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Shirts and suits retailers using tech to stay smart

Enhanced personalisation, increased visualisation and much more customisation with a digital twist comprise the to-do lists of several UK formalwear retailers

Men’s tailoring in the UK took off in London in the early 1800s, with personalisation, customisation, and in-store visualisation and selection of materials all central to the service customers received on Savile Row and surrounding areas of the city.

Those same pillars hold up the industry today, but with a digital twist woven in. 

Representatives from three UK formalwear retailers, Charles Tyrwhitt, Moss Bros and The Savile Row Company, mapped out their recent challenges and plans for the 12 months ahead, at Fashion Connect, an event hosted by e-tail trade association IMRG.

Each of those companies are going through the process of modernising formalwear retailing while maintaining the fabric on which the sector is built. This is involving taking what has been so successful about stores and in-person customer communication, and making it fit for websites – and vice versa.

Talking about the “old-school”, arguably halcyon view of suit making, where the tailor recognised the customer by name, knew what they last bought, and understood their size and preferences, Matt Henton, head of e-commerce at Moss Bros, says: “We try to replicate that across our digital channels.

“You have to have a good e-commerce platform [Moss Bros uses Remarkable], and we’ve got some suppliers who sit on top of that, who allow us to understand what our customers are doing, adapt the site, and respond and personalise the experience to each individual user,” he says.

Recently, Moss Bros has been using Dynamic Yield, a personalisation tech company, to help present its online customers with relevant suits and clothing. The tool allows the retailer to test changes made to its checkout process, and automatically offer product recommendations based on historic customer transactions – two moves that Henton says have helped boost conversions.

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Kevin Cooper, director of e-commerce at Charles Tyrwhitt, revealed his business is considering sending those who work in digital on traditional selling courses, presumably because it will help give them more information about fundamental sales triggers and techniques. “The online team are really the bridge between product and customer,” he says.

“They can learn a lot from retail and we have them doing monthly visits to retail stores when they do visual merchandising work to understand how the retail team are selling to customers in store and seeing how we can transpose that online.”

For The Savile Row Company, which has transformed itself from manufacturer of goods for third-parties on the high street to become a brand in its own right that predominantly sells online but also operates a premium store at the heart of Savile Row, personalised online communication is a key focus area for the 12 months ahead.

Lee-Anne Harris, marketing director for the brand, says: “We currently have [e-commerce personalisation platform] Nosto set up on various different pages. Once the website is bedded in, we’re looking at other ways to personalise on the homepage, basket page, [and] product page.”

Harris, who is the granddaughter of the company’s founder, Gerry Doltis, daughter of the current managing director, Jeffrey Doltis, and, in her own words, her father’s “retirement plan”, said online personalisation on Savilerowco.com currently consists of price range-tailored additional item suggestions on product pages.

Explaining the site has just been re-platformed from Magento 1 to Magento 2, she noted there is now a chance to add new functionality.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there in terms of personalisation that are waiting to be explored once the new site is bedded in,” she says. “On the product page I’ve been talking to a solution where they are able to recommend complimentary products as opposed to ‘here’s something you may like’.”

Suits you, sir

Moss Bros shops and the street Savile Row have always been synonymous with in-store men’s tailoring, while Charles Tyrwhitt last year reopened its Ludgate shop in the heart of the City of London, complete with a new dedicated made-to-measure concept.

In an age where these businesses and their competitors, including the likes of TM Lewin and high street fashion brands, acknowledge the majority of customers do not solely shop on one channel when buying a suit, there is a need to convey key messages in a consistent manner in stores, online, and across social media and email marketing.

In 2016, Moss Bros launched its Tailor Me service in its store estate, aimed at giving consumers an opportunity to choose specific cloths, colours, and designs to come together to make a personalised suit. This is one of the in-store services now being replicated online, with shoppers able to play around with different designs on their mobiles or desktops and save their preferences, before visiting a store for a fitting.

Henton says a concept involving digital touchscreens is being trialled at Moss Bros head office. These screens could appear in flagship stores later in 2020 – potentially doubling up as advertising screens when not in use by customers – allowing visitors to design personalised outfits in an immersive fashion in shops.

Customisation of products and the online-physical crossover to support it is on the Charles Tyrwhitt hitlist, too. “We’ve got a really big year ahead of us with some big challenges,” says Cooper.

“We launched custom suits in store six months ago, [and] last week we launched customised shirts in store because it’s easier to do in store, but it’s no great surprise we’ll try and do those online sometime.”

Digital accessories

Voice-enabled technology, new eCommerce imagery, and ongoing data analysis are among the other technological tasks facing these retailers.

Henton says Moss Bros’s strategy around voice-enabled tech is to ensure the “hygiene factors” are addressed. Therefore, consumers talking to their various platforms, be it Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Siri, should be able to get an answer to their questions about the nearest Moss Bros store and what time it is open.

Changes have been made to the Charles Tyrwhitt website in recent months, after the team there acknowledged it had not been emphasising its product range in enough detail. Cooper noted there is work to do this year to prompt its mission-led shoppers to purchase additional products aside from the white and blue shirt staples.

“The next focus is visual and presenting products differently – it’s not about what it is, it’s about what it looks like,” he says, adding that many of the inventory pictures now used on the website are computer generated imagery, which he’d like to use more.

“Visualisation is going to be big thing. How do we bring that through email all the way through the website and join that up?”

It is a question retailers across all sectors are working on answering. For UK formalwear retailers, no matter when they were established, it is a modern challenge entwined with the sensibilities that come with an industry that has over 200 years of heritage.

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