The fashion industry includes everything from a department store all the way up to premium, single-brand, and luxury boutiques. The industry is undergoing a seismic shift thanks to the digital revolution taking place around us as we speak. This is hardly a new concept per se. Neither are emerging technologies such as block chain, augmented or virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Put two and two together, and the picture suddenly seems a lot clearer. On seeing the impact of widespread business adoption of machine learning in the context of retail, one can get a sense of what the future might potentially look like. At the beginning of every year, there is a tsunami of information and predictions unleashed on the Internet about what lies ahead, particularly in marketing and consumer technology. At this stage, consumers are more demanding than they have ever been and market conditions are fairly volatile and uncertain. That is why keeping abreast of the latest industry trends is a must for survival.
There are a few trends that can be expected to shape fashion and luxury retail in the coming year. It can be viewed as an opportunity to think about key strategies from a technological and digital marketing perspective as it has never been more important. If 2016 is anything to go by, 2017 promises to be very interesting indeed.
- Large scale one-to-one relationships – Large scale personalisation is almost within our grasp thanks to the role played by machine learning and artificial intelligence. While AI is still fairly nascent, we can expect a significant push this year and beyond, be it in driving recommendations, natural language search responses or a smarter customer service. This should, in theory, return stores to the time when retailers knew each of their customers on a one-to-one basis. Now, these systems are amplified several times and are an intelligent ecosystem that keeps learning to continuously improve the shopping experience. This provides a sense of value for shoppers, both in the real and virtual worlds.
- Bots bots bots! – Artificial intelligence is already being used in instant messaging services. Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Sephora, Nordstrom and American Eagle are some brands that have begun experimenting with chatbots. These are machine-led customer service tools on different Apps such as Facebook Messenger, Kik and much more. Largely limited to one-off gifts and basic campaigns till date mainly to attract early technology adopters and convert them into loyal customers, these tools should get much better in 2017, eventually spurring widespread brand adoption. Conversational commerce can be expected from both online and offline shopping.
- Frictionless retail will be the norm, not the exception – The use of technology is increasing in all areas of our life, including retail. We are now in an era where customer shopping experiences are defined by consistent, convenient, hassle-free, delightful experiences that are channel agnostic. Customers have begun expecting convenience when it comes to payment methods. The Internet of Things is definitely having a meaningful impact on the entire retail experience. This enhanced level of customer convenience should be one of the major trends this year. Businesses that are hesitant to change from their legacy systems will face the greatest challenge, but those retailers looking to improve their omni-channel retail ecosystem should easily outpace their closest rivals.
- Voice interface design will be vital – In the Internet of Things, a greater amount of focus is expected to be on voice control and voice assistants. A lot of technology companies are focussing on this fascinating area – be it devices kept in the house or smartphones used on the go. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft are some companies that have already entered this space and others are expected to soon follow suit. How does this affect retail? While it should impact consumer goods in the initial stage, fashion and luxury retailers have a golden opportunity to experiment and need to prepare themselves for the future. Eventually, more than half of all web searches are expected to be via image or voice search as opposed to text. This is intricately linked to providing a frictionless experience – purchase information provided in one simple stream of information rather than through multiple clicks.
- AR and VR will change the game – Very few technologies can be as exciting as either virtual reality or augmented reality. Retail is anticipated to be one of the first industries to be impacted by these two together. We have already seen it across fashion, beauty and luxury retail, mostly for the sake of PR in everything from fashion shows to storytelling. Functionality will improve substantially this year – these digital technologies should help both businesses and shoppers in multiple ways, making it highly important for exploring. Some stores have already dipped their toes into the vast sea of AI by allowing customers to visit stores through VR and pay with a mere nod of their heads!