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Retail trends: fashion brands must adapt to a changing retail world

11 October 2019

By Drew Smith

Drew is the Director of Product Strategy at Upp and focuses on how technology can help brands and retailers deliver what their customers want.

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In this digital age, ecommerce is more prevalent and more advanced than ever before. Brands and retailers can’t afford to be left behind in the rapidly evolving ecommerce world. This is especially true for fashion brands.

The rise of online fashion retailers and changes in consumer shopping habits reflect this industry-wide transformation. Brands on the high street need to get online (and optimise their online presence) in order to compete.   

This article will look at what fashion retailers need to be doing now to match customer expectations and evolve with the changing retail world.

A look at the current ecommerce market

The ecommerce market changed the retail industry, and it’s still growing. The immediate accessibility of the internet made it far easier for consumers to shop across different channels, changing customer behaviours and buying habits. Last year, the global ecommerce market experienced an 18% growth and it is projected that in 2020, the worldwide revenue of the fashion ecommerce market will rise to $606 billion.

This market growth shows just how much the number of digital buyers worldwide has skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that 1.92 billion people around the world will be digital buyers this year. That’s approximately 25% of the world’s current population who are doing their shopping online!

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According to the Monthly Business Survey, online sales increased by 15.9% in 2017, compared to the previous year. In contrast to this, stores experienced only a 2.4% rise in growth. Similarly, a recent study by the PwC and Local Data Company found that out of 500 British town centres, the number of new stores opening is decreasing and the number of stores closing is increasing. Big brands like Arcadia, New Look and East have all closed high-street shops in the last year. Consumer behaviours are evolving — many more consumers are opting for online shopping.

The statistics make it clear that there has been a large shift to online shopping and a decrease in consumers physically going to shops. The retail industry needs to evolve and adapt to these behaviours. That means building and maintaining a strong online presence.

How legacy fashion brands are tackling the shift to ecommerce-first growth

Many brands and retailers with a long history of brick-and-mortar retail success understand that they need to change with the times. Many have now turned to digital channels to deliver new growth for their shareholders.

Typically, the first step in building an ecommerce presence is getting product collections up on an internal website and promoting these listings through channels like Google Shopping. Forward-thinking brands go further and create product listings on independent marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to maximise a solid online presence. With varying degrees of success, other brands have built an active presence on social media — selling directly through platforms like Instagram Shopping and communicating with customers to increase overall brand support.

The challenge for these businesses is handling the speed of change online and managing the volume and complexity of data that a multi-channel approach to modern ecommerce creates. For brands to succeed, they need to move beyond legacy processes that can hold them back online.

Example 1: Maintaining quality product information

In-store shoppers can touch and feel products, they don’t need much extra information to make an informed purchase. The story is reversed online. Online shopping creates a need for high-quality information about each and every product, readily available to each channel where customers find the brand’s products.

Without this information, customers will be less likely to find the brand in the first place, and if they do, they’re less likely to convert and more likely to return purchases. This is why brands must ensure they create and maintain high-quality product information.

Ensuring product information is of a high standard and up to date is a job that is not only for the ecommerce team. It needs organisational change and investment in tools able to ensure that the information is preserved from the design stage onwards. Legacy processes impact the implementation of new technology. Software solutions currently on the market can assist retailers deliver high-quality product listings across multiple channels.  

High-quality data is critical to ensuring that ecommerce teams can create digital representations of the products that will resonate, accurately depict products and maximise visibility on different platforms. Teams need the right information at the right time to give customers a high-quality experience.

Example 2: Using machine learning effectively

Big data and machine learning have been hyped by major fashion retailers to demonstrate their commitment to digital transformation, but too often these projects have been more productive in terms of PR than adding real value to the business.

Turning high-volumes of data into actionable insights is far more complex than simply collecting the data. Ecommerce teams need to focus on problems that are relevant to the customer-focused decisions that they need to make. Often the toolsets and/or internal expertise is missing, leaving projects stranded and ineffective.

When focused on specific problems, fashion brands can more easily upscale their ecommerce and digital capabilities with the latest tech. For example, they can use an ecommerce product data platform which provides the ability to collate and deliver actionable data on how to best structure product listings, automate form fills and update product information. This leaves your ecommerce team more time to engage in creative thinking and decision making using the collected data.

Adopting a digital-first mindset and making an organisational transition easier

Technology has a crucial role to play in making the transition to a digital-first approach. The advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning helps to remove manual processes which couldn’t have been automated before. This makes getting to market online much less costly than previously possible for fashion brands.

For fashion brands to truly realise the global ecommerce opportunity, they have to be willing to move quickly and decisively to prioritise their digital evolution and adopt the new technologies that will enable their success.

AI and data-led tech-enabled fashion brands to optimise their ecommerce strategies, taking advantage of the disruptive, multi-channel approaches that the leading online retailers have pioneered. By investing in the right ecommerce product data platform, fashion brands can automate the process of keeping product information up to date and remove a lot of the pain of getting to market online, saving your ecommerce teams time and energy that can be refocused on campaign planning.  

Your business’ growth should be centred around a culture of technological advancement in order to keep up with competitors. Implementing technological tools can help, but they are useless if you don’t embrace them as a business.

By combining technology with process, you will enhance your decision-making power and optimise your online presence. Your teams will be able to focus on what's important — working on marketing your products effectively to increase brand loyalty and brand image. Using actionable data and automate processes to make operations more efficient will help you succeed in a saturated fashion market that is only getting bigger and more competitive.

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