year and we expect to see more of the same in 2017. Customers are becoming ever more discerning and are demanding products to market in a faster time, which continues to challenge product development cycles.
On the other hand, there are inevitably going to be inflationary pressures next year, so having the right blend of style, quality and price will be essential to keep ahead. As retailers up their game, I think we’ll see them searching for trend inspiration outside the traditional trade shows, catwalks and colour forecasts. I can see more focus on looking at global trends and how they are influencing what customers want.
Shop Direct group product director Matt Dixon
”2017 will be the year we super-charge personalisation” - Matt Dixon, group product director, Shop Direct
The trend for increased frequency of newness will continue, but at Shop Direct we’ll temper this with relevancy – not newness for newness’s sake. Being fleet of foot in offering the right products at the right time needs constant advancement on our site and in the way we speak to customers, and we embrace that. We’ve focused on this relevancy in our product lifecycles too, while also adding more thoughtful, planned and frequent promotions that align to our full-price newness cycles.
2017 will be the year we super-charge personalisation. You’ll start to see our big bet on AI (artificial intelligence) paying off through real-time personalisation on site, and even more relevant, timely communications direct to our customers.
We’ll also deliver our first AI-driven, natural language chat bot in 2017, following on from Very Assistant, which was our first conversational user interface.
rhian bartlett e bay
”Technology and retail continue to be more and more entwined” - Rhian Bartlett, director of retail, eBay UK
Technology and retail continue to be more and more entwined, providing the customer with choice and convenience, while services such as click-and-collect and mobile shopping are now considered a standard offering to shoppers.
In 2017 the relationship between tech and retail will continue to grow, particularly in the area of personalisation. We’ve already seen that from our emotionally powered shop experiment – whereby we opened a pop-up shop in November that tested consumer’s emotional reactions to Christmas gifts – that there’s an appetite from consumers to embrace new ways to shop. The challenge is how to commercialise the opportunity.
”We’ll start to see more companies that marry deep technology capabilities with fashion expertise” - Kieran O’Neill, chief executive and co-founder, Thread
One of the big trends we’ll see in 2017 is the creation of new customer experiences that weren’t possible historically. For example, with Thread we’re able to offer 425,000 men their own personal stylist for free, as well as allowing them to effectively browse their own store where every item is personalised to them. This has only become possible in the last few years with the advances in machine learning technology.
We’ll start to see more companies that marry deep technology capabilities with fashion expertise. Historically, these two groups haven’t worked together, but it’s often at the intersection of two very different fields that you see breakthrough innovation.
“Strong brands with true multichannel models will continue to stand out from the crowd in 2017” - Colin Porter, chief executive, Joules
The year ahead will bring challenges for the industry, including the weaker sterling and some uncertainty following the European Union referendum. However, we believe strong brands with true multichannel models will continue to stand out from the crowd in 2017. Joules remains very well placed in the UK and international markets, given the strength of our brand and loyalty of our growing customer base.
In terms of fashion trends, we anticipate that bright pops of colour and bold unique prints will remain popular across lifestyle categories. For 2017 we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the folk trend.
”We expect to see more retailers using video in their campaigns, and taking personalisation to the next level through real-time storytelling” - Martin Harbech, head of ecommerce and retail, Facebook and Instagram
The increase in video on Facebook in 2016 has driven a new era of creativity on mobile and this will continue to evolve in 2017. We expect to see more retailers using video in their campaigns, and taking personalisation to the next level through real-time storytelling. With creative tools including Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and even bots for Messenger, we are giving brands a unique opportunity to reach people in a more relevant and timely way while offering an authentic, behind-the-scenes look into their business.
”Concern remains around exchange rates and the continued weakness in sterling” - Frank Slevin, chairman, House of Fraser
The Brexit vote does give a bit more certainty as at least we now know that the UK will be leaving the European Union, although we are still not sure exactly what form that departure will take. Concern remains around exchange rates and the continued weakness in sterling. Our new five-year strategy acknowledges the trend for shift away from retail and focuses a lot on the customer experience, so we are optimistic about the future. House of Fraser has been around for 167 years, and we have a supportive parent and strong partners, combined with our transformative plan to position us for the future of retail.
Ben lewis, ceo, river island
”Technology remains at the core of our strategy” - Ben Lewis, chief executive, River Island
While our outlook remains cautious, we are well positioned in terms of having the right product, and offering a great experience in store and online. Technology remains at the core of our strategy, implementing ground-up investment, and ensuring everyone within the company thinks and operates in a digital first way. We are plugging into something new as we move forward, positioning our thinking and development against the very best in the tech sector – we want to be renowned in the industry as pioneers, seeking out the best people and nurturing talent.
“Consumers want the latest looks faster than ever before” - Tarak Ramzan, CEO and founder, Quiz
Consumers want the latest looks faster than ever before and a brand’s ability to respond to this immediacy while continuing to exceed customers’ expectations will be key to future growth. The fast fashion market is growing rapidly. We will continue to expand our presence in the UK and explore new markets while investing in our infrastructure and new technology.
“For autumn 17 many wholesale brands will have no choice but to change pricing or mark-ups” – Juls Dawson, co-founder, Just Consultancies
The latter half of 2016 brought real challenge on a wholesale front, as Brexit came in the middle of the traditional forward-order selling seasons. Most brands on the launch of spring 17 campaigns had not accounted for the huge effect on the currency exchange rates that ensued, and altering their pricing at this stage for most was not an option. For autumn 17 many wholesale brands will have no choice but to change pricing or mark-ups at retail, wholesale or both. We will wait to see how this has an impact on buying by retailers and consumer alike.
Where we may seem some positive sales uplifts is where buyers and the public gravitate towards product – own label and wholesale – that are still perceived as accessible in a marketplace that will be languishing with increasing price points.
“Prices will go up – by how much depends on the degree of exclusivity and differentiation of your product – but go up they must” – Daniel Rubin, executive chairman and founder, The Dune Group
Every now and then an event comes along that provides a shock to the system. Brexit was such an event. The impact to date has been benign and less damaging than commentators predicted. Don’t be fooled – the full impact won’t be felt until next year. As retailers’ forward-currency contracts run out, prices will go up – by how much depends on the degree of exclusivity and differentiation of your product – but go up they must.
And certainly, whatever the pundits say, there is also an underlying fragility in consumer confidence, which, combined with the increase in the living wage, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, increases in business rates and most likely a cold summer spring/summer and warm autumn/winter, will make 2017 one challenging – “challenging” must be the most overused word in retail currently – year for fashion retailers.
Despite all the challenges, I am surprisingly optimistic for Dune in 2017. That shock I mentioned has resulted in us – and I’m sure many other retailers – reviewing all aspects of our business to work more efficiently and productively.
“Machine learning has the potential to revolutionise personalisation for fashion platforms of the future” – Moritz Hahn, senior vice-president for category management and markets, Zalando
Machine learning has the potential to revolutionise personalisation for fashion platforms of the future. By using input from several sources, machines can recognise and categorise virtually any fashion item, revealing symmetries, structures and trends from every corner of the industry.
We will also focus on apps in 2017. Mobile provides the ultimate gateway for personal connections. We’re already pushing personalised content via the Zalando app and attracting more loyalty from customers.
Having a closer look at product trends, in 2017, the focus on well-being will continue and lead to further blending of sports or leisurewear with more formal clothing. And the developing economies and their cultures will have a huge influence on fashion: you will recognise folkloristic elements that are typical for particular cultures – eastern European, African and Cuban, for example.
At the same time, fashion becomes more eclectic and opulent. Even minimalism, which has dominated fashion in recent years, is becoming more decorative.
“Consumers are looking to spend a portion of their disposable income on well-being and experience” – Beth Butterwick, CEO, Karen Millen
At the beginning of 2017, we’re focusing on the current year-end close and initiating the strategic levers that form the plan for the new financial year.
For most consumer sectors, volatility seems to be the new normal. The only certainty as we face 2017 is the continuation of economic and global uncertainty, coupled with those widely reported headwinds impacting us all. Additionally, consumers are looking to spend a portion of their disposable income on well-being and experience. Most businesses will be focused on customer retention, acquisition and how they best secure a share of spend.
To be successful in 2017 retailers will need to be obsessive about understanding customers, as well as offering local and global consistent brand experiences, brand storytelling across physical and digital platforms, and tailored customer service through seamless omnichannel integration. On top of all that, they will need real sales growth to underpin cost and productivity efforts.
This year, we’ve seen the theme of “personalisation”. In 2017, as consumers continue to look for “unique experiences”, personalisation will move to new levels, impacting retail more broadly and moving in to travel, leisure, beauty, health, services generally and many more.
“There will be extreme trading periods, good and bad” – Peter Ruis, CEO, Jigsaw
If not the toughest year I can remember in retail, 2016 was certainly the strangest. We operated within the sheer extremity of the pre- and post-Brexit debate (sterling started to fall aggressively from January – we have not seen this in elections and referenda before), the bizarre weather, turbulent consumer confidence, a discounting epidemic, and the furore around BHS and Sports Direct.
In 2017, Brexit, Trump and European elections will still dominate the news agenda – consumer confidence will bounce around. There will be extreme trading periods, good and bad. However, truly differentiated brands and retailers will stand out. There is some recovery in currencies. There is likely to be more political certainty at least by the autumn. We remain very optimistic for the Jigsaw brand, which will continue to expand aggressively, domestically and internationally.
“It’s all going to be about regional centres and making a statement: your retail is your marketing – David Reiss, founder, Reiss
The Brexit vote was a shock to the system but there are bigger changes too: people’s shopping habits have changed – they are shopping much more online and they are spending money in different ways. You have to adapt to the way the market is. And also – let’s face it – the world is overshopped. I have said for a while that secondary retail is dead – you don’t want to be touching secondary retail.
It’s all going to be about regional centres and making a statement: your retail is your marketing and you want to make sure it is special.
“Customers want hassle-free, convenient shopping via omnichannel integration” – Susan Saideman, vice-president, Amazon Fashion in Europe
The fashion industry is speeding up – trend cycles are accelerating with an increase in consumers who want to “see now, buy now”. This new pace can be seen in our customers who are reacting to trends more confidently and making purchases more quickly. Our customers often have busy lives and are looking for ways to become more “time rich”, so they can cherish their leisure and family time. They want hassle-free, convenient shopping via omnichannel integration, and a speedy and reliable delivery service.
“Social media will sit at the heart of many future transactions” – Mary Turner, CEO, Koovs
M-commerce will continue to leapfrog traditional ecommerce, bringing with it a shopper that expects instant gratification, speed and relevance. So, a traditional “catalogue”-style transactional website will no longer fit the bill. Social media will sit at the heart of many future transactions, providing more of an emotional connection. We are already seeing this trend with shopability across various platforms.
Data is now like water: it’s abundant and it’s also vital. But brands will need to be smarter in using it to serve customers better, and this is doubly so for mobile, as it is an instant, on-the-go medium.
In a world with near-endless choice, we will be using data to provide dynamic personalisation and artificial intelligence to continually learn about the customer and make instantaneous recommendations.
”Having and retaining the right talent to cope with the continuing changing environment will be key” - Wendy Hallett, founder and managing director, Hallett Retail
It is hard to predict what 2017 will hold for our sector given the number of uncertainties and unknowns in this country and beyond. However, having and retaining the right talent to cope with the continuing changing environment will be key, whatever comes our way. Having an agile workforce working cross-functionally and adapting quickly to changing demands will be vital.
The spotlight on the gender pay Gap from April 2017 [when new company reporting requirements come into effect] will help businesses consider a more flexible approach to working, increasing agility and growing the talent pool at all levels. It is well documented that a better gender balance throughout an organisation can bring better business results.
“Instead of buying ‘more’, customers will ’buy once and buy well’” – Anthony Thompson, chief executive, Fat Face
Customers will feel the pinch in 2017 as inflation flows through to retail prices as a direct result of the devaluation of the pound. The clothing sector is not immune to this reality and we will witness higher underlying retail prices for the first time in a generation.
Short term, some retailers will resort to radically changing their sourcing strategy and even reducing quality in an effort to hold prices. But it won’t work and customers will not be impressed. In an inflationary environment customers will race towards quality rather than “race to the bottom”. And instead of buying “more”, they will “buy once and buy well”. For brands that want a sustainable business, this means providing the best value, not just the lowest price.
Discounting and lazy marketing will no doubt continue in the short term, but the trend towards providing a more full-price proposition where price integrity matters, will also start to gain momentum as retailers face up to margin pressures and finally recognise the damage that constant discounting has had on their profitability.
So despite the cost pressures, I approach 2017 glass half full. There is a great opportunity for clothing to reinvent itself in 2017, and to start to get its act together again.
“There will be continued acceleration in digital innovation and increased consumer demand for ’buy now, wear now’” - Ulric Jerome, CEO, Matchesfashion.com
I see the next 12 to 18 months as being quite transformational for the industry. There will be continued acceleration in digital innovation and increased consumer demand for “buy now, wear now”. At Matchesfashion.com we’re ahead of that trend, having just launched on-demand 90-minute delivery and invested significantly in technology to enable the digital consumer – 45% of Matchesfashion.com sales are now generated via mobile phone. The luxury and fashion industry is being reshaped by digital and, like us, every company will need to put technology and innovation at the heart of their business.
“The speed of last-mile delivery options will start to dictate how etailers convert customers” – Sach Kukadia, co-founder and buying director, SecretSales
The future of retail is being moulded by consumer convenience. Speed of delivery will be paramount in the coming year, as many businesses search for same day deliveries and in some cases same hour options. Operationally we are focusing our efforts on improving customer experience, specifically our delivery lead times, which frankly hinders all businesses in the flash Sales sector.
The UK market is extremely complex in terms of landscape and, with the uncertainty of our economy and the speed at technology is advancing, the shopping experience is inevitably going to evolve.
With the introduction of wearable technology, 2017 may bring the first shift in consumer behaviour. Facebook and Amazon will soon introduce wearable eyewear technology that allows consumers to shop instantly by directing their focus on to a specific item.
Coupling this with the advancements in logistics carriers, and, of course, the use of drones, items will be delivered to your desired location within an hour. Subsequently the speed of last-mile delivery options will start to dictate how etailers convert customers.
It could even be that in 2017 we see consumers shopping “in store” through virtual reality headsets from the comfort of their own home. Either way, 2017 is undoubtedly going to be a difficult year while the economy stabilises post-Brexit vote and retailers play catch up with technology.
“Inflationary price rises will be felt by everybody” – Colin Temple, managing director, Schuh
2016 was an interesting year for retailing, one from which I will be happy to move on. The strong athleisure trend combined with a mild winter and heavy discounting on Black Friday have been challenges for us. We have, however, enjoyed a bit of a comeback thanks to London tourist spend and, generally, apart from Black Friday, retailers have not been overly discounting this year.
2017 will no doubt be another year of unusual weather. The uncertainty of Brexit and probable inflationary price rises will be felt by everybody. Not much you can do about these things but the biggest challenge is to be fully joined up on the multichannel front, giving the customer a seamless experience, however they wish to shop. Considerable amounts will be invested by retailers to better understand the customer journey both in store and online. Retailers will also be working very hard to get efficiencies with staffing, central overhead costs and distribution to offset cost increases.
“We will remain fully focused on brand and customer experience” - William Kim, chief executive, AllSaints
Since 2012, we have been obsessed with creating a global, direct-to-consumer business model – both in terms of distribution and communication. Over the next year, we will remain fully focused on brand and customer experience, and continue to drive this direct model, by further enhancing our customer journey via digital, especially on our mobile platform. We expect these efforts to take our digital penetration to more than 20% of total global revenues. Additionally, we have created in-house technology, which enables our retail stores to fulfil online orders, and we envision new global partnerships in digital coding and innovation.