Meet Alice. She’s 32, works in corporate events and is, by all accounts, your average young professional who enjoys spending a portion of her disposable income on clothes. She also has a busy social life outside of work and so, when it comes to shopping, wants smooth omni-channel retailing. This includes convenient delivery and collection options, fast and frictionless payments, and better in-store experiences.
Customisation is going to be a key trend. We are going to see a shift from traditional to on-demand manufacturing
According to a 2018 survey of more than 3,500 shoppers by digital commerce consultancy Salmon, 43 per cent and 49 per cent of UK and US total spend is online. Just over half (51 per cent) of consumers start their journey on Amazon, while 55 per cent end their journey on the e-commerce site.
While digital shopping will continue to grow, this isn’t to say that brick-and-mortar stores will disappear completely. Instead they will be reinventing themselves and co-existing alongside e-commerce stores in an omni-channel retailing environment.
How customisation can cut out unnecessary waste
In the future, our shopper Alice wakes up on a Saturday morning and realises she needs to buy a dress for a work function that’s taking place in a few weeks’ time. She opens up her laptop, enters her details and customises the style, colour and fabric of her desired dress. It’s then delivered to her apartment 14 days later.
This is exactly the type of service that London-based start-up Flair Atelier is promising to offer. Each order made through the platform is sent to its tailors in Italy. And because each dress is made to order, it means there’s no mass production and no material going to waste.
“Customisation is going to be a key trend [in fashion]. We are going to see a shift from traditional to on-demand manufacturing [of bespoke, tailored dresses and suits],” says co-founder Marianna Ferro. “Flair Atelier is putting the consumer at the heart of the process.”
Omni-channel retailing does not mean the end of bricks-and-mortar shops
Alice decides that she wants a new pair of jeans. Even though she is able to use 3D visualisation tools before purchasing online to imagine what the jeans will look like on her, saving her time and a trip to the shops, she would prefer to know whether they’re going to be a comfortable fit.
She heads to a brick-and-mortar store, which is being operated by just one member of staff, who offers customers a drink when they arrive. Once there, Alice uses a tablet to select any items of clothing, which are then delivered straight into a double-door wardrobe in a changing room. If she wants to try on a different size, she requests it via another tablet, places the item that doesn’t fit her back into the wardrobe, and the clothes are then replenished. This means she doesn’t have to fumble about trying to get a shop assistant’s attention. Once she’s happy with her choice, she’s able to pay for the item in the changing room and go on her way, avoiding the need to queue.
The American women’s clothing brand Reformation has been experimenting with innovation in this way since 2017. The technology featured in its store in Noho, Manhattan, includes some of what is described above and also customisable lighting and music to create ambience. Malena Finguerut, who works at click and collect services company HubBox – it has partnered with Boohoo and Jack Wills – recently visited the store in New York.
“The whole experience is providing a solution to the human awkwardness of trying to get clothes in different sizes once in a changing room,” says Ms Finguerut. “This will shape future retail habits. I try on a lot more sizes and styles that I might not otherwise, increasing the likelihood of me making a purchase. I’m also more likely to buy into the brand and even make future purchases online.”
Ms Finguerut believes another omni-channel retailing trend that we will see emerge is the ability to book a slot in such a changing room to try on a wishlist of clothes. “Kind of like click and collect, but without the upfront payment and being able to try before you buy,” she says.
Robotics meet customer experience in omni-channel retailing for supermarkets
On her way home, our shopper Alice needs some groceries, so she heads to the local supermarket. Before she arrives, she checks her phone to see if the items she requires are in stock. An app is able to give her this real-time information thanks to robots going up and down aisles, monitoring stock levels, on a regular basis.
Bossa Nova Robotics has introduced such automated robots into Walmart in the US and, soon, supermarkets across the UK. Its robots can keep a tally of stock at twice the efficiency of a human staff member, according to Red McKay, the company’s European managing director.
“The result of incorporating this technology into future brick-and-mortar stores is simple,” says Mr McKay. “For retailers, sales and profit margins will increase with better availability of products. For customers, the shopping experience will improve with the hope that they will always be able to purchase what they’re looking for without delay, whenever they need it.”
Robots operating on shop floors is a contentious issue. Margiotta, an independent grocery chain in Edinburgh, was the first Scottish retailer to hire a robot into one of its stores at the start of last year. Fabio was tasked with welcoming customers, providing directions, answering queries and even handing out samples of pulled pork. It was sacked within its first week after giving poor directions and being over-generous with the portions of pork.
Alice doesn’t have to worry about interacting with robots like Fabio, though. Once she knows that her products are in stock, she adds them to her virtual shopping basket on the app and then her groceries are ready for her to pick up from the supermarket and pay for within quarter of an hour.
Alice returns home, content that her omni-channel retailing trip has been hassle-free and seamless.