Recent data released by Google confirms what we already know – mobile is the future of retail. Over 64% of smartphone shoppers turn to mobile for ideas before heading out to shop and 1 in 4 mobile video viewers in the US have visited YouTube for help with a purchase decision. While consumers may not always have access to a tablet or laptop, mobile is the one device that is always on, connected and in reach. Mobile is the ideal platform to bridge retailer’s in-store and online experiences and is the perfect avenue for brand’s to communicate directly with the customer.
Recent data released by Google confirm what we already know- mobile is the future of retail. Over 64% of smartphone shoppers turn to mobile for ideas before heading out to shop and 1 in 4 mobile video viewers in the US have visited YouTube for help with a purchase decision. While consumers may not always have access to a tablet or laptop, mobile is the one device that is always on, connected and in reach. Mobile is the ideal platform to bridge retailer’s in-store and online experiences and is the perfect avenue for brand’s to communicate directly with the customer.
Fashion apps tapped into the power of mobile early on and although the industry is still in its infancy three broad groups of fashion apps have emerged:
- Discovery Platforms– allow users to browse clothes, shoes and accessories from a wide range of retailers. These platforms are community- driven and provide endless inspiration for fashionistas and regular consumers alike creating an environment where shoppers ‘discover’ products they didn’t even know they wanted. These companies don’t hold inventory or manage orders, shipping or payment.
Popular discovery apps include The Hunt and ShopStyle which provide an ever- changing rotation of the latest looks from the world of fashion. The recently launched Hook app is generating a lot of excitement surrounding the fact that it uses a first of its kind Artificial Intelligence (AI) to power a fashion search engine and features a real – time trending feed allowing users to keep up to date with the very latest in celebrity and runway styles. Setting itself apart as the ‘only fashion discovery app you’ll need’, Hook allows users a unique snap and search function, enabling them to upload images directly from their phone and then search for looks; a feature that is perfect for the millennial consumer who may spot a trend so early it may not be defined in traditional search engine terms yet.
- Personal Shopping Apps– combine the bespoke service of a personal shopper with the convenience of mobile. These apps are an outstanding example of how the traditional bricks and mortar model can intersect harmoniously with mobile and create a win-win situation for both brands and consumers. Acting more as a communication interface than a retail site, these apps allow users to communicate directly with personal shoppers in store. As opposed to ‘discovery’ apps users of these apps are focused, mature and know exactly what they want.
- Universal Checkout/ Fashion Aggregator Apps– fashion aggregator apps that feature universal checkout allow users to purchase products from multiple brands in one click. Although technically challenging to deliver, these apps act as a consolidated store front for shoppers and can alleviate the risk of basket abandonment that still plagues e-tailers.
According to Forbes discovery platforms like Polyvore and Pose have revolutionised fashion and driven up sales because they effortlessly combine the 3 C’s of purchase decision making: content, community and commerce. In a single unified application consumers can discover content (information and inspiration), get real-time feedback and recommendations from a community of like- minded users and purchase items. It’s little wonder that Fortune magazine recently reported that Polyvore, is now one of the largest fashion community’s online, with a whopping 20 million unique visitors a month and was recently acquired by Yahoo! Inc for US$230 million.
As discovery platforms don’t actually hold any inventory, customers are re-directed to a brand’s website to checkout. Thus, one of the first and most important measures a brand must take before embarking on a partnership with a fashion app is ensuring the efficacy and speed of their mobile platform. A Google/ SOASTA study from this year found that 40% of consumers will leave a mobile page that takes longer than three seconds to load and 79% of shoppers who are unhappy with a site’s mobile performance are less likely to purchase from the site again. However, once your mobile site is primed, building long-term relationships with fashion apps can result in many positive benefits to a brand:
Hook users create a detailed ‘wish list’ as part of their profile which alerts them when items go on sale or are back in stock. These lists generate millions of data points on an individual’s style, tastes and preferences which can, in turn, be used by brands to tailor personalised, specific marketing and offers direct to customers.
With millions of unique visitors a month, discovery platforms provide the perfect base for brands to test out new products or ideas online without the cost involved of physically producing anything. This group of fashion conscious users can instantly provide feedback on new product launches or offers allowing retailers to quickly and cost- effectively deliver goods to the market that customers actually want.
As more complex big data analytics is generated on consumers and shoppers register their preferences online through detailed profiles, retailers can maintain lower inventory- only stocking products that consumers demonstrate a demand for.
Big data for retail from fashion apps can help brands recommend related products or styles through in-app purchases leading to enhanced revenue opportunities. These opportunities are magnified with personal shopping apps like PS Dept which gives users access to in-store experts at over 40 different luxury brands including Stella McCartney and Derek Lam. PS Dept fields over 22,000 messages a month and generates thousands of dollars in sales, with its’ average order value standing at around US$800. Although big data for retail is reliable and effective, there’s a definite cost advantage to leveraging the human element in personal shopping apps. Acting as on-call concierges for demanding, time-sensitive clients, personal shopping apps can build a level of trust and confidence with consumers (particularly in the luxury market) which can result in larger, repeat sales.
Although fashion apps are here to stay and have proved to be a successful tool for retailers wanting to provide a seamless, omnichannel retail experience, they may not be right for every brand. Keep, a popular fashion app had to discontinue their OneCart feature (which allowed users to shop multiple brands through a single checkout on their app) due to technical challenges as well as the reluctance of brands to sign on. While universal shopping carts are convenient and attractive in theory, they don’t allow brands any ‘control’ over a customer’s shopping experience and deny retailers the opportunity to build a relationship with the shopper. This trend is especially worrying for high-end, luxe brands, who work hard to maintain their brand integrity and don’t want to risk diluting it anyway even if it means losing out on potential sales.
Despite the ubiquity of fashion apps, there is no one size fits all approach to engaging with mobile consumers. Brands that are protective of their brand integrity may consider the following alternatives, which will allow them to retain control of the shopping experience while not losing out on mobile sales:
While mobile app usage continued to grow in 2015 with 58% growth in overall app usage, personalization led the way with a growth of 322. Barneys New York new standalone mobile app The Window is an excellent case study in how a brand can deliver a personalised, effective mobile shopping experience while enhancing its brand value. The Window is an online content blog that launched in 2015 both as a print magazine and a mobile app. Users can view features and stories that are exclusive to Barneys New York and then ‘shop’ those stories through the app.
Hook has successfully adopted this trend of shoppable editorials into its app and elevated it using the ‘list’ format popularised by sites like BuzzFeed to influence undecided, time- crunched shoppers. Providing users with the ‘Top 10 Best..’ or ’20 Trending..’ effectively sharpens a users focus and nudges them into a purchase instead of abandoning the site altogether due to decision fatigue at the number of options.
The dynamic combination of mobile penetration and social media have reshaped the retail landscape considerably. The challenge is for brands not to just keep pace but stay one step ahead. Iconic British brand Burberry realised this early on and dedicated over 60 per cent of it’s marketing budget towards digital and mobile. A move that paid off in a big way- over the past five years Burberry’s mobile sales have grown at an annual average rate of 48.7%.
The company was one of the first brands to embrace user-generated content as a marketing tool in its Art of the Trench campaign. Burberry tapped renowned fashion photographers to style shoots and encouraged fans to post selfies- in doing so they mobilised a powerful community of fashion-forward advocates for the brand. It’s interesting to note that this campaign launched in 2009, well before the popularity of Polyvore and The Hunt. The brand was clearly not afraid to experiment and succeeded in creating their own community of loyal shoppers.
Burberry was also one of the first fashion brands to livestream its runway shows to audiences across the world and then enable them to click and buy styles straight off the runway within minutes. These measures have ensured that Burberry’s revenues have continued to grow year on year even amidst otherwise sluggish sales for high-end retailers.
The changes to the online retail landscape are making for an increasingly crowded marketplace. Women’s fashion, shoes and accessories abound and there are more ways than ever now to shop them. In some instances, staying ahead of the curve means drowning out the ‘noise’ and narrowing your focus on a select, niche audience. This is exactly what the popular online fashion hub, Net-a-Porter did with the launch of its luxury men’s site and app, Mr. Porter.
The men’s wear market in the UK, Mr. Porter’s biggest audience outside the US, is currently worth GBP 13.5 billion and has grown 22% over the past five years. Net-a-Porter realised there was a need for a unique space that catered to this growing demand for luxury, personalised men’s wear. The Mr. Porter app has an extremely focused product offering and is driven by ‘style’ as opposed to fashion.
To quote Net-a-Porter’s founder, ‘we are never going to run out of blue or white shirts, but we will have them from seven or eight of the best shirt brands in the world, rather than from 100 different places.’ To that end, while traditional fashion apps focus on quantity, choice and price-point, niche apps created by brand-conscious retailers focus on quality and a bespoke service offering.
Whether they are community-led or brand- focused, fashion apps are a powerful tool which haver disrupted and reinvented the omnichannel retail experience. The intersection between the traditional bricks and mortar model and online channels have never been as blurred and ripe for change.
This changing retail landscape together with the surge in popularity of High Street brands like Forever 21, H&M and Zara have led to the overall democratization of fashion. Realising we are witness to a fashion ‘revolution’ of sorts, Hook has managed to successfully combine the power of retail analytics with actual fashion influencers in the shape of bloggers and trendsetters to give customers unprecedented access to fresh off the runway styles and celebrity red carpet looks. In today’s super-speed digital world, Hook allows users the ability to replicate trending yet personalised styles in mere minutes.
A first of its kind platform Hook has created a win- win environment for retailers and consumers alike – while brands get in- depth information on customers’ preferences and leanings which is critical in the age of ‘personalisation’, users get a range of trends to choose from in either a search engine format for the more focused shopper or a shoppable editorial format for the undecided.
Fashion discovery apps will soon be ubiquitous in nature, however, platforms like Hook that blend the accuracy and precision that only big data can offer with a human element in a singular, easy to use experience are better poised to take on the volatile world of fashion.