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The role of technology in fashion retail

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In every industry, the product may be the star but the customer is always king. The contemporary Indian customer is hard to please. They are technologically advanced, connected over social media, and have varying expectations from fashion brands and retailers.

E-fashion gets a makeover with curation, personalisation
Consumers are increasingly going online to buy products, and e-tailing is witnessing a shift from plain-vanilla product listing towards personalisation

As the consumer has transitioned, the challenges a retailer is faced with have also evolved.

Quoting a study, SAP Hybris Head for the Indian Subcontinent, Sandeep Mukherjee said, “In 2014, the overall retail market in India was estimated at $ 41 billion and by 2020, 35 per cent of this money will be generated from online sales. Every third search on Google from around the world is fashion-related and every year, of all the queries made on various search engines, 66 per cent are on fashion.”

He said technology was redefining customer engagement. “Today we need a mobility first approach, wherein a brand is required to empower its sales representatives in accordance with the customers – who are pretty empowered and have already done research on the product before engaging with the particular brand.”

He also added that it was important to engage one’s community with gamification, thus encouraging customer loyalty and motivating employees to make better sales.

“A make-over of your store, by upgrading the outlet in accordance with the present demands of the consumers is imperative to success,” he said, adding that the Internet of Things (IoT) – example: magic mirrors, was becoming big in the fashion business and that all retailers needed to invest in them to be successful.

Mukherjee also stated the need to increase personalization in the business, which required brands to have a 360 degree profile of customers for better service. He said customers no longer want to reach out to a brand, but expect a brand to reach out to them. “It is important for the brands to make themselves accessible to the right consumer, with the right product and at the right time,” he said.

Fashion as a Technology-led Category

A recent study says that by 2017, Amazon will be the largest apparel retailer in US. Taking this into account, Group Marketing Head and Head, Digital Products & Strategy, , said that India being a country with its population in billions and two-third of the population still under 30 years, fashion is the largest growing category across online as well as offline channels. In the opening session, Sethi asked the panel, “Where do you see

Managing Director and CEO, , said that any brand, in order to connect with all potential consumers, needs to be available through all the channels, whether online or offline. He particularly emphasized on an online channel since a brick-and-mortar store in every town or city was not possible.

Marketing Director, , Gaurav Nabh said that in contemporary times, offline brands try hard to give the consumer the same experience through their online stores.

However, MD SSIPL Group, Rishab Soni said he did not favour a particular channel of sale but the sale itself. He said that all the brands and retailers were trying to increase sales and were hoping for an increase in consumption rates, whether online or offline didn’t matter.

Indian online fashion’s ‘Xiaomi moment’

The Xiaomi moment was when the mobile phone company, Xiamoi sold around 2 million phones in just two-three days without opening a single brick-and-mortar store.

Director – Global Business Development, , said that Xiaomi was successful in doing this because the consumer’s interest in mobile phones has trumped interest in all other products. He said a majority of today’s customer’s disposable income goes into the mobile phone category.

“For a fashion brand to be able to do that, it would need to bring unmatched uniqueness in its products. The point basically is that e-commerce is helping in reaching out to consumers who do not have access to the brand’s brick and mortar store,” he said.

Director Retail, Raymond, acknowledged the contribution of technology in reaching out to potential customers. “Technology has bridged the gap between a brand and its consumers and has enabled the retailers to deliver a product in the same trendy way as in an offline store and also at a great value.”

Dhanjal said that it is the duty of a brand to be accessible to the consumers and address their demands, by any means, be it online or offline.

Vice President – Retail & Marketing, , Sandep Kulhalli said that being in the jewellery business the perspective changes altogether. “Technology plays a role in this sector too, but is largely limited to gathering the required information before making the purchase. Online retail is difficult in jewellery sector because of changing rates and varying making charges,” he said.

Role of the Millennials

Dr Priya Mary Mathew of said that the millennials are impatient and online is what clicks with them than exploring an offline store.

Co-Founder and CEO, Latin Quarters, however, said that while this was true, he felt that the product was waning in comparison to technology, which had become the focus of retailers. He maintained that brands indeed need to embrace technology, but not at the cost of product quality.

“Technology as a word is overhyped. It is an enabler and not an end to things. It can only help choose, fit, pattern, and design, but cannot replace offline retail,” said Rajesh Jain.

Why don’t high-end brands sell online?

Rajesh Jain said that online selling of brands like Lacoste will make them lose their exclusivity and premium-ness. However, without negating the advantages of technology, Jain said that Lacoste does track customers’ purchasing habits, etc., with the help of CRM and that is how they use technological upgradation.

The difficulty of translating the in-store experience to the online environment is one of the main reasons why the fashion industry has been slower than other sectors to adopt e-commerce. However, new technologies have enabled consumers to evaluate fashion online, creating an interactive and exciting shopping experience.

AUTHORED BY: Tanya Krishna; Images BoF