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Technologies Transforming Fashion Retail: The Good, The Bad and The Bizarre

When an entire industry is focused on the singular idea of selling, every new innovation is often developed first to support it. Take the Industrial Revolution, for example. The discovery that quite a few manmade tasks could be done by machines instead improved production efficiencies, and gave us a chance to collectively make more and sell more in the same amount of time.

Today, we stand on the brink of yet another technological revolution that is set to change the way we sell. We are talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI), of course. For many of us, even a few years ago, AI as an idea meant a sentient robot is suddenly taking over our jobs and making slaves of us all. But, what we don’t realize is that AI is already here- in Gmail’s auto compose feature and an assistant that calls and makes appointments, to begin with.

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How can AI benefit the fashion industry, specifically on the retail front? Here are a few options you can explore today.

1. Retail inventory management: Today, we have access to SaaS-based inventory management systems for that can update inventory in real time. The logical next step is systems that can study massive amounts of data from past sales, both within the company and the market in general, plug in the spending patterns and come up with accurate numbers for inventory maintenance. Such a system can reduce the massive wastage we see today in the fashion industry.

2. VR and selling: Once the backend is sorted, you can shift your entire focus to the front, as Neiman Marcus has done in several of their experiential stores. VR enabled mirrors show customers products as they would look on them, along with suggesting combinations and filling the shopping bag with a single swipe. As more and more people look to retail stores as experience centers, technology allows us to catch up and stay one step ahead of customer expectations.

3. Virtual models: Now, this is one aspect that we are quite conflicted about. On the one hand, the use of digital renderings helps businesses display clothes on a variety of body types at a far lesser price than hiring a model for each body type. That said, do digital models set new standards for beauty that are downright unattainable. Businesses using digital models need to consider the implications of doing so, not just on their target demographic but also on the world and its perceptions at large.

4. Messaging bots: Conversations lead to conversions. Until now, it has been impossible to replicate the warmth of an in-store experience online. But with the arrival of intuitive bots that think and speak like human service personnel, this is no longer the case. Businesses using chatbots report a 70% rise in conversion, and that’s just in beauty alone. The message is clear- customers want to talk, and not necessarily with a real person, before making a purchase.

5. New materials on the block: Sustainable fashion is no longer an option, as we discussed in the first article in this series. Customers want it, and they’ll find a way to have it. Textiles today are all about focusing on the source and ensuring fair practices along the way. It isn’t so much about finding new materials to work with as it is about going back to those products that we never considered before, like hemp and bamboo.

6. Connected advertising: Another controversial aspect of retailing today is the trade-off between too much information and convenience. Customers often let sites install cookies and track their browsing for the sake of convenience. But businesses are either unable to leverage all of the information provided to them, or simply unable to protect this data sufficiently. The proof of this is in the very need for new GDPR guidelines that regulate the collection and use of data. That said, there’s no denying the fact that all of this information allows us to advertise to people who are much further along the buying funnel, thus helping us to convert them faster.

If there’s one thing to be said about technology in retail, it is never to overdo anything. When used correctly, technology can help improve efficiency immensely at every step of the way. Just a more efficient way of managing inventory and recycling can help save tons of clothing from going to landfills.

However, there is such a thing as taking it too far, and brands using technology must consider how their customers may perceive each of the new changes being brought in, and whether those changes will be accepted with delight or rejected entirely.

Fuel4Fashion is a design, branding and technology consultancy for the fashion and apparel industry. We provide consulting and advisory services across design, business and IT processes to early stage and mid-sized apparel manufacturers and brands looking to grow their business with the help of smart sustainable management practices. Visit our website here and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for regular updates.

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