With a new year ahead of us, it’s time to consider what improvements, advancements and changes 2017 will have in store for the fashion industry.
After a tumultuous 2016, observers can expect fashion and luxury brands and retailers to revert back to basics while embracing a renewed perspective on some of the industry’s biggest areas. For example, Instagram will do more for brands, while influencers will do less — and while mobile apps take a back seat (except for a select few), chat-driven customer service will emerge.
Ready for what’s next? Here’s a look at 2017 in fashion’s should-be New Year’s resolutions.
Focus on service-oriented in-store retail.
Amazon made headlines in December when it announced its first Amazon Go store, a grocery store that uses artificial intelligence to completely rid shoppers of the burden of checkout lines. Rebecca Minkoff, one of fashion’s biggest advocates for new technology innovations, followed suit shortly after when it announced a partnership with QueueHop to activate self-checkout in its four retail stores. CEO Uri Minkoff told Fast Company that the rollout came after millennial shopping habits demonstrated the want to be in control of every aspect of the transaction process, including checkout.
Self-checkout may not see a massive tidal wave rollout this year, but it’s shedding light on an important in-store retail trend that goes beyond millennial pandering: improving customer service.
“Thanks to Amazon, we’re going to see more innovation in the next 12 to 24 months around the retail format than we would have otherwise,” said Maureen Mullen, chief strategy officer and co-founder of digital think tank L2. She added that service-oriented retailers like Sephora, which invests a lot in the knowledge of its “cast” of sales associates, would benefit by freeing up time spent manning checkout. “That becomes a huge competitive advantage,” she said.
Invest less in influencers (unless you’re a beauty company).
The value of the influencer is on the decline. Brands have begun tightening their belts on how much they are willing to shell out for a sponsored post on Instagram, there’s already a “microinfluencer” bubble and the FTC continues to crack down on disclosure rules for sponsored content. What’s more, during 2016, Instagram made two updates that impacted influencer business: First, it rolled out the algorithm that prioritized engagement and diminished the effectiveness of frequent posting. Then, in November, it rolled out a shopping update that allows brands to link to product pages directly from posts.
Going forward, brands will continue incorporating user-generated content feeds where it matters — like on product pages — and using Instagram’s new click-to-shop feature both in feeds and in Stories.
“We’ll still see the power and importance of influencers, because there’s nothing like scale,” said Chris Paradysz, CEO of PMX Agency. “But I do see a much more accelerated growth of the importance of the individual user — the human being that’s not known as a blogger. Because of the tools that exist, the power of one will become more influential.”
Unless, that is, we’re talking about beauty. YouTube research marketing firm Pixability found in a recent report that branded beauty content, across the board, sees more engagement when influencers are involved.
Retailers began dropping their mobile apps at an increased rate last year, with Coach, Everlane, Patagonia, Dolce and Gabbana and Rebecca Minkoff pulling their products from the app store. Mobile is by no means on the decline, though, and live chat and chatbots powered by major players like Facebook Messenger and WeChat will step further into focus.
“It’s incumbent on the brand to understand where their customers are,” said Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content strategy at Razorfish. “In a lot of places, that’s WeChat instead of the mobile web. That means you have to invest in chat services, which solve the friction of getting space on the home screen.”
Fully functional automated chatbots, which were tested over the holiday season, are far off from seeing mass adoption. But top digital luxury brands have embraced live chat with a customer service representative in order to help bridge the gap between e-commerce and in-store purchases, which has become table stakes for brands looking to facilitate pricier purchases online and build relationships.
“One [trend] that has been simmering over the course of 2016 is the rise of chat to assist retailers,” said Sarah Owen, senior editor at global forecasting company WGSN. “In 2017, we should start to see frictionless transactional processes and fashion brands leveraging messaging platforms to build communities and engagement on a one-to-one scale.”
Prioritize straightforward data over sexy gimmicks.
The most successful retailers are the ones who understand their customer, thanks to the data they analyze. Companies like Rent the Runway, Boohoo and Zara have demonstrated that clear insight into what their customers want, how they shop and where they consume content offers a competitive advantage. Even Kohl’s set out to grab millennial dollars when it launched K/Lab, a new fashion line for younger customers that uses social data to imitate the design-to-store process of a fast-fashion company.
“It’s unique that we start with data first,” Arthur Lewis, evp of product development for Kohl’s New York Design Office told Glossy last year. “Many [retailers] start with a concept first, then gather data. We allow the data to lead us to the concept.”
This approach will continue to earn higher priority in retailers’ budgets over the buzzy activations that ultimately fail to push the needle, like virtual reality.
“AR and VR is the flash that can come only after the fundamentals are mastered,” said Paradysz. “Basic things like knowing if something is in stock across stores and website is what people want. 2017 could be the year for these newer technologies if brands get those basics right.”