Mubaloo’s London MD, Sarah Weller, was invited to present at Westminster Media Forums’ recent Keynote Seminar: The UK Fashion Industry.

With online and mobile business booming, what are the best approaches to ensuring that physical outlets play a complementary role in the overall retail experience – such as offering fast-track collection services for online purchases and engaging digital features? Which of the latest developments in-store technologies hold the greatest potential for unlocking untapped revenue sources in the physical retail space – including engaging consumers through their own devices with location-based special offers; the installation of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, personalised 3D printing services; and multi-sensory demos?

This was the topic up for debate when presenting at the Westminster Forum on Tuesday. The focus for the day was fashion. As I said to the audience at the very start of the 10 minute presentation, I am not a fashion expert. Far from it. I have never worked in fashion or studied fashion at all. I do however know about the use of technology in retail and more importantly, why people shouldn’t be thinking about the technology at all to start of with, but rather the starting point always needs to be the users.

The first thing to consider is that not all fashion retailers are the same. In fact they are very different with different target audiences and different brands. You do not expect to receive the same in-store experience in John Lewis that you do in Primark for example. In Primark people are more patient with looking around for stuff and walking over piles of clothes on the floor. In John Lewis this would be totally unacceptable. The key, before looking at any technology or what can drive revenue or what tech trends fashion retailers should be looking at, is the same as it is for all of our clients across all different sectors. Users. Who are your users and what are their needs or pain points? At Mubaloo we talk a lot about user centric strategy and for a reason. There is no point in looking at technology first. It will not get adoption and deliver the results you want. Start with the user, always.

To give an example on a different industry sector, I started by talking about a large DIY store. What are the biggest customer challenges with our big DIY stores in the UK?

  1. You can never find anything, they are massive
  2. When you get to the right section, there is a lot of choice and often I don’t know the difference between the 20 drills in front of me
  3. When I narrow down my selection of said drills, how to I know what other people think of them? What are the reviews? How can I trust this is the right product?

These are some, not all, of the challenges you could identify for customers in a DIY store. So how could we address these? Way-finding to help customers find the right section; beacon triggered polls to help find the best product for your job in hand; reviews and how to videos on your mobile device, to give comfort in the products you’re buying? These are just some of the opportunities they could look at.

We’ve started with the pain and considered the technology that could help improve the pain. Not decided to embark on a beacons project and questioned the best use for it. Now if we take Primark it might be that people don’t need help around the store because most visitors are frequent visitors, for example. It might be that the target audience is more interested in a buy one get free offers than with help finding the right dress. The point is the audience is different. Even if they are the exact same people, the expectations and challenges they face and service they want, are different. The experience needs to be about the users, not about the brand.

The second point was about One Customer View. Lots of retailers are talking about having One Customer View – bringing together the digital data they have about their customers and pulling this together with physical data. Understanding people’s behaviours both on and offline is important in order to build a much better picture of those customers and they interact with the brand.

This enables a couple of things, firstly, with a more holistic view of the customer, brands can personalise interactions even better. Secondly, it enables brands to understand the relevance of on and offline for different target audiences. What are the trends, what does this mean for store layouts or displays? Technology has the ability to help retailers build up a much better data set. Key to this, however, is not to run before we can walk. Whilst it is great to know the technology is available, most retailers have a lot of work to do with the existing data they have about customers, before moving on to add a whole new layer in.

The third point to make on this topic is Test. Test. Test. One of the things we have noticed at Mubaloo is that when it comes to technology there are two camps that a lot (not all) of UK retailers fall into.

  1. Unless there are solid ROI stats we’re not even looking at it
    The problem with this approach is that retailers very quickly fall behind. Whilst others are taking some risks, seeing what works and going into deployment, others sit back and watch everyone overtake them.
  2. Technology led approach
    “We would like to deploy 1000 beacons across all of our stores in the UK.” No testing on the target audience. No POCs. No prototypes. And therefore the campaign fails.

Retailers need to ensure they stay on top of what is possible, but also test things out with their audience and not just follow the crowd. You can do simple prototypes and POCs so quickly and inexpensively now. There is no excuse to go straight to full deployment, or to be too worried about testing something small.

As part of this, retailers need to bear in mind that their target audience might be a wide mixture of different personas. How a 20 year old from London wants to interact with your brand in store and offline might be different to how a 20 year old from Somerset wants to interact with your brand; and that’s not even taking into account different ages and countries.The approach needs to be considered for your whole audience.

So, in summary, when thinking about the best approach to omnichannel experiences and which technologies to use to best engage your target audience, the most important thing is to have a user centric strategy.

By Sarah Weller

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