When it comes to online shopping, the UK spends more per household than any other country. This change in shopping behaviour has taken its toll on physical stores which are going bankrupt at a record rate. Department stores and clothing shops are the hardest hit with almost a quarter of apparel and accessories sales now taking place online. But, with 52% of e-commerce transactions in the UK now taking place on a smartphone, this is a challenge and opportunity for all retailers.
When it comes to fashion, the internet hasn't just changed the way shoppers are buying, but also the way they go about product discovery. Where once the shopping journey would have started with magazines, print media has been largely replaced by blogs and videos showcasing the latest fashion trends.
But bricks and clicks are no longer in competition and are seen symbiotically by the modern shopper. Here again, digital channels like YouTube and Instagram are a growing influence as shoppers often do their research online, most likely on mobile, before hitting the store to buy it, a phenomenon known as "webrooming". At the same time, that ever-present shopping device, the smartphone, continues to make it easier and easier for shoppers to convert physical window shopping into online purchasing at the touch of a screen, or "showrooming".
Apparel marketers are winning by using omnichannel shopper data to develop holistic profiles of their best customers and presenting them with merchandise to surprise, delight, and ultimately wear.
What we're seeing is a shift in behaviour and that product choice is more readily available than ever before; whether online or offline. What this means is that there is a growing need to integrate technology to the physical experience, as bricks and clicks become part and parcel of the modern apparel shopper's journey.
A new generation of fashion shoppers
Millennials and Gen Z are generations that grew up online. Bigger spenders than their Boomer counterparts, over half of 25-34 year olds say that they make digital purchases several times a month. As smartphones are practically the remote controls to the lives of Millennials and Gen Z, retailers must take advantage of the omnipresence of mobile devices and make the online to offline experience seamless for shoppers. In this world, it's more important than ever before for brands to remember that they are selling to people, not devices, and ensure that mobile web and app experiences are personalised to convert browsers to buyers
However the shopping experience is not just restricted to the smartphone screen. In fact, 67% of Gen Z still prefer to shop in physical stores, showing that retailers need to connect the overall shopping experience and proving that the high street is far from dead.
Smart, connected fashion
The key to engaging and retaining shoppers lies in the need to combine the in-store experience with technology.
Fashion is all about the look and shoppers still want to try merchandise on before they buy. Products such as the eBay "magic mirrors" are bridging these worlds, offering shoppers a glimpse of what the clothes look like in other sizes and colours - which can then be purchased with one tap. Combining technology with shopping has a huge potential to revolutionise and drive sales. At the moment, luxury market leaders such as Burberry and Ralph Lauren are giving shoppers this privilege, but these capabilities will soon hit the high street en-masse.
Another popular brand, Pepe Jeans recognises the importance of giving customers an exceptional shopping experience, powered by the latest technology. It recently announced that it'll be rolling out digital changing rooms, which automatically detect the shopping items bought before offering alternative colours and size recommendations as well as styling tips.
Beyond the changing room, brands can reinforce their customer engagement through online services by maintaining personalised interactions with shoppers. Chat bots in particular are enabling a two-way conversation, with in-message chat another route for fashion retailers to interact and offer more for their customers during the shopping process.
With nearly four-in-ten consumers now shopping on multiple devices, consumers want a consistent experience, whether they are on the shop floor or the mobile app. The industry is facing a huge shift and needs to recognise the challenges and opportunities technology brings. Retailers need to take the digital aspect of online shopping and blend it with the physical store. While the death of the high street will continue to drive headlines, the in-store experience remains an essential part of even the modern shoppers' journey. Like fashion, technology trends come and go, but retailers who can create a seamless and memorable customer experience can give shoppers a reason to return every season.