I’ve been a tech guy my entire life. I’ve worked in cybersecurity, banks, railways, and e-commerce, so it’s a little odd to find my products mentioned in Vogue twice in the last six months. Once with House of Dagmar, once with H&M. And I’ve also been working with companies such as Whyred and Caliroots. I mean, what do I really know about fashion?
What I’ve come to realize is that fashion is the perfect example of why omnichannel works. It’s the ideal blend of digital and physical: when clicks and mortar are working in harmony, it creates the sort of customer experience that people remember, talk about, and come back to.
Online is a great way to see what’s available. You can browse whenever and wherever it’s convenient. You don’t have to search through endless racks, holding up items and wondering what they’d look like. You can read reviews or find out more about the items, and you’re not limited by what’s currently on display in the store. And of course you can order without having to even go to the store, and get your items delivered right to your home. Online simply offers a level of convenience and reach that physical stores just can’t match.
But when it comes to choosing clothing or accessories, the physical aspect is essential. You need to touch the material, feel the weight, see how the item is made, and ultimately try the fit. You may end up trying on dozens of garments before finding the one you want, especially for more high-end items. Yes, you can do all that in the comfort of your own home, but this involves paying up front for a lot of items that you’ll probably end up returning, and of course there’s all the hassle of taking them back to the store or to the post office. There’s simply no way to beat the simplicity of going into a store and walking out with something that you know is exactly what you wanted. So physical stores aren’t going away.
Combining these two aspects creates the ideal customer experience. In today’s world, saving time is almost as important to customers as saving money. The typical customer journey starts off by browsing online. They can use that as a jumping off point for ideas, make a short list of the items they like, or share with friends and get their opinions on different styles and looks. Now, when they go to the store, they know what they’re looking for, and they can home straight in on the items they want. They can also check the store inventory ahead of time and make sure you actually have what they want, in their size and colour, so they don’t have to worry about having a wasted trip.
When they get to the store, the blend between digital and physical doesn’t have to stop. Customers, especially millennials, love to use their phones while they shop, especially when it comes to choosing clothes. They take selfies and share them with friends or social media, and they enjoy going online and finding out more about what’s on offer. You can further enhance that connected experience with all sorts of fun technology: touch-screens and voice-activated installations can provide an endless aisle, showcasing the store’s full range without having to wait for store staff to become available. Apps or in-store terminals can also give customers access to easy payment and delivery options so that they don’t have to wait in line for checkout and carry their items home. And soon, augmented reality and smart mirrors will help shoppers virtually try on items without having to actually change clothes, or try out combinations of clothes, accessories, hairstyles and cosmetics to get the perfect look. It’s the best of both worlds: the digital touch points offer breadth and convenience, while the physical store gives them a chance to immerse themselves in the brand and experience the actual merchandise hands-on.
What it comes down to is that fashion is, and always has been, a mixture of both function and pleasure. Clothing is a necessity, of course, but our choice of clothes is also a vital part of our self-expression. We want clothes that are comfortable, practical and useful, but we also want to have fun while doing it. The fashion industry is not - and never has been - simply about selling clothing. It sells aspirational experiences embodied in items that people wear. Choosing and buying those items is in many ways as important as wearing them.
The more I think about it, the more natural it is to integrate the worlds of fashion and technology. By its very nature, fashion is focused on what’s happening now, and what’s happening next. Fashion is concerned, first and foremost, with staying current and setting trends, and looking good while doing it. It’s always been a forward-looking, innovative, adventurous world. It’s a business that’s open to taking risks, to trying new things, and offering customers things they may not have considered before. That attitude isn’t confined simply to garment styles: it’s a worldview that is at the heart of the whole fashion industry.
That’s why unified commerce and fashion are such perfect partners. Both sides - the technical and the creative - are dedicated to creating customer experiences that turn a chore into a fun, inspiring journey.