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London College of Fashion

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Fashion Means… Retail

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Published date 23 March 2015

Guest Blog: The updated retail fashion store

“Are fashion stores out of fashion?” was a question discussed by Nathalie Remy, a McKinsey & Co partner in her last talk about changing retail landscapes. Continuous technological innovations and the growth of pure online-retailers raised this and similar questions about the future of brick-and-mortar.

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Photography: Emmi Hyyppa www.emmihyyppa.com

However, while shoppers move from transaction-based retail experiences to relationship-based ones, seeking engagement and unique brand experiences – a hard offer for online retailers as their main interaction is conducted by a computer screen – the answer arises clear: physical stores are not going away any time soon.

As the digital world continues to infiltrate our everyday lives, traditional retail business models and methods are dissolving: the rise of internet brought along the rise of online shopping. According to the consulting firm A.T. Kearney 2014 report on Retail Formats, between 2008 and 2013, e-commerce sales grew ten times faster than in-store retail, as well as the digital apparel sales in China. “Unlimited options”, “Customer reviews” and “Interactive Content” are considered the key advantages of online shopping and they have been used to impress new customers and increase brand affinity.

However, recent market research shows that pure-players account for only 5% of total U.S. retail sales with an additional 5% categorising as multi-channel sales, meaning that 90% of retail sales still occur where they have taken place for hundreds of years: the physical stores. In the previously mentioned study, A.T. Kearney found that stores are the most important channel is almost every stage of the shopping process.

In an industry where touching a garment is so important for individuals, Brick-and-mortar fashion stores provide a visual and tactile experience hard to replicate online. 73 percent of consumers want to try on merchandise before they make a purchase and value “instant product ownership” above all other retail attributes, which are only allowed by physical shopping centres. Being able to feel products, immerse in brand experiences and interact with sales associates allow customers not to buy products and services alone but to have a sensory experience, translated into more sales, fewer returns and an increase in repeat customers. In fact, customers are not coming to stores for prices or selection of products anymore (they can find better deals online), they are coming for the experience, for a memorable time, looking for inspiration, have fun and enjoy social interaction.

Taking advantage of the e-commerce main barrier – the need for touch – physical stores must provide experiences that can not be reproduced online.

WD Partners’ Lee Peterson clarified it: “The key to finding the edge is not copying what Amazon does, but doing what Amazon can not”.

To efficiently deliver these sensorial experiences, brick-and-mortar stores are investing in truly complementary technology that wows shoppers, makes shopping easier and takes advantage of the synergy between storefront and online presence. Augmented reality and interactive technology add a new dimension to the traditional experience of browsing, trying and buying garments, by transporting the digital world into stores in a manner that delights customers, builds loyalty and generates brand value. The most successful retailers will be those who revaluate store locations and sizes and design stores to deliver an integrated path to purchase, where physical and digital reinforce each other.

Words by Ana Rita Sousa, MA Fashion Retail Management.