Of all the questions thrashed out at the Decoded Fashion London Summit this week, there’s one that has been particularly sticky - is the way in which brands and retailers use technology now, going to make or break their future business?
From All Saints and Topshop to BirchBox, River Island, Net-A-Porter, Amazon and ASOS, all the major players, whatever their overarching goals, are currently brainstorming around the very same topic. And it’s an important one.
Though sales across both the luxury and high street markets might still be done in bulk at bricks and mortar stores, statistics prove that the tides aren’t just turning - they’re tidal waving. And at a faster rate than ever expected, with online sales for some companies now coming close the to half-way mark of overall revenue. But in an increasingly digital age where fashion inspiration comes from blogs and Instagram, beauty advice from YouTube videos, and buying a coffee via contactless is far quicker than any online retail transaction could currently hope to be, speakers at the Decoded Fashion London Summit all agree that brands need to be open to technology in two crucial ways.
Firstly, the functionalities they can harness now, to immediately gain traction and insight into their evolving customer base, and secondly, the innovative tech tools which can be invested in to ensure future growth.
What does your customer want, and how can you tap into that?
Kelly Kowal, Global Growth Director at FarFetch.com, got to the core of the issue in the very first panel session of the summit. The key to getting your future growth strategy right, she argues, lies in answering this vital question - ‘what does your customer want, and how can you tap into that?’ Her thoughts were echoed by Lou Ashton, Head of Digital at Topshop, who in the same first day discussion flagged how, due to the average person spending at least 3.2 hours per day plugged into their phone, a fashion brand inevitably now plays just tiny part in the mass of activity which that person is constantly engaging with online. As such, to have a voice in the noise brands need to offer them something which is both relevant and useful to their needs or desires.
FarFetch.com has jumped on that already. The retailer uses its app as ‘more of a travel and shopping’ tool rather than straight selling, by offering users insight into the neighbourhood of the international boutiques and designers it stocks. Tips on where to buy the best coffee in Rome, for example.
Similarly, BirchBox is focusing on offering content that can solve problems for people, be it an acne cure or guidance on using a type of product, with aims to strategically place that editorial style content on the product detail pages where it’ll be most useful. Therefore encouraging a purchase. But it’s recognising what only you can offer your customer on social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and also newcomers SnapChat and Periscope, that is key, agreed the Decoded panellists.
Shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood for example, embraced Instagram only at the end of last year. A little late to the game it’s fair to say, especially for a brand already loved by celebrities, courted by runway designers and backed by British Fashion Council funding. But the designer and his CEO Christopher Suarez were keen to warn against merely adding to the social media noise, without a plan that was strategically reflective of your brand and, perhaps more importantly, one that is sustainable.
The pair agree that for small outfits like the Nicholas Kirkwood company, the sustainability of technology options needs to be major consideration. Is there any point, they asked, in setting up more social media accounts than a small team can manage, since failure to be consistent can send out its own damaging message? Likewise, diving into social posting with a strategy that does little to enhance or deepen the communication your brand is having with its customer. “We held off because I didn’t want to start doing it if I wasn’t doing it properly,” said Kirkwood on day two of the summit. “At the end of last year the time felt right, we were more able to deliver something that was being done in the right way.”
British-based fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, a key speaker at the event, agreed with Kirkwood’s stance on embracing digital technology only when you’ve pinpointed the right way to do it. “Social media is all about how it’s being used. It is oversaturated, but gives instant access to my customer,” explained the designer, who was also keen to note how the social media explosion has given him back the power to control how his brand is presented.
Formerly at the mercy of fashion editors who preferred to show only the ‘flouncier’ sides of Chalayan’s work, the designer told the Decoded audience how Instagram in particular, has allowed him to pull back the reins and resume building his business in the way he wants to. Showcasing his prized but lesser known line of tailoring for example, alongside the more avant garde designs that have earned him his fame. But while strategic marketing on social media and digital platforms is a brilliantly immediate way to use technology, what comes next?
Faster payments and the mobile gold rush
If the buzz at Decoded this week is anything to go by, it’s improving payments. One speaker even quoted Apple founder Steve Jobs to illustrate how crucial this final step is in future-proofing your business online; “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the quality has to be carried all the way through.” And so, the new approach to payment processes.
Oren Levy, CEO of new payment processing platform Zooz, appears to be the man at the forefront of where things need to go. As he explained, Zooz can securely handle any payment from anywhere in the world, using algorithms to process funds via regional payment methods (WeChat, PayPal, Alipay etc), while cutting down on cross-border fees and currency conversion costs.
The figurative cherry on top, is that Zooz even captures data about your customers, and returns it post-analysis as actionable information. Levy even purports to have something more up his sleeve which could soon make social shopping an easier, more accessible reality. But if more people are spending increasing amounts of time on their smartphones, it’s little surprise that much of the Decoded Fashion summit was also spent discussing mobile-commerce. As Christian Drehkopf, Head of Mobile Shop at Zalando, put it; we’re in the gold rush for mobile right now.
David Lloyd, Senior Industry Head for Google in the UK, also pressed the need for fashion brands and retailers to be mobile-ready ASAP; “People are researching on mobile and buying on desktop. But by 2019 the mobile fashion industry will as big as the online fashion business.” Lloyd also revealed Google research, which estimates that by 2018 some 47 per cent of all online fashion revenue will be coming directly from smartphones. A statistic which, in his closing comments, lead him to the conclusion; “Mobile is key [to future growth]. It is the key today and it is going to be the key tomorrow.”
More than ever it seems knowledge is power. And when it comes to future-proofing the business of fashion the general consensus at the Decoded Fashion London Summit, was that new technology is golden, but finding out how your customers are going to want to use it is King.
Written by Amy Lewis