Could digital showrooms be the future of buying? If so, Tommy Hilfiger’s invention could be the first of many.
When preppy brand Tommy Hilfiger invited Drapers to its global HQ in Amsterdam to view its new digital showroom, with the promise that it would “revolutionise the sales experience”, we didn’t know what to expect.
However, ask any fashion brand what their biggest expenses are and producing multiple samples will be high on the list, so our interest was piqued as to how this would work to streamline the process for brands and buyers.
“As a brand you need to have efficiency, but you also need to produce the samples, and the assortment needs to be laid out on the floor for the buyer to see. We have between 30 and 40 showrooms [globally], so to do all that is far too expensive and time-consuming. I was driven by the inefficiencies of the order process,” snappily dressed Tommy Hilfiger chief executive Daniel Grieder explains. “On top of that it is not sustainable because you have to fly everything [samples] by plane. So I knew something had to change.”
The digital showroom is the solution. Squirreled away within the building, buyers will feel more like they are entering a cinema than a traditional sales space. Dimly lit, a long walnut table is inset with a half-metre by one-metre touchscreen, which connects to a four-metre-high wall-to-wall grid of ultra high-definition screens on the far back wall.
The inspiration came in the form of the weather forecast. “It’s a true story,” laughs Grieder. “The idea came when I was watching the news and the weather forecast, and they are always standing in front of a big screen,” he says, getting up to illustrate the point with his best weatherman impression. “They move the highs and the lows and the winds. So why can we not talk about the brand and the newness of the season and the collection [instead]?”
He adds: “No one else is doing it.”
The digital showroom offers an immersive sales experience, beginning with a brand video that is played on the large screens on the back wall, providing an overview of the collection before the sales process begins. Then it’s down to business on the interactive touchscreen table. Using this, customers can view every item in the Tommy Hilfiger sportswear and Hilfiger Denim collections and create custom orders with all product categories laid out across the screen. Pieces can be viewed as part of the season’s key looks, and buyers can view wholesale pricing information, sizing, multiple colour options and sizes and complementary garments, as well as view the product from multiple angles, zoom for detail or see a catwalk video.
One of the time-saving advantages is that the touchscreen interface immediately updates Tommy Hilfiger’s systems with the order. The buyer can
drag and drop product into different deliveries throughout the season, and even email themselves their order while sat at the touchscreen. This is all done accompanied by a sales agent who will take the buyer through the process. Once the proposed order is complete, the sales agent will take the buyer into a side room to get down to the financials.
For the brand this all means fewer - and eventually, no - samples need to be made, reducing time, cost and environmental impact. It also means the buyer can more easily get a bird’s eye view of their buy. Grieder illustrates the point by leading Drapers out of the digital showroom and into one of its normal sales spaces, where staff are laying out garments on the floor for buyers to view.
The digital showroom was launched to domestic buyers on January 21 and, while no one from the UK had been to see it when Drapers visited, it has won good reviews from Dutch luxury department store De Bijenkorf and German etailer Zalando.
“De Bijenkorf embraces digital initiatives and is excited to be one of the first retailers to experience and utilise Tommy Hilfiger’s digital showroom,” says its chief merchandise officer Allan Winstanley. “It gives us access to an expanded world of content and allows us to interact with the collections in a new way that’s driving our business forward.
As a wholesale partner, we’re excited to see how the concept has completely enhanced the showroom experience.”
Zalando head of buying for menswear and lifestyle Benjamin Kruemel adds: “The digital showroom synergises sales and technology to offer a seamless approach to selling. As a customer we appreciate this innovative and engaging sales system that completely involved us in the experience.
We look forward to seeing where this leads us as brand partners.”
The digital showroom will be rolled out internationally. Grieder says that over the course of the next two seasons - spring 16 and autumn 16 - it is likely to be introduced to Tommy Hilfiger’s Hong Kong, New York, Düsseldorf, Munich and Paris showrooms, with all 30 to 40 receiving the technology within two to three years.
The amount of physical product at the showrooms will also decrease as Tommy Hilfiger adopts a digital-first policy for its sales rooms. Each sample is currently available in every colour and this will be reduced to each sample in one colour and then, eventually, no product at all. This should take place over the next few seasons, but a date is not set in stone.
For buyers used to touching and feeling product, this might seem an alarming development. Books of fabric swatches are on hand in the digital showroom, but can they provide the same physical experience as actually handling a garment?
“I think it is more a generational thing. The buyers coming from my generation are used to writing orders and the touch and feel. But the new generation, they buy everything online and are used to buying on a screen - and these are the new buyers for the stores,” says Grieder.
He’s right, and certainly for etailers the innovation works brilliantly as they get to see how their buy will look on screen immediately. Although Drapers suspects buyers will still want to be able to see, touch and feel key or more complicated items, even if this is in a more limited fashion.
The system itself was developed in-house over two years after Grieder failed to find an external company that could deliver on his concept. He won’t reveal exactly how much the development cost, but expects the return on investment to pay for itself within a year, with an even greater return over the coming years as a result.
“I ask myself why no one else came up with this idea first,” says Grieder. “We are not Google or Apple, we are a fashion company and we never expected we would be the ones to develop such a revolutionary project. It is not a question of whether it will revolutionise the industry. It is a question of how fast.”