Creating the Ultimate Apparel and Accessories Retail Experience
On any weekday in Soho, you can stumble into The Vintage Twin, and after a 30-second exchange with their “genius,” you’ll have a handful of denim to try on. By merely looking at your waist, she’s able to come up with a perfect fit, and her keen eye also powers her custom tailoring service. While the experience at The Vintage Twin is analog, the most innovative apparel and accessory brands have developed unique digital experiential approaches that provide unmatched expertise. Offering expert decision support ensures an emotional connection with the consumer — one-half of a winning experiential retail strategy. Ensuring every aspect of the transaction is rooted in convenience is the critical counterpart.
Online shopping has fueled the desire to conduct thorough pre- and intra-purchase research. Consumer confidence with all buying decision variables is crucial in the virtual buying process, but the physical buying process can be challenging to replicate in a satisfying way for shoppers. With machine learning, online platforms can more precisely mirror the in-person shopping experience. Physical platforms, in turn, should offer ample digital opportunities for consumers to carry out the research they desire. Digital tools that successfully reflect the person-to-person shopping relationship include virtual consultations, live chat (with actual brand experts or highly sophisticated AI), smart fit estimators, and collaborative shopping carts/sharing links. Research on its own works well in categories that aren't opinion-driven, but in apparel and accessories, being confident with a purchase may require another person's validation.
In-store, the opportunities to capitalize on this validation - or rejection - are abundant, but it's challenging to engage in the same way with smartphones. Savvy retailers are investing in the brand and product education of their sales associates. This investment makes for a satisfied shopper and is also a solid foundation for company culture. Giving store staff the appropriate technology to stay current on product attributes, launches, and inventory levels empowers staff to connect with customers. Additionally, more and more brick-and-mortar venues use QR codes and digital signage alongside each item to accommodate in-store research. Another way technology can support in-store research is during the try-on process. Now that foot traffic is picking up again, fitting room lines at some retailers have become a bottleneck. Store-owned smartphones or tablets stationed on the sales floor can be equipped with smart fit tools, and AR can be utilized to alleviate long wait times for dressing rooms.
Expertise is a differentiating factor in the quality of a retailer, but transactional touchpoints along the path to purchase are equally crucial in delivering a best-in-class experience. Reliance on Google has conditioned shoppers to expect high-caliber search functionality from go-to retailers. As a result, consumers are particular in what they're after and often have a specific visual image of a product in their mind's eye or a smartphone camera library. The most advanced retailers, both online and in-store, afford consumers the option to upload these images to their app or website to see the exact (or look-alike) item, along with information on the channels that can be used for purchase.
On the payments front, waiting in line for someone to be available at the cash register can be just as time-consuming and frustrating as self-checkout lines. In-store on-the-go scanning technology lets shoppers breeze through the buying phase as quickly as they're accustomed to online. This method is not only quick and easy, it's also a great way to incentivize shoppers to download the retailer's app if the scan-and-go technology is available on that platform. At the bottom of the funnel, the simpler it is for consumers to return items, the more positive their regard for the brand. Emailed receipts with links to return URLs that can be scanned via an app or website while at the store or a shipping outlet to create all the packaging needed for a return (whether online or offline), keeps the last step of the experience seamless.
Top-tier experiences in the apparel and accessories space ultimately come down to details that drive emotional connection and seamless transactions. Today, knowledge and passion are key ingredients when building lasting relationships with customers, while ease and speed ensure the utmost convenience. Fashion is an always-on category with inspiration and trends updating 24-7. Retailers serious about playing in this sector must demonstrate that they're consistently the best place to shop among the occasions they intend to own.