As the pace of technological change increases and pressure rises on retailers and brands to innovate, Drapers looks at what fashion can learn from other industries.
Booking a holiday used to be a simple affair: you would go into a high street travel agency or find a package holiday bargain on Teletext. Today, as well as booking online and on mobile, and choosing between hotels, villas and AirBnB, you can experience the holiday before you go – taking virtual reality flights and even sampling the sounds and smells. Like so many others, the travel industry has had to innovate to survive the digital revolution.
In fashion, meanwhile, the cost of doing business is rising and the Brexit vote has created a new air of uncertainty. There is ever-increasing pressure to come up with new, more efficient ways of operating. Yet innovation seems to have slowed as many businesses focus on sorting out their legacy back-end systems.
Innovation is essential if fashion firms are to survive a rollercoaster economy and competition from new entrants to the market. There is a lot the industry could learn from what’s happening in other sectors. Travel, technology, finance, music, hospitality and health – all are battling their own challenges and coming up with their own, unique solutions. Here are a few industries fashion businesses – and particularly those looking to improve their use of technology – could look to for inspiration.
Travel: taking trips with virtual reality
The travel industry has been turned upside down by the internet. Many agencies have disappeared from the high street, while others have been forced to embrace change.
High street operators such as Thomas Cook and Thomson Holidays have transformed into multichannel operators – offering their services in shops, online and on mobile – and explored the use of immersive digital screens and virtual reality (VR).
Thomas Cook first tested VR in stores in 2014, and since then has been developing the content. Last year’s “Try before you fly” campaign took customers from the cockpit of a Thomas Cook plane, through economy and premium classes, and invited them to guess the destination to enter a competition. It was available online and on mobile via the YouTube app and Google Cardboard VR viewer for smartphones.
“Technology is a useful engagement tool,” explains Matthew Wilde, innovation manager at Thomas Cook. “VR headsets bring to life our hotels, destinations and airline. Many customers find it more immersive than looking online or in a brochure.”
The wider industry is now exploring how to use smart TVs and games consoles to bring the virtual reality travel booking experience into people’s homes.
Fashion retailers, however, have yet to embrace technology to provide immersive experiences
to drive footfall into stores.
Airlines, meanwhile, are focused on investing into their apps and developing mobile-first strategies. For example, Virgin America’s app, which launched last September, incorporates bespoke animations and curated Spotify playlists for each destination. The app also offers a personalised 60-second booking process based on the user’s previous travel history.
Music: creating visceral, memorable experiences
The internet has revolutionised the music industry, too. People are less likely to buy a single or an album – they pay for a subscription to Spotify or Apple Music, or download songs illegally for free. That once-vital revenue stream has been all but wiped out. Yet people are still willing to pay to go to a festival or live music gig – in the case of Glastonbury, splurging £238 on the ticket. They are paying for the experience, the theatrical event, says Alasdair Lennox, executive creative director EMEA at retail and brand consultancy firm Fitch. He argues that there are three things retailers can learn from the music industry:
Think venue, not format Stop worrying about how much product is sold per square metre, and instead think about how much time people spend in the space, engaging with the brand.
Offer a visceral experience Live gigs bring
s people together. There is that moment, when a band plays and everyone starts to jump or sing together, and the crowd becomes one. Nike and Lululemon, who host running and yoga clubs, provide good examples of how fashion brands can bring customers together in a similar way.
“We enjoy being with other people,” points out Lennox.
Create memories Most fans come away from a live music gig with strong memories. As well as focusing on basket spend, fashion brands and retailers should think about what memories customers take away from the shopping experience, and what will make them more likely to return.
Hospitality: personalising customer service
The hospitality industry can also teach fashion a thing or two about using technology to improve the customer experience. A good example is Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the owner of the W hotel chain among others. A guest travelling to select hotels within its portfolio in an Uber car can use the “Let’s Chat” messaging service in its loyalty app to contact the front desk before they arrive, to arrange any special requests. They can then bypass the check-in desk and use their mobile phone or Apple Watch as their room key.
“Consumer expectation for on-demand services has become as prevalent in the hospitality industry as it is in other retail sectors – born out of our desire for brands to keep up with our increasingly hectic and in-transit lifestyles,” says Katie Baron, head of retail at innovation research and advisory firm Stylus.
Nazifa Movsoumova, founder of London independent fashion retailer Modern Society (box, below), says she has learned a lot from the hospitality industry: “Retailers can be good at service, but it usually comes second to product – people think, if you have the right product, that’s the main thing. In the hospitality industry, customer service is the number one priority. We can learn from that. Your staff, their knowledge, the mood of the place, the scent – it all adds up to the choices consumers make in the shop.”
What I learned from working in …
Rachel Bremer Global communications director, Asos
Formerly international communications director at Twitter
When I joined Twitter in 2011 it had 500 employees – by the time I left in 2015, that had grown to 4,000. That pace of growth means things are constantly changing and there are always new challenges, so you have to be flexible and able to adapt to new circumstances very quickly. And in these fast-growth businesses, you’re often doing something new that others haven’t done before. That means being creative and experimenting – sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. There’s no stigma around failing, as long as you learn from what hasn’t worked.
Nazifa Movsoumova Founder, Modern Society
Formerly an analyst at JP Morgan
In finance, you get things done in a very efficient way. I learned to prioritise activities that would be beneficial for me, rather than whatever was the most fun. So, for example, I only spent two hours at London Fashion Week this season, because I knew I had to focus on something else that would bring sales to the business. I also learned to pay attention to numbers. Once a week, I look at my sell-through and margin, and early on I launched my own label, which gives me space to breathe because my mark-up is higher.
Alex Wheldon Chief product officer, Lyst
Formerly chief marketing officer at betting exchange firm Smarkets
My background has helped me understand a few fundamentals about the importance of building customer relationships, and the impact good marketing can have. You have to come up with revenue-driving ideas, understand unit economics, be able to measure performance, understand trends and be analytical. It’s constantly in flux, and being used to change has helped in fashion. I also had an advertising business in the past – the mission there was to put the right ad in front of the right people at the right time. In ecommerce, you’re generally trying to accomplish the same thing with the product.
Other sectors that could inspire fashion
The NHS may not have the best track record when it comes to technology, but there is a lot to learn from this industry about how to implement new ways of working, the importance of bringing together different skills in multidisciplinary teams and how to spread innovation.
The construction industry is full of problem-solvers constantly looking for ways to innovate, whether to save money and create value (for themselves or a client), or to overcome a tricky technical challenge. For example, when London’s new Crossrail route was plotted, construction companies had to work out how to do it on budget and on time.
Many of the theories embraced by educators could help in business. For example, psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory of a “growth mindset” – the idea that you should not have a fixed idea of what a person is capable of – encourages people to see the potential in others, which could be applied to staff development.