Category: Technology

Why Retail Needs Brick-and-Mortar and E-Commerce to Survive

Why Retail Needs Brick-and-Mortar and E-Commerce to Survive

Whether you rely on your own retail shop or wholesale fashion accounts to thrive, it’s time to stop choosing between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce strategies. At the end of the day, it’s all simply retail and shoppers respond best to a healthy mix of the physical and digital worlds.

Alibaba Makes a Case for Merging Physical and Digital Commerce

Alibaba is probably the largest retailer who has tossed the idea of “omnichannel” right out of the window. And they continue to grow at an impressive speed. They started with the purchase of a major retail brand in China in 2015 followed by a recent $2.6 billion purchase of a Chinese mall operator – complete with 29 department stores and 17 shopping malls across various cities.

Their CEO, Daniel Zhang, has made their plans clear: transform physical stores to reach modern shoppers’ standards using their digital cache of resources (improved inventory management, real-time customer insights and data, digital payments, et al.). The plan is to introduce new customers to the offline shops, while strengthening their overall business. Zhang says: “We don’t divide the world into real or virtual economies, only the old and the new”.

And really, shouldn’t that be the accepted idea of retail strategy across the industry? Brick-and-mortar shops hanging on to old business models and old ways of doing business are really feeling the burn. The same goes for digital businesses that don’t consider what actually happens with customers when they shop offline.

E-Commerce Stores are Opening Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

Don’t let headlines about struggling retailers fool you. Brick-and-mortar still works. Just look at the number of e-commerce shops arriving offline. We’re seeing fully operational stores, short and long-term pop-ups and even offline showrooms all over the country. These brands include Bonobos, MM. LaFleur, Reformation, and Warby Parker.

Bonobos’ Guideshops don’t sell any physical products but they’re the hubs to place online orders, confirm fit, receive style advice, and make easy, in-person returns. MM. LaFleur takes advantage of the best aspects of traditional stores but with a contemporary and digital twist. Their showrooms offer pre-pulled, personalized looks, styling sessions, and accompanying glasses of champagne – an excellent way to bridge shopping with experience. Reformation’s concept is more like a hybrid of both worlds with limited quantities of merchandise and digital screens for online shopping in store. As for Warby Parker, they plan to open at least another 25 shops this year!

Touch Is Only Human

As a species, we’re totally wired for physical touch. Touch is linked to our behavior, emotions, and crucial development. There’s a study that’s widely referenced in retail to translate the science. It was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in 2014 and it explains how using a touchscreen interface emphasizes the benefits we experience when we get something new. We psychologically perceive that we own whatever we touch! That means we get the benefits of retail therapy – even before we buy!

The great news is the same research has been correlated to touching other physical objects in stores so every brand has the chance to benefit. Since touch is a natural instinct that brings on positive emotions, it’d be totally irrational to move all of our sales online. We have to embrace technology and the physical world to really maximize the potential rewards. And there are really so many possibilities.

Brick-and-mortar isn’t dead. And e-commerce sales are only one slice of the retail pie. We have about 19 hours a day to create valuable, offline engagement so let’s leverage what we’ve learned to ramp up the real-world retail experience.

Innovation has changed everything and at the same time, nothing at all. Technology, marketing, and shopping habits have changed but we still crave a social experience. Our desire to connect as a community is just as powerful as it was in the height of the department store heyday. Shops got their start as places to gossip, socialize, and relax and today’s stores are still great places to congregate. Digital has only expanded the size of this community, taking it to a worldwide scale.

We still need human touch and in-person interaction… physical stores will always be around. The shops that will survive will use digital to stay connected and improve the ways they engage. They’ll use digital to offer additional brand touchpoints and to deepen relationships with their customers through increased “face time” and additional outlets to share their stories.

You have to be where your customers are. Shoppers may not always make the sale offline but that doesn’t mean their in-store experiences won’t lead them to online sales or digital brand advocacy later on. We have to see retail with a much more holistic view.

Be open to change and nimble to react because if there’s one constant in fashion, it’s CHANGE.

Innovation in Retail: How a CO-OP Website Can Boost Online Sales

Innovation in Retail: How a CO-OP Website Can Boost Online Sales

I was writing a blog post for StartUp Fashion on “How to Launch an E-commerce Shop Selling Your Own Brand and Others” (will update with link when its live), and I had an idea that I never saw in practice, the CO-OP website. We’ve all heard of CO-OPs, like the Park Slope CO-OP where you donate time and get a discount on food, or CO-OP apartments, where everyone in the building owns the building together. And in the last 5 years CO-OP fashion retail stores have become more popular. But, what about the idea of a CO-OP fashion retail e-commerce site?  A place where each brand owned a part of the site and contributed to its growth.

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Amazon & Rebecca Minkoff Ditch Cashiers and Sales Associates For New Types of Technology

I’ve always enjoyed walking into a Whole Foods and being able to ask a sales associate to give me qualitative information about products. In fact their experience can largely sway an opinion. Think about ordering food at a restaurant- ever asked the waiter what’s the best on the menu and order that? What if the waiter wasn’t there and every time you ordered something you had to guess what to order? Or have you ever wanted to buy something that went with your outfit, but no one was there to give an opinion? How frustrating.

Taking away key decision making drivers in the sales process leaves a vacuum for a new types of technology to enter. One new technology would aggregate customer feedback and experiences per product and segment based on your friends and similar interest groups. Your friends become the curators. This would go beyond a Yelp or Amazon review system and be curated by similar interest groups.

Another type of technology that will gain traction will be interactive mirrors and social selling apps that allow the customer to take photographs of themselves and share with friends to get instant feedback- these already exist but have yet to take off. In essence, the role of the sales associates preference would be replaced with that of friends and social groups.

Rebecca Minkoff

So then what does the role of the store play? I’ve written in the past that customers are looking for a more interactive in store experience (see the article on my talk at the SAP Retail Forum). They want events, curation, and customization. They crave an experience that is personal and tailored to them.

This is the age of individualization not normalization.

The question remains-will these new types of stores gain traction? If it works in tandem with technology that fulfills the social needs and information needs of a cashier or sales associated then yes. If it leaves the customer hanging, then these stores become showrooms where people will go to look and buy at home- a trend we started to see back in 2012.

As we wait to see what happens with in store trends my advice is to continue to think about your customer value proposition. What value do you offer besides selling products on a shelf? Rebecca Minkoff is first to market in her space selling products up to $1,500 in this new concept store. The novelty of it will drive in store traffic- but will it correlate to sales?

Amazon might see a correlation between in app searches and in store buying- leveraging its app as an information hub and who knows, maybe they will be integrating your in store purchase with the nutrition count and syncing it up with your health data. Scary, but totally possible! Lots of possibilities here, but at the end of the day customer purchasing power is king and will dictate if this new concept store experience will last.

Syama Meagher is the CEO of Scaling Retail, a retail strategy firm that offers insight and strategic consulting to fashion and retail brands. To get insight on sales, marketing and merchandising for your business email: hello@scalingretail.com.

Luxury Brands on Snapchat- Ready to Jump on Board?

Luxury brands are jumping on the bandwagon of Snapchat. Burberry, Everlane and Valentino have all become active users of Snapchat in the last 2 years. Why? Because the demographics of Snapchat have changed- when launched the platform quickly became a favorite in the 18-24 year old market and now there is an increase engagement amongst users in their mid 20’s and up (38% of all users). As brands look to actively engage on many platforms to capture the attention of the consumer, being on a platform like Snapchat has become a necessity.

Burberry SnapChat

I first heard the term “attention arbitrage” used by Gary Vaynerchuk. Attention arbitrage is the act of trading your time for attention. Snapchat is a great example of this. Brands and people are spending lots of time creating content to capture the attention of their community. Vaynerchuk has famously, in recent keynotes, given himself lots of credit for forecasting the rise of Snapchat. But is Snapchat the right platform for the luxury space? Should this be the way to capture the audience?

The luxury market has undergone a huge shift in the last 20 years. What once used to be a closed market, reserved for the Christian Dior’s and Chanel’s is now a wide playing field with the customer determining what defines luxury. Brands like Maiyet focused on sustainability, community and style have been able to make a mark in the space because of these shifts. Consumers are making decisions on personal values, individual aesthetics and a desire to curate ones life. This has forced the luxury market to evolve. Here is where the social media platforms come in.

Early adopters in social media are also striving for a sense of individuality. They want to be the first to make a mark on new platforms and the brands that meet them there are at an advantage. The recent wave of 25+ year old adopters to Snapchat will be the bridge to a critical mass of users. So where will your brand be? The luxury brands adopting Snapchat are adding a level of transparency to their brands to create a sense of connection. As a small to medium sized brand you have the greatest gift of transparency: one that needs to be curated, but not manufactured. How does one justify spending $3,000 on handbag? They show how its made, they talk to the artisan. How does one create a sense of belonging to New York Fashion Week? They show the behind the scenes with the models. Brands are even now doing specific product launches just on Snapchat to give followers an exclusive (i.e. Glossier).

But Syama, do I have to be on another platform?

I am a huge proponent of meeting your customers where they are. If you want to get ahead of the retail masses then start a consistent Snapchat channel before everyone jumps on board. You will get the chance to be one of the business accounts that a new adopter of Snapchat would follow. Once the user base reaches its height, all the small and medium sized retailers will be on it; and you will be one in a sea of accounts trying to get followers. Sounds a little like Instagram right?

Instagram just rolled out Stories? Does this make Snapchat obsolete?

The new stories functionality is a great attempt to take over the Snapchat market, especially for the older users who don’t want to start using another platform. BUT, just like how Instagram was the newer playing field for Facebook, Snapchat is the newer playing field for Instagram. More instant, more transparent and more engaging. Instagram is becoming the new pay to play space with advertisements, just like Facebook. Snapchat is raw and not yet monetized in that way.

watch-instagram-stories-gif

My Advice

Re-evaluate your social media strategy. If you cannot be on all the channels then pick the ones you want to fully max out. There are also trends to watch out for; Facebook is a pay for play platform, Pinterest is leading the way on social selling, Twitter is great for peer to peer but not for sales, Instagram is rolling out new features for businesses to optimize sales and YouTube continues to be the best long form branded platform for evergreen content. The live options on Facebook, YouTube and apps like Periscope are wonderful for event based content and weekly series type content. Snapchat is leading the charge with Snapcash and might be giving users an option to the China based WeChat platform. If you haven’t heard about WeChat it is a social selling app where you can chat with friend and buy inside the app. Again, pick your platforms and max them out. In addition, stay on top of the new platforms that launch and consider which of them are going to attract the early adopters you want to engage with. Right now I’m checking out Hyper and Jelly.

For a startup brand social media can seem like a can of worms. There is no way to start, than to start. I suggest thinking about how you want people to perceive your brand, then find the platforms that allow you to do it easiest. Don’t create the same content for all channels and think about how you would want each channel to feel like they are getting something special directed to how they best engage. Example: It’s easier to take polls on Facebook than on Pinterest. If you want your audience to be actively engaged with product development or marketing ideas then build out your Facebook with active conversations.

Brands that have been around for a while need to ask themselves: Does it make sense to be on all the social media channels? Are all of them working? Are there trends that I have not been paying attention to? What are the new channels? If you have a content team that can manage all your channels, then amazing you can do it all. But, if you are a small company and the time you spend on social media is literally the time that could be spent on the phone with your manufacturer, then you need to be critical about your time and efforts. Be where your customer is, don’t waste your time being where they are not.

Syama Meagher is a retail strategist for brands and retailers. She works with growth stage businesses and helps entrepreneurs launch and grow fashion businesses through ecommerce, wholesale and brick & mortar. Syama is a former at Barneys New York, Gucci, AHAlife and Macy’s. To build your brand and create a profitable business check out www.ScalingRetail.com and email hello@scalingretail.com

More Subway & Less Runway, Getting Wearable Tech In Front of Buyers

I love Hussein Chalayan. To me he is the originator of wearable technology. While his pieces are more runway and less subway, I believe that he crosses the barriers between the tech imaginary and fashion- simply amazing. The new wave of fashion tech designers are looking to go beyond the runway and start to make products that can be added to the closet and worn regularly.

Fashion Tech

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology and fashion can mean many things, not just adding lights to a jacket. Designers these days are looking to create new materials, fibers and design products that are symbiotic with your lifestyle- aesthetics first. While designers have been playing with new wearable tech products for a few years it has yet to be taken seriously by the mass market. Maybe because wearable tech sounds funny?

Aside from renaming the industry (a personal thought), there needs to be a platform to sell these products. Do they fit in the advanced contemporary market? Is it aspirational luxury? How does one classify? Tech News reported back in April that TopShop was sponsoring a contest with Imarks to support brands in gaining visibility from buyers. TopShop was also providing free business education and mentoring. Its important to see relevant players in the retail space get behind fostering new talent especially in wearable tech since the field is very young.

Fashion tech

Just a couple weeks ago, Mashable reported on the new press on nails by Oyster that allow you to hop on your subway ride with your nails! Talk about simplicity.

For designers who are interested in innovating into wearable tech I suggest signing up for the Third Wave Fashion blog. They are one of the first accelerator programs specifying in fashion technology. If you happen to live in Paris, I suggest checking out the accelerator program sponsored by Galeries Lafayette: Lafayette Plug & Play. It is a dual program between Paris and Silicon Valley. You will get the opportunity to be mentored by VP’s at Birchbox, Galeries Lafayette and Farfetch, and have the opportunity to work with VC’s in shaping your business. You can apply here.

As the former Director of startup, AHAlife, I know how amazing and energizing it can be to work in the tech space. It can also be demanding. There are unchartered waters you are entering and unlike traditional business models you are mastering the synergy between U/X, utility and product. There is more on the line when you work with investors, so I suggest taking your product ideas to platforms like Indiegogo (check out this cool campaign by Zenta) where you can crowdfund the resources to play with new ideas. I remember backing a project that ultimately never came to market (FIN), and I wonder how many other projects on this list will never ship (Digital Trends). But that is part of the fun of it. We are in an age of exploring. What you make today might be irrelevant next year. We all know that we need to wear pants, so I guess if we wanted to play it safe we would go into that market. But that’s just not the beauty of life. We were all meant to make something happen, and if fashion tech speaks to you “Bon Chance”.

I am a retail strategist and consultant for startup and growth stage fashion brands and retailers. Working through a business model? Email hello@scalingretail.com

Video: Retail Roundup: Sears Click-to-Car App & Small Biz Innovation


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@ScalingRetail

Sears launched a new App that allows customers to purchase from their phone, drive to the store, and have a customer service rep come to the car and drop off the package. How can small businesses diversify their strategies? Watch on.

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Hi, and welcome to Scaling Retail, this is Syama Meagher. This week, I’d like to chat with you about some new retail technologies. In particular, Sears launched a new mobile app by which they allow their customers to participate in something called “click to store.” In fact, it’s more like “click to car.” What does this app allow you to do? Well, in essence, you can place an order over your app and drive to the Sears store, stay in your car, and someone will come out and deliver your product to your car. Now of course, there are a lot of different things that might make this a little bit more challenging.

Can you imagine if you’re driving to the parking lot, and your customer is coming out there and looking for the product? And then you have a sales associate running around all over the parking lot, trying to find you? This might make it a little bit more challenging, but it is a very interesting concept to think about, especially as you as a small business, take a look and find all the different ways in which you can start to service your client better. How can you make the shopping experience more seamless, and how can you provide them different ways of taking home your product? Now of course, during the holiday times, you see a lot of free same day delivery, free shipping, courier services and things like that. Or even free international shipping. Most of those things can start to be expensive, when you start to take a look at the number of orders you’re getting, and how it’s really eating into your margins.

What I would suggest doing is trying to find certain points during the year, that perhaps a larger retail chain of stores aren’t necessarily doing these promotional activities, and finding ways of tapping into your customer. So, for example, we all know the big guys do things around Labor Day, President’s Day, and other types of big holidays. But what if you as a small business, initiated your own holiday, and your own opportunity to do these little perks? You know, this will absolutely set you apart from your competition, and also provide you with a different way of communicating to your customer on those days, when they’re not necessarily bombarded by larger retailers.

So, hopefully, the Sears program goes well, and they find that customers are responding well to that technology. But think critically as a business owner, and as a small brand. How can you communicate more effectively to your customer, and what are the things that you can offer from a technology standpoint – whether it’s an app, whether it’s free shipping via the app. How are you starting to drive people to purchase through you, in more innovative ways? All right, I hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks. Bye.

Video: Retail Roundup: Small Biz Tech- FlixStock & Celery


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@ScalingRetail

Small businesses have many options to choose from when looking at technologies for your fashion business. Today we discuss FlixStock (www.FlixStock.com) and Celery (www.trycelery.com). As this is a hot topic we will be discussing many options over the next few episodes of the Retail Roundup.

Hi, and welcome to Scaling Retail. This is Syama Meagher. This week I’d like to chat with you about fashion retail technologies. So you’ve heard a lot about eCommerce start-ups, dozens of businesses that are launching on eCommerce. But did you know that there are tons of businesses out there that are there to help make you do your job better, easier, and faster? A couple of these companies might surprise you, but you’ll find, and through doing a lot of due diligence and research, that ultimately you’ll be able to save money and hopefully keep your eye on the bottom line, which is sales.

First company I’d like to chat with you about is called FlixStock. Now, FlixStock is pretty innovative and kind of something you might have already thought about once upon a time when trying to get products up on your website. As we all know, to have a really efficient eCommerce presence and to be able to pull together LookBooks and other types of marketing collateral we need to have images that are easy and ready to go.

Lifestyle images, images to scale, and how do we find the time and the resources to pull together a photo shoot, hair and make-up, and the like. Well, FlixStock has come along and made the process a little bit easier. Through them you are able to send them your still images front and back and the side angles and they will go ahead and scale those images to you to the size that you need showing scale. So, of course, if you’re selling a handbag you want to be able to show the handbag to the scale of let’s say a lipstick or something where your customer really gets an idea of how big the product is.

In addition, they’ll be able to take your products and help you get those on models. So what does that mean? You get to choose from hundreds of different types of models as well as lifestyle shots and they’re going to go ahead and superimpose your images of product onto those models. They do it through seamless technology and they do it in a way that actually helps you get your product faster and it’s so much easier than going through tons of different graphic designers and trying to find the right editors. We’ve all seen some different flub-ups when it comes to Ann Taylor and some of the other brands who unfortunately done a terrible job at editing and Photoshopping, but through them you actually won’t have to worry about doing those things on your own.

Now the other company I’d like to chat with you about is called Celery. Celery’s pretty new. I recently just found out about them, but what I thought was so cool is that what they’re doing is allowing designers and brands to pre-sell their items in a very easy, easy way. So what does that mean for you? Well, if you’re working on a new collection and you’ve secured manufacturing, but you want to get an idea of the markets and if the products going to go, you go ahead and sign up through them and you can put your product on there, put the copy and start testing.

This is extremely valuable for you because, of course, you want to get an idea of what customers want. How can you refine your assortment and edit that process before you take it to buyers and before you start approaching boutiques? Of course, there are tons of other fashion retail brands out there and lots of retail tech companies. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time this week to chat about more of them. However, if you have any questions or want to talk more please feel free to email me, Syama@ScalingRetail.com. And I look forward to seeing you next week. Have a great weekend.