Exploring The Future of Digital Shopping And How It’s Shaping The Way We Shop

When it comes to the Future of Fashion Retail becoming more digital, a panel made up of experts discuss how we make the technology more human.

When a panel comes together to discuss the future of digital shopping in the fashion industry, it is fairly reasonable to expect to learn about the shiny new tools for that endeavour or hear more about the buzzwords like AR, MR or voice commerce. Interestingly though, the conversation proved to be more about humans than tech.

The Personalisation Algorithm: Make It More Human

Organised by HEC UK Digital Club in London, Fashion: The future of Digital Shopping discussion, focused on how the new digital trends are shaping the way we shop and the global consumer market. The panel was comprised of a diverse set of minds; Jonathan Chippendale, Nic Brisbourne, Karen Michaels and Marion Rabat. Jonathan is the CEO of creative tech solution company, Holition. Nic is the Managing Partner at Forward Partners with investments in fashion startups including Thread and Spoke. Karen Michaels is a fashion ecomm expert, and Marion is the founder and CEO of the athleisure brand, Ernest Leoty. Peter Globokar, MD at investment advisory bank, Mooreland Partners, moderated the discussion.

The Panel: (L to R) Jonathan Chippendale, Marion Rabat, Karen Michaels & Nic Brisbourne. Moderator- Peter Globokar

Starting with the topic of personalisation, a perennial favourite in fashion ecomm, Peter invited panellists to map out this complex yet dynamic landscape. Nic, whose investment portfolio includes London-based Thread, a fashion recommendation platform for men, spoke about rapidly improving algorithms that thrive on buyer’s past experiences. But at some point the prediction algorithms become boring. “When I clicked on the Thread browser, I was greeted by a wall of pale blue shirts. That does reflect my buying habits, but perhaps I do not want more of it. The algorithms need to be made more human by introducing an element of serendipity into them.”

“The algorithms need to be made more human by introducing an element of serendipity into them.”

Since fashion shapes our identity in myriad ways and is a complicated affair, the tech involved in its customer interface needs to be more humanised than mechanical and arithmetical. Adding to that conversation thread, Jonathan spoke of how the internet often channels us down into areas where we feel safe and secure, driven on our previous experiences. He continued, “We, as humans, want to discover and explore and be taken to new areas. That’s how we will get exposed to new trends and fashion. And brands will get incremental purchase.”

To further drive home his point, Jonathan brought up the first-of-its-kind fashion retail-tech project launched by C&A Brazil in 2013. At the retail store, Facebook likes for each product were transmitted down onto a screen embedded in a clothes hanger. While sale for garments with 15k likes went up, there were another set of people who opted for garments with least likes to differentiate themselves and stress their individuality.

Working With Influencers: More Art Than Science

Changing tack and moving onto personalisation, the panel proceeded to talk about influencers, the recommenders who shape the algorithms of tomorrow. While marketing tech offers several tools to a fashion brand to increase conversions, one of the more powerful and prevalent media available to a brand to reach customers is not a piece of tech but humans aka fashion influencers.

Karen explained, “Successful influencers are not just pushing products, but they also have an opinion on movements of our time whether political, social or environmental. Hence, the tricky part for a fashion brand is to forge a partnership with the right influencer who is aligned with the brand’s DNA and talks to the target customers.”

Early-stage founder Marion confessed that leveraging the power of influencers is more of an art than science. In her experience, she saw the smaller influencers having maximum impact on her brand’s sales. She further added that ‘real life’ offline influencers need to be part of the brand strategy as well. “The social media stars got us the likes and followers, but the biggest influencer for us is the woman in Chelsea telling her friends about us. We are working with hair-salons in High Street Kensington to build tangible word-of-mouth network for us.”

That revelation from Marion points to the fact that even in 2018, an era when all conversations with customers seem digital, there is merit to weave a strategy that includes the authentic person-to-person messaging.

The Punch-Up Between Sustainability & Consumerism

Moving on, any future-leaning conversation around fashion is incomplete without the mention of sustainability-related challenges. On this subject, all the speakers acknowledged that fashion’s landscape of production and consumption would undergo rapid transformation.

Karen pointed out that the demand for newness will always stay, but the consumer is increasingly more conscious of their buys and is graduating to the sharing economy. On the other hand, Marion was of the view that while consumers will want more clothes the trend towards buying quality will grow. Jonathan sees huge scale demographic shifts coming through. He explained, “[There is] a huge punch-up between sustainability and consumerism in the offing. We have entered the world of maximum stuff. Just open your wardrobe to see how many outfits you have and how many you need. The planet cannot sustain this level of consumption anymore. These changes will become faster with digital and generation Z. They will begin to demand clothes that are not damaging the planet. Brands will need to evolve.”

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As the experts’ conversation on sustainability and consumerism came to an end, I had to admit that the role of technology in that fight has my full attention. Regarding shopping, so far the efforts deployed in that direction are to do with convenience, reduction of friction and making the act of purchase faster and quicker. I wonder about the possibilities for tech solutions that slow down that process and introduce considered thinking when we go click happy with those enticing recommendations, thrown at us online. That resonates well with the humanised approach to tech, carrying the potential to amplify mindfulness.

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Molshree is a fashion consultant and researcher based in London. With a background in fashion retail, she is currently focussing on projects that propel the sustainability agenda into the mainstream.