Fashion is all about the individual characteristics and preferences. Delivering a differentiated and individualized experience to each shopper is the competitive and strategic differentiator that every fashion and apparel retailer needs to have. Yet is so difficult to achieve. Personalization will be key to the fortunes of many brands and retailers as they recover from the pandemic.
While retail’s digitalization has been accelerated by the pandemic, how, when and where technology is used has been largely driven by consumer behavior. If one thing is certain, shoppers want seamless, tailored experiences no matter where they shop.
The pandemic has also paved the way for new consumer behaviors to emerge. Consumers are comfortable purchasing from platforms that maintain the social element of the shopping experience and have also shown an openness to buy from brands they’ve never tried before.
At the recent CES 2021 show, Vogue hosted a panel discussion on the changing ‘protagonist’ in Fashion brought on by the increasing move for shoppers going online and relating to social media content. Bryan Thoensen Head of Content Partnerships for Tik Tok remarked, “TikTok offers an accessibility in fashion that I think has never been seen before. Fashion has felt largely intimidating…and our platform feels participatory. Fashion has been a one-way conversation for so many years, whether it’s through media companies or fashion houses. Now what fashion has become, especially by way of TikTok, is a very two-way [conversation].”
He added, “The people doing fashion right on TikTok are embracing these ideas of community, of discovery, but also authenticity. We’ve created an environment where fashion can feel highly personalized, and there’s this wonderful serendipity to what you can discover, where fans can lean in and [feel like they’re] part of a community.
It seems now digital shoppers are specifying and purchasing exactly according to their own wishes, sizes, style and colors. Personalization is the key and technology is the enabler.
Maturity of Personalization
Personalization has finally reached the maturity point where it’s all about the shopper. And today’s shopper no longer tolerates siloed channels or touch points. They want a consistent experience across the board that provides real-time personalization.
“For retailers, this means putting the customer at the centre of the shopping journey by offering a more personalized experience end-to-end, and that includes providing better, more flexible ways to pay,” said David Sykes, of Klarna.
One reason for this development is consumers’ growing desire to use their fashion choices of their own style, self-image, and values. The exploding use of social media plays an important role here. Many consumers — in particular younger generations like Millennials and Gen-Zers — share close to everything on social media. In pursuit of “likes” and building their own personal brands they seek one-of-a- kind items.
However, other consumers want to express more honesty and realism in their style choices. Consumers prefer brands that align with their values, and so they seek authenticity from the fashion companies they engage with. “Customers today want businesses with purpose,” believes Tory Burch of Business of Fashion. “Obviously the product has to be top quality but it’s also really what you stand for and what you believe in.” For this reason, fashion companies are likely to use more authentic storytelling and realism in their communications with customers. This is more likely to be possible with Brands that adopt a ‘direct to consumer’ (DTC) approach.
Uniqueness of brand or product
To connect with these empowered consumers, fashion companies should think about how to offer products and experiences that are perceived as unique. They want to own something special. Something you cannot and in your circle or in your neighbourhood or in your company.
“It’s not only what consumers are buying that has changed — it’s the way they shop,” said Richard Liu of JD Sykes. “One of the most important things to consider when engaging consumers is customer loyalty through a seamless end-to-end experience. Putting customers at the center of the shopping journey is key in a now-extremely competitive online market.”
The influence of AI in data sourcing
One of the major influences to new fashion shopping has been the use of applications using AI and machine learning. Using AI, brands and manufacturers can use previous purchasing behaviour, preferences, previous search preferences and choices to advance new personalization.
As more and more AI “assistance” programs advance, they will help brands make smarter strategic decisions around product development and new business lines.
3D design platforms like CLO also make it easy to tweak designs on the fly. These allow brands to use real-time AI insights to modify fashions right up to the minute they hit production.
E-commerce brands and technology providers will increasingly need to find ways to make AI decisions more transparent and less puzzling to shoppers to build trust. This will mean that when recommendation engines identify and display relevant product recommendations, those recommendations will automatically be accompanied by simple explanations that make it crystal clear to the shopper why and what data was used to select those products.
The rise of ‘Fast Fashion’ and the move to new types of personalisation
The data acquired means that brands and retailers are able to identify new trends through selection and preference criteria. Allied to fast production facilities, this allows new fashion items and ranges to be on the shelves faster than ever before, thereby virtually eliminating the need for fashion seasons.
However ‘Fast Fashion’ has also raised question marks about ethnicity and waste in production. Socially conscious shoppers are embracing the growing movement of “slow fashion,” which focuses on sustainable materials and transparent, ethical labor and manufacturing. As a result, some brands are exploring how 3D printing can help them produce goods on demand and create new avenues for customization. Customers are able to supply their sizes, see their digital image incorporated with the garment or accessory and have it produced specifically for them.
According to Avery Baker, brand officer at Tommy Hilfiger, “It’s about delivering on the instant gratification that consumers are really seeking,” “Closing that gap between the visibility of a fashion show and the moment of purchase.”
True Fit is another company using big data platform capabilities like AI-powered fashion discovery and exact-fit clothing and shoe recommendations. With over 100M registered users, the platform uses transaction data to determine customer preferences that “better personalize all touchpoints of the consumer journey” for brands.
Other well-known brands such as Adidas and Reebok are partnering with tech companies to automatically customize 3D representations of particular footwear products using personal measurements and preferences to go into immediate production.
The use of Tech in improving the shopping experience
New technologies such as Product Information Management (PIM) tools also help to create personalized product bundles and display relevant product recommendations so that individual customers can find items and provide a contextualized shopping experience with products that match their preferences.
PIM ensures consistency with accurate and relevant product data for all channels. Whether a consumer prefers to shop through mobile or an E-commerce store, it can determine the right type of product content that is most relevant, at the right place in the buyer journey and offer it at the right time.
With personalization improving the customer experience, it’s imperative that the onus is put on product information. Companies such as Sales Layer provide fashion brands and manufacturers the ideal platforms to speed new personalized product experiences. By linking data obtained from other means in terms of customer preference information, previous buying behavior and/or individual sizes, brands can display individual personal fashion style and product information.
By processing high volumes of product information that’s necessary for creating personalized experiences that truly resonate on an individual level. PIM gives consumers a contextualized shopping experience and leads to increased revenue and long term customer loyalty.