GUEST BLOG: In this contributed blog post Jessica Murphy, co-founder of apparel and footwear retail personalisation platform True Fit, discusses how technology can help bridge the gap between customers and brands while reducing physical contact.
Consumers want to make a closer connection with their favourite brands and the people behind them, but at the same time, they want to make less physical contact, both now and after the pandemic is over.
All our experience of working with both brands and consumers is that the customer, spurred on by restrictions placed on them during lockdown, is redefining the concept of the retail location. Once it was all about stores, then stores and online, and now it’s about wherever the customer is or wants to be.
Retailers and brands are making their plans to keep pace. Newly appointed CEO of H&M, Helena Helmersson, said the Swedish fashion brand would take ‘forceful measures’ that would ‘lead to a fast shift towards digital’ after it shut 75% of its stores worldwide during lockdown.
Now stores have reopened, we see new safety measures in place to ensure social distancing, reduced contact with both staff and products, and greater integration with online.
Proof that retailers and brands are responding in ever more creative ways comes from True Fit’s own Fashion Genome data. Shopping behaviour has changed under lockdown. UK online fashion checkouts were up 89% in coming into June and overall traffic was up 35%. But no one should assume that online is taking up all the store’s slack; average order value is down 30% compared to 2019.
And even with UK clothing stores reopening, consumers will remain reliant on digital channels for their fashion buys, with recent research showing that less than half (41%) of shoppers will be comfortable revisiting stores after lockdown.
People may be spending less per order, but they are purchasing more frequently and browsing more – the average number of on-site searches soared, up 82%, during lockdown according to the latest data from Findologic, which analysed 10m search queries across 1,000 e-commerce sites.
Clearly the appetite to buy is there and now is the time for retailers to rethink the path to purchase, wherever that might start and wherever that might end.
We are advising brands to be more present and responsive at every step in that path to purchase, enabling connections to take customers to that next step. We are recommending the introduction of more online assistance tools, as the demand of personalisation has grown exponentially – 123% since mid-March. From digital fitting rooms to ensure consumer confidence, to bots that manage FAQs, all the way to video links to stylists or store staff, retailers have the opportunity to cultivate a personal shopping experience.
We know that this challenges brands to be present whilst remaining remote because even with enabling tools in place, conversion is more likely as the experience gets more personal. Product sort curated for the individual, promotions, social messaging, call centre handling, returns, follow-up communications can all vary when driven by data insights that brands apply to individual customers. And while this has been important for some time, the need is now more urgent than ever.
Many retailers are trying to move large inventories without getting panicked into excessive discounting, and we say that most efficient way to execute this is to connect customer data creatively, offer a more personalised and generous service, and get the right shoppers the right products at the right time.
These are the keys not just to conversion, but loyalty and lifetime value. While brands will be very much focused on the here and now, we advise them to focus on the lifetime value to build margin and growth.