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technology trends shaping the future of retail innovation

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Exploring how different technological advances have changed the retail space and will continue to evolve and adapt to benefit consumer behaviour, business efficiency and garment production.

The use and benefits of technology within the fashion retail space have always been either relatively conservative or unacknowledged for its impressive impact on brand success. Experiencing the unchartered territory of a new decade in a post Covid- 19 world has incited a new appreciation for the ways technology has kept the fashion landscape alive; while also highlighting those who maybe should have jumped on the modern technology bandwagon sooner.

Companies are redesigning their business strategies and looking towards modern technological advances for help. Businesses are trading in the traditional route of reaching consumers from the pavement with awe-inspiring window displays or immersive in-store experiences for instead, finding ways to give people immersive experiences from the comfort and safety of their homes. By the end of 2019 B.C. (Before Corona), the global e-commerce market had sales of up to $3.5 trillion which made up 14% of global retail sales. With the major events that 2020 has thwarted at the world already this year forcing people to stay home, and nearing brick and mortar consumerism towards practical decimation (for the time being at least) it will be interesting to see how those statistics change.

Participating in the online market, however, will not save all brands from possible bankruptcy or extinction. Competitors online are in abundance. Advertising rates are higher. And the digital static is almost deafening. Keeping up with the latest trends in e-commerce, including both background efficiencies and foreground conversion, is more important now than ever. Below are the buzzing technology trends that are heading the e-commerce realm.


Mobile Commerce

Mobile commerce may seem to be one of the most obvious technologically advanced forms of buying things online; but in actuality it wasn’t too long ago that the smart phone was first released and yet it’s one of the fastest growing sectors of e-commerce. We’ve only explored the tip of the iceberg to what is possible from the palm of our hands, but it’s already quite impressive.

In The United States, it is estimated that more than half of customers use mobile devices to purchase goods. In Europe, that number increases to 55% of consumers using cellphones to shop and in China, a whopping 90% of consumers shop using their smartphones. This sort of engagement can be accredited to businesses conforming to updated shopping. Websites are made to be easily navigated for a small phone screens, payment is a breeze with the help of Apple and Android Pay, and accessibility is quite literally everywhere.

“The portability of smartphones is becoming the most important thing.” Said Jake Shepherd, GfK’s head of retail in Asia Pacific, said.

“For the first time, shopping doesn't have to just be at home. It doesn't just have to be in the office. You literally can shop anytime, anywhere and at any place as well.”

Having a medium available within an object that so many people have glued to them on a daily basis positively correlates to the amount of engagement a site receives; and more recently, the expansion of e-comm into social media has been even more effective in garnering hits to their digital platform.


Quick Data Analysis for Immediate Solutions

New software allows brands to receive real time feedback and alerts from brands and companies about damaged goods or product defects. This immediate relay time allows brands to make immediate changes after receiving an alert about a product, which in turn save brands money, eliminates waste and produce decent products in a timely manner. The management software company, IQMS, is the leading provider of manufacturing and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software systems utilised by brands for the rapid data analysis.

While quick information software is one avenue to improve customer engagement, cloud computing has also opened new paths for collaborative work. Shared data through a universal server allows factories, designers and companies to work together from all over the globe at the same time. This enables necessary parties to access relevant data, leaving space for a faster and more effective way of communicating.

Quicker data reviews allow companies to build a long-term partnership with its buyers based on trust and support. A company will be able to service the needs of its clients by achieving operational efficiency and effectiveness with an expanded global reach.


Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is a keystone to online retail innovation. A machine’s ability to learn and adopt intelligent human behaviour is nothing new, but advances in the algorithms are changing the way the industry collects information, performs skilled labour, and predicts consumer behaviour. Most importantly, the more advanced AI systems are capable of predicting themes in trend patterns, silhouettes, colours and styles, providing customer sentiment around products and runway images. Humans value experiences and products that have been tailored to them, which is typically taken away when running an online platform. Store clerks are not waiting at the door to assist you with questions, which is even more daunting when you can’t physically feel or see a garment. AI is the solution to this. It can be used to collect information about site visitors and subsequently help adjust the site towards that person’s wants or needs.

A San Francisco based company, Stitch Fix, delivers clothing to customers with the help of online stylists and is working with AI to help design garments created by algorithms that identify trends and designs that the company’s inventory is missing.

By incorporating personalised experiences online or in marketing efforts tend to have a strong effect on revenue.

Kaleigh Moore, freelance writer and e-comm specialist, sees AI-powered personalisation becoming more and more relevant.

“As brands harness and leverage more data, they’ll be able to create incredibly relevant experiences for shoppers that feel tailor-made.”

The British fashion label, Finery, uses AI as an automated outfit planning tool that, using analytics, is able to comprehend its email customer’s purchases and introduces them to a virtual closet. The platform allows women to create looks from their wardrobe and browse through over 10,000 shops. While the leading Fashion brand, Natori, used artificial intelligence to make smarter choices for their digital spending that resulted in a 76% increase in social media revenue.

Instead of solely relying on traditional ways of trend forecasting- which requires observation and data collection from fashion designers, trend spotters and influencers that can harbour human error - brands can instantly receive data that allows for planning the right styles and quantities in a more timely manner. Combining inventory tracking with AI’s powerful data prediction tools could give brands a significant competitive advantage.

Ron Smith, Editor in Chief of The Digital Outdoor, highlights how to intricacies of AI and the initiative to make it respond better to human emotion is increasingly important:

“People want to know that brands care about them, and AI will be programmed accordingly. We have currently seen the opposite behaviour on social media, where AIs learn from humans’ more negative remarks, but it’s highly likely that consumers will crave the impact. If bots can learn how to form sentences to convey an emotion, companies can soon teach them to offer comfort and products based on customers’ moods.”


Augmented and Virtual Reality

Some of the most exciting and innovative technological advances occur under the augmented and virtual reality umbrella. For brands to be able to to combine the physical and online worlds of retail can sound like a pipe dream to some, but it is here and is readily available. Trying on clothes digitally and accurately sounds like something you’d see Marty McFly do in a new Back To The Future film, but it’s not. Augmented reality technology is enabling customers to virtually enjoy the perks of an in-store dressing room without even having to stand up.

Avametric is a company who uses an eco-system of 3D visualisation tools that allows brands to produce accurate 3D renderings of their products on customisable digital bodies for media and e- commerce. et voila, a virtual fitting room is produced.

Augmented and virtual reality can be (and have been) used as a marketing tool as well. In 2016, Demna Gvasalia conducted her debut show for Balenciaga that was presented over a 360 degree virtual reality livestream, accessible via tablets and smartphones using a custom app.

These technological trends are much more advanced in the tech field than what we have seen in fashion so far, there is so much more potential to use augmented and virtual reality and it will be interesting to see how the use of these applications evolves over time.


3D Printing

3D printing is the chief of technological innovation within the fashion landscape. It has the potential to allow on-demand production and reveal new avenues for customisation, sustainability and creativity. 3D printing can produce garments with shapes and draping that are almost impossible to produce using the human hand. It can print fabrics and use materials that can’t be moulded by hand the way they were by the printer adding an extra element of artistry to the garment designs.

Iris Van Herpen, a pioneer of 3D printing in high fashion, is the only designer to show at the Haute Couture fashion weeks to employ modern and sophisticated technologies for her garments and their presentations. But dating back to 2010, the designer has been using 3D printers to create intricate designs using materials like white polyamide. Polyamide is typically found in the fabric, nylon and is a hard plastic. White polyamide can’t be draped using a traditional hand or machine stitched method, and the only way Van Herpen was able to produce her initial 3D printed garment was by using such technological advances.

Similarly, digital knitting is becoming more advanced. Because 3D printing and digital knitting can offer a multitude of customisation opportunities, more companies are turning to digital outlets to produce a practically perfect garment with every print in a timely manner. The manufacturer, Shima Seiki uses digital knitting machines to turn cones of yarn into a complete, seamless garment in less than an hour.

Analysing these technology trends and implementing technology has and will continue to help many fashion businesses globally to adapt and respond faster to the ever-changing challenges faced by the industry.


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