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Manthan caught up with five women from the retail industry to learn what’s rocking their world.
We asked Gabrielle Chou, Joan Hornig, Amy Smith, Ali Kriegsman and Lisa Collier to tell us about their latest retail initiatives and what recent changes have had the biggest impact on their customers.
GABRIELLE: Size inclusivity and diversity is a huge tidal wave for the fashion industry. Images are the key to selling online but it can no longer be done with traditional size 2 models. Customers want to have a model that looks like them wearing the clothes they are considering or even better try them virtually. Failure to be inclusive will not be tolerated by customers, look at Victoria Secret CEO resignation after the last show.
At Allure Systems, we virtualize garments and model automatically so that any model of any size or skin color can wear any clothes at any time.
The results are fashion images that are indistinguishable from traditional photography, that enable the customer to see the garment on someone that looks like her.
“Size inclusivity and diversity is a huge tidal wave for the fashion industry.”
Gabrielle Sentilhes Chou
Co-Founder, Allure Systems
JOAN: My model of allowing the customers to choose which charity their donation supports connects the customer with philanthropy.
By developing a line that was more affordable in Pavé the Way, and using social media and influencers to widen the reach of our product messaging, I’ve brought the opportunity to give back through retail to a larger consumer base.
“My model of allowing the customers to choose which charity their donation supports connects the customer with philanthropy.”
AMY: At the end of 2018, TOMS announced the End Gun Violence Together initiative where we called on our TOMS customers to go to TOMS.com to send a postcard to your representative in Congress stating that you support Universal Background Checks.
In addition to mobilizing our customers, TOMS is also donating $5 million to organizations across the country who are fighting to end gun violence. This is the largest corporate donation ever made to this cause. The mission at TOMS has always been to use business to improve lives.
The world around us is changing and TOMS social impact is evolving as well. With this initiative, we are investing in projects and people who are creating positive change on issues that matter most. We understand the issues we face are more complex than ever and we need to work together to address them so our goal is to use our resources – funds and platform – to help bring awareness and direct support to the most pressing issues of our time.
“The world around us is changing and TOMS social impact is evolving as well.”
ALI: At Bulletin, we have two customers: our shoppers and our brands. This year, we launched a new platform called the Bulletin Retailer Network, wherein we help place our brands with other stockists and generate substantial wholesale orders for them.
As a retail startup, we have been limited by the square footage in our three stores. But we noticed we had thousands of brands on our waitlist who were eager to access shelf space and get placed in stores, and wanted to find a way to help them and get them the exposure they were so hungry for. These brands are not using traditional wholesale channels to find stockists, or able to afford the high costs of a wholesale rep, trade shows, and often times, rigid wholesale order minimums. We just launched this initiative in January, but are already compiling assortments for over 20 retailers in the U.S. and beyond.
This has had a major, major impact for our brands. We vet these retailers and make sure our brand network can secure sophisticated placements, and we are finally able to tap into our growing waitlist and give these brands the shelf space they need to grow and learn about product performance in brick-and-mortar stores.
We see the Retailer Network as a huge initiative and new revenue channel but Bulletin and our brands, and a really remarkable way for stores to access unique supply – product they can’t really find or source anywhere else.
“We launched a new platform called the Bulletin Retailer Network, wherein we help place our brands with other stockists and generate substantial wholesale orders for them.”
LISA: Without a doubt, it’s been great to take back control of our site. In June 2018, we relaunched our site with Salesforce to service our consumer more effectively. The site has allowed us to deliver personalized messaging, react quicker to insights and customer feedback, as well provide an easy yet informative shopping experience.
To date, we’ve seen strong growth in revenue, overall conversion, time on site as well as more demand and traffic. We have a loyal consumer and are finding our way to new consumers who feel underserved through our new platform.
“Taking back control of our site… The site has allowed us to deliver personalized messaging, and react quicker to insights and customer feedback.”
Featuring in over a half dozen global retail influencers lists, Tony D’Onofrio leverages his extensive in global retail technology to research, write, consult and speak about the disruption of multiple industries.
We caught up with Tony to learn more about his thoughts on how technology is shaking up the retail world.
MANTHAN: What are some of the big changes you see taking place in retail today?
TONY: The smartphone I identified early on as the 3rd megatrend reshaping the future of retail. Because of this smart device, consumers are able to walk into a store and instantly decide whether to buy in the physical location or buy the same identical product from a competitor online. This mobile trend is global and in the long run provides substantial opportunities for the growth of the retail industry.
As I stated in one of my blogs, with more than 5 billion unique mobile subscribers worldwide at the end of 2017, mobile has a greater reach than any other technology. By 2025, mobile internet penetration will reach 61% of the global population and 86% of unique subscribers.
The smartphone ushered the need to digitize the store and engage with a much more knowledgeable consumer. Those retailers that got ahead of this curve and for example empowered associates to have a meaningful digital conversation with their consumer are among the brands succeeding today.
MANTHAN: Do you feel retailers are now more eager to apply advanced analytics to their decision-making, than before?
TONY: If retailers are still asking this question, in my view they are in trouble and in catch up mode to their stronger competitors.
The challenges emerging out of the digitized store and a data rich retail enterprise is that we have too much information. Advanced analytics is critical to distill the valuable nuggets to get to a faster decision process.
Too much data is an across industries challenge. There are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day. Over the last two years alone, 90% of the data in the world was generated.
As Peter Sondergaard said, “information (data) is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” Retailers need not be afraid of too much data. They need to continuously fine tune the engine through advanced analytics to differentiate their business model from their competitors.
A strong enduring brand requires continuous advanced analytics to maintain / grow the loyalty of digitally empowered consumers (that continuously generates new data).
“New generations are almost expecting technology engagement. They will respond positively, provided it is a differentiated experience.” Tony D’Onofrio
MANTHAN: Which retailers do you see setting the pace when it comes to customer innovation?
TONY: I was asked a similar question by a different publication recently and was surprised by how quickly a growing list of brands came to mind.
Zara (Inditex) and TJX in how they create scarcity or deep discounts which leads to continuously loyal customers looking for that special item that might not be available tomorrow.
Zara also for their heavy investments in IoT to deliver on the Fast Fashion model and their continuous experimentation to improve customer experiences through technology.
Walmart and their physical to digital journey expansion plus investment in their associates.
Amazon with the Prime loyalty program, in pushing the innovation envelope with Amazon Go and voice through Alexa.
Nike and the flagship House of Innovation stores that they recently opened in Shanghai and NY which have multi-floor differentiated immersive differentiated consumer experiences.
Ulta Beauty with their digital strategy and loyalty program.
The resurgence of Ashley Stewart through a digital media strategy and passionate consumer and associate brand ambassadors.
Restoration Hardware with their loyalty program and experiential retail model.
There are multiple other examples in both USA and the world of retailers. Key elements to success include focus on digital transformation, differentiated loyalty programs, and technology investments such as IoT to get closer to consumers.
“A strong enduring brand requires continuous advanced analytics to grow the loyalty of digitally empowered consumers.” Tony D’Onofrio
MANTHAN: Do you think technology is taking away from personalized and human experiences that customers desire?
TONY: Technology is only a tool to solve problems. Implementation and follow up determines whether it enhances or detracts from human experiences.
The smartphone, the internet, and social media are transforming how consumers engage with brands.
Generationally, the answer to your question will be different. According to the Pew Research Center, more than nine-in-ten Millennials (92%) own smartphones, compared with 85% of Gen Xers (those who turn ages 38 to 53 this year), 67% of Baby Boomers (ages 54 to 72) and 30% of the Silent Generation (ages 73 to 90. Similarly, the vast majority of Millennials (85%) say they use social media. For instance, significantly larger shares of Millennials have adopted relatively new platforms such as Instagram (52%) and Snapchat (47%) than older generations have.
New generations are almost expecting technology engagement. They will respond positively, provided it is a differentiated experience. Make it viral and the experience will go to the next level of positive engagement.
MANTHAN: What is the most interesting technology (used by a retailer) which you’ve seen this year?
TONY: Two recent examples come to mind.
The first is from Zara. The average conversion rate of someone buying an apparel item after using a fitting room is about 70%. According to Alert Tech research, shoppers who receive service in the fitting room are THREE TIMES as likely to buy products from that store.
To take this statistic to the next level using technology, Zara installed self-checkout stations inside the fitting room. If you really liked that garment, instead of standing in a potentially long line, you can instantly purchase the item inside the fitting room. After initial pilot results were positive on sales uplifts, the self-checkout technology was rolled out to more store.
I like the Zara example on multiple levels. Moving the needle with technology does not mean chasing the latest shiny object. For Zara, it meant making it more convenient for shoppers to instantly purchase the item with the added perception of faster service. The testing and fine tuning of the deployment was also an important part of the mix to maximize consumer acceptance.
The second example is the Nike House of Innovation initially opened in Shanghai and more recently in NY. Nike changed to approach of a “flagship” to one where technology and the brand’s products are immersive experiences. Instead of rolling out the chain with the latest shining innovation objects, the flagship is the perfect location to measure which technologies deliver the greatest ROI.
As I wrote in one of my blogs, from making the smartphone the retail engagement entry point, to curating to local shopping favorites, to allowing you do shop differently depending on your mood (today I want experiences by engaging with experts, tomorrow I want to just Scan & Go), the Nike House of Innovation is a great example on the potential and importance of physical stores to the future of retail.
MANTHAN: Do you think we are now on the verge of AI living up to its retail promise?
TONY: Like every other technology, AI has the potential to play an important role in advancing the future of retail.
In the latest IHL/RIS technology study, 7% report having implemented AI, 16% are planning for it next 12 months, 14% in 112 to 24 months, and 14% in more that 24 months. Add all this up and it’s a majority of 51% that are planning to deploy AI.
AI has the potential to add substantial value to the retail industry. Live every other technology, we need to stop chasing the latest shiny object and focus on solve real problems that have a defined ROI. Have seen multiple examples in sales / CRM applications, customer recommendations, logistics and payment services.
It’s not a question on whether we are on the verge of AI living up to its promise. It’s focusing the technology on areas that strengthen the value of the brand and create immersive consumer experiences for the consumers.
Consumer-facing businesses are crippled by every-growing touchpoints and siloed systems that don’t speak to each other. A complete overhaul of these legacy technologies isn’t an option – it costs prohibitive with a long-drawn-out time to value.
Yet, they need a way to quickly connect these individual systems for an end-to-end view of the customer journey analytics. Customers today hunt down what they want at the price they want. They are open to sharing their data and being followed in their purchase journeys if they get value in return – whether it is in the form of better experience, elevated service, convenience, special offers or exclusive treatment.
For marketers, delivering on heightened customer expectations requires the use of customer journey analytics software at scale – acting on customer moments as they happen. Instead of reacting to customer-created journeys and go where they are going, you need the tools to manage, influence and even mold their routes to maximize their experience and your sales. Offering guidance, timely reminders (and perhaps a special offer) to customers who are wavering during the shopping process can yield significant business gains – reduced cart abandonment and improved conversions.
With more digital channels getting added to the mix, customer decision journeys are now maze-like.
We suggest five essential steps to set-up your customer journeys, without having to start-over:
Collect all customer data – chances are you already have this in different systems. It is important to include all browsing and transactional data, irrespective of whether the journey resulted in a purchase
Connect the existing data sources – Given the expansiveness of digital journeys and the variety and volumes of data, this isn’t likely to be easy but forms the foundation. This includes cleansing, organizing and resolving identity disputes. Given that retail business, today is as much about the seamless flow of information as it is about the flow of goods; it is important to have good data governance in place. Consider a Customer Data Platform that unifies all customer data.
Switch on the data science – Start with connecting touchpoints during a single journey in real-time; to analyze customers’ deflection points, unusual behaviors, channel preferences and the kind of information they seek during their moments with your business. Some customers see more images, some are interested in product information, others read more reviews, while some other scout for offers. These elements are important to truly understand customer behavior and underlying reasons for jumping channels and device.
Follow-up with the right messages. Now that you know where customers are in their journey and what they value, personalize interfaces such as email, website, mobile app. Customer insights, together with your expertise can help serve meaningful messages on the relevant channel that moves customers towards purchase decision or even do away with a likely hurdle as a special case (such as high shipping fee, few payment options etc.).
Visualize journeys across the entire customer lifecycle. Connect a customer’s entire relationship to know whether she is just warming up to your brand, a repeat buyer, a loyal customer or at-risk of moving to your competition. This insight can be used to nurture the relationship over time and achieve upsell and cross-sell. Machine learning and predictive models iteratively improve journey performance and assess what individual journeys she is on at present, and what impact these have on each other and on the lifecycle.
In all of this, it is critical to continuously form and test hypotheses, measure outcomes and re-calibrate tactics for maximum impact. By automatically getting data-driven answers to questions such as ‘what kind of messages will further the customer’s journey’, ‘what is the best time to communicate with a customer to incite a favourable action’, and ‘which channel is likely to be effective for a wavering customer’, marketing analysts can maximize returns and optimize spend.
Today’s competitive retail environment requires a Journey Analytics tool that is built for scenarios specific to retail. It can enable marketers to create impactful customer-centric campaigns that target their path-to-purchase and measure journey targeting outcomes.
It is important that customer journey analytics tools automatically identify the best paths for each behavioral segment, with technology doing the heavy lifting of picking the most-suited channel combinations (basis both customer and fashion retail context) and best moments to communicate, with the end goal of accelerating conversion. The system should automatically be able to place customers in the precise lifecycle stage and move them towards the desired stage and outcome through micro-journeys along the way.
Getting these critical components spot-on and combining them with predictive insights can help you drive revenue. The results are bound to be superior to workbench-based tools, that only allow creating pre-defined paths and cannot react in real time to customer behaviors and actions.
It’s 2018. What’s the most revolutionary development in fashion over the past few years? Is it the check and plaid mania? Or maybe the shirtdress or the oversized, lightweight dress? Maybe it’s the apron and baby doll dresses that have entered the summer wardrobe (from the Halloween wardrobe)? The real answer to that question is data or much rather, the explosion of data that fashion houses are exposed to and the millions of ways that data can be interpreted and acted upon over the last few years. Shoppers these days are connected all the time, mobile ubiquity provides them the freedom to browse, research and shop where they want. You no longer need a customer to fill out a survey post their purchase, at a store, to understand who they are or what they like. You are now able to effectively build a profile of a customer using third party data sources like Instagram likes, for example, and get a pretty good understanding of their lifestyle before marketing to them.
If you looked at the fashion landscape and who’s really making the moolah, names like Amazon crops up. This is not right? They are not blue blood fashion retailer? Yet they are able to sell more fashion products than almost 40% of fashion retailers put together? They don’t have Giorgio Armani or a Coco Chanel suggesting what is the right outfit for every single customer? They don’t have a celebrity makeover team that is suggesting what color top a mother needs to wear to a soccer game? What they are good at is collecting data, deriving insights out of that data and acting on that data by putting the right product in front of the customer, at the right time, on the right channel.
You would assume that in this day and age, with all the power that data brings, increasing traffic to the store and getting customers to buy online should be fairly simple. Not really. The top challenges that fashion retailers are facing today when it comes increasing traffic are similar across the board and can be categorized into four main buckets:
They don’t understand the customer and what interests them. They are simply unable to the catch signals online and off.
Their customers don’t get context-aware, personalized communications.
They are not giving enough reasons for the customer to keep coming back. Their loyalty campaigns are limited to a quarterly newsletter blast for example.
They are unable to identify when a customer is ready to buy and lure them with offers that might attract that specific microsegment of customers.
To overcome these challenges the basic investment that’s needed for a fashion business is a Customer Data Platform (CDP) that gathers information from various sources like POS Systems, Online activity, Loyalty programs, CRM systems, third party data sources, etc. Once you have that in place, here are 5 ways you can exploit the insights and predictions to increase traffic to your store (online and off).
Customer Life-cycle Marketing – Get the basics sorted. Create segments that you can use to put a label on every one of your current/ past customers. This could be based on where the customer is in their relationship with the brand, for example: just acquired, first-purchase, repeat buyer, loyal, wavering, churn.
Micro-segmentation – Basic segments alone are not enough in the age of data. You need effective customer micro-segmentation based on lifestyle, life stage, behavioral, demographic and campaign responses to have an accurate view and understanding of each cluster. This would help you create highly relevant lists to run specific campaigns. There are some strong products out there that can help you do this using propensity modeling. You can forecast the future value of customer, rank and prioritize the customers and even allocate marketing budget using these advanced technologies. Make use of them.
Effectively recommend the next-best offer – You can do this based on affinity between categories, brands and customer segments. For example, if over 40% of 30+ women bought a silver color sunglass with white oversized shirts, that’s a good indication for the system to throw up that insight to you or automatically recommend the silver glasses as a ‘complete the look’ recommendation online. If you can get a software that can identify cross-sell opportunities, personalize content/apps based on stage automatically using AI, even better.
Path-to-purchase – NPS (Net Promoter Score) is not just a fancy word thrown around in the boardroom. It really does make sense, in every business. Identifying every customer segment’s journey/ path to purchase and chalking out all the touchpoints that led to a purchase is a key element of increasing traffic. Not only can it help you shorten the buyer’s journey but can help optimize marketing spend as well. Win-Win.
Churn management – The last hat tip is to effectively manage the customers that are about to or have churned. The lazy approach, taken by most fashion businesses, unfortunately, is to include them in a newsletter group that regularly gets updates on a sale or some branding comm. At this stage, the business has effectively given up on these customers in my opinion. The first step to effective churn management is to identify customers that are likely to churn based on visit history, purchase/ lack of, campaign response and overall engagement. You can then build rules and logic to entice them with offers and promotions that are most relevant to their micro-segment, and in today’s world, these can be done automatically by the machine!