Originally published in WWD by Navin Sharma on March 3, 2017
Turn on any entertainment news channel, or open any fashion magazine and you’re bound to be flooded by images of models walking down the runway of New York’s, London’s and Milan’s recent Fashion Weeks. Many of the images likely feature your favorite celebrities dressed head to toe in designer fashions — and almost immediately, you wonder: “Where can I get that?”
The need for instant gratification isn’t new, and it’s a consumer demand the fashion world has been trying to supply for years. Take for example Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding — it took only 36 hours before another bride was seen wearing a replica of the Alexander McQueen dress! Just a few years ago, the average product turnover within the industry was as long as 20 months, but with consumers’ sense of instant gratification going more mainstream with fast-fashion stores like Zara (which restocks fresh merchandise 24 or more times annually), the need to deliver what customers want and when they want it has become a major competitive advantage among retailers.
Digital vs. Physical Engagement
By understanding what matters to customers, retailers can respond to consumer demand in unique and engaging ways, using physical and digital channels to create a truly personalized customer experience. But despite advanced modeling techniques, the anticipation and forecasting of buyer behavior continues to present a major challenge for retailers, who cannot run the risk of an outdated inventory and excess stock.
For retailers, being the first-to-market carries more than kudos. In today’s digital world, bloggers, vloggers and social media mavens can share the latest fashion trends with the world, through one photo, in a matter of seconds. With brands like Zara, Topshop and H&M replicating these designs for cheap and in a matter of weeks (versus months for high-end designers), they capitalize on the market share before the runway designers can even get to market.
High-end designers have taken note, and they’re making strides to embrace consumers’ demand for instant gratification. You may have thought “Buy Now” was just a feature of Amazon, but during last year’s New York Fashion Week, designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Rebecca Minkoff brought impulse shopping directly to the catwalk. Literally.
Hilfiger customers were able to purchase his 2016 collection as soon as it made its way down the runway with what the brand calls “Click and Buy.” And for Minkoff, she launched the #SEEBUYWEAR campaign, which gave her loyal followers access to immediately purchase nearly two-thirds of her runway looks.
Delivering Fast Fashion Through a Single Customer View
The answer to the speed-to-market challenge begins by understanding your customer, and just like with any industry, in order to understand your customer, you have to know who they are and how they behave. By creating a detailed, analytical customer profile with real-time customer data, retailers can begin to develop a single customer view that offers a complete view of a customer across channels — both digital and physical. Armed with this information, multichannel retailers can deliver a rich and informed customer experience, engaging with customers at relevant points, regardless of what channel they’re using during the buying process.
But more so, a data-driven approach to understand a customer extends far beyond just the customer experience. It also enables intelligent forecasting, and informs product development teams because after all, product develop is not, and should not, be a guessing game; it is the result of business insight gleaned from customer-generated data.
For the retailer, having access to precise and accurate intelligence answers questions, generates insights and identifies trends: which of my customers would wear this design? In which colors and fabrics? How much would they pay? When would they wear it? How do they prefer to shop? Whose style do they emulate? What trends do they like most? How quickly would they want an item? How would they want to hear about it?
The Forecast for Fashion: Data
Once a single customer view has been established for an individual, retailers could identify — from the front row of fashion week — which customers will prefer which designs, and plan accordingly.
Imagine this: in the middle of Paris Fashion Week you receive a personalized e-mail from a store saying, “Did you see our show in Paris? Based on your last in-store purchase and your recent online searches, we think we found a look that’s what you’re looking for, right at your ideal price point. It would be perfect for your friend’s upcoming wedding. We can have it made and shipped to you in time for the weekend.”
Retailers — and businesses as a whole — are not quite there, but they’re on their way. As more high-end designers go against the grain and supply the instant gratification demand, the need for data-driven digital transformation programs will become more critical to reduce speed-to-market, enable accurate forecasting and generate real-time customer insight that could provide the elixir for fast-fashion success.