MOBILE TECHNOLOGIES CHANGING THE WAY FASHION COMPANIES DO BUSINESS
In today’s retail and apparel industries, mobile technologies are vital to the success of both new and established fashion companies. By the end of 2017, over 2 billion people will have made a purchase using a mobile device. Here are some eye-opening facts about mobile usage:
- 80% of internet users own a smartphone.
- Global mobile website traffic has increased from 31.16% in 2015 to 52.21% in 2017.
- Conversion rates are up 64% on smartphones in comparison to desktop.
- Over 60% of consumers are unlikely to return to an inaccessible mobile site.
- When searching for a local company on a mobile device, 88% of consumers will call or go to the company within 24 hours.
- 61% of employees conduct parts of their work outside of the office.
The implications are clear. Fashion companies that do not embrace the current global mobile climate are at risk of alienating their consumers and slowing down their workforce. A business model that does not accommodate mobile consumers will lose out on sales because of poor customer mobile experience, personalization, and a lack of targeted marketing. But before a fashion enterprise invests in end-user mobile experience and mobile marketing strategies, core business processes must first be mobile-enabled. Apparel designers, manufacturers, and suppliers must leverage mobile technologies to speed internal business operations.
Mobile PLM - Product Lifecycle Management
In the last few years, fashion and apparel industries have been introduced to a mobile version of the PLM application that they use daily. Mobile PLM is in demand because the apparel industry commonly distributes and manufactures globally. This means that its logistical operations cannot be confined to an office desk. Due to accelerated fashion cycles, fashion suppliers and retailers must rely on the mobile connectivity of PLM to upload information and images, communicate with designers, and maintain workflows in real-time. Tedious tasks like bulk data entry are now more evenly paced. You can upload an image into the PLM database at the moment you snapped it. This saves you from waiting to get back to the office to upload all the gathered images in batches, getting a head-start on subsequent processes like new style production, and Tech Pack generation. For example, a photo taken at a Milan runway is received and processed by designers in New York City; the design is then sent off to a production team in China — all in a matter of hours.
In the near future, employees should be using QR codes and utlra connected PLM integrations at the store level to communicate with designers about which garments are selling well, which are not, and what reasons they are being returned (e.g. fit issues or damages). The decisions the designer makes for the next fashion cycle are then heavily informed by detailed retailer input, designing, in turn, more popular and better-selling apparel, footwear, and accessories.
Mobile ERP - Enterprise Resource Management
It doesn’t take much to imagine what effect mobile access to an ERP system is having. It streamlines expense reporting, displays live KPI dashboards, and essentially has the activities of your fashion business at your fingertips. Alerts to potential problems such as depleted inventory, low vendor capacity, and accounting issues are received immediately and responded to straight away. Moreover, decisions to dispatch deliveries or cancel orders altogether are made on the spot based on current information.
Connected to the Sales Force Automation tool, mobile salespersons are fully equipped with up to date information, in real-time, in order to correctly answer customer questions about inventory, payments, and shipment statuses. The ability to have such information on hand during sales, rather than pausing a meeting to conduct calls to the home office, is invaluable for businesses to negotiate and make B2B deals.
To further the seamlessness of the product management and supply chain process, QR codes and RFID tags are used to swiftly index and instantaneously identify warehouse stock and monitoring retail inventory, preventing costly errors and contributing to the core goal of speed and connectivity of mobile PLM.
When a fashion company’s foundational business operations become leaner because of mobile integrations, it is now time to implement more advanced mobile technologies that are specifically targeted to fashion retail marketing and commerce. While mobile technologies are still in their early stages in the fashion market, great strides have nevertheless been taken for more targeted and personalized promotion and customer service.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR)
AI technologies are instrumental to a fashion retailer’s two most fundamental goals: customer service and speed. Today, real-time insights generated by AI are used to set the schedules of customer service activity, resulting in high response rates. Customer service is becoming highly intuitive, interactive, and instructive. More than product, personalized virtual service is driving sales. AI powered customer service is increasingly configured to generate natural human language from computer data and vice versa; virtual agents are learning to digest human speech and transform it into computer data. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of human-company interactions will be through AI technologies, such as chat bots.
On a related note, Augmented Reality is currently being used to enhance customer experience. AR enables retailers to present rich, virtual experiences to raise their brand’s profile and foster customer engagement. The fashion brand, Uniqlo, is taking advantage of the technology; in some of their brick and mortar stores, Uniqlo uses a ‘magic mirror’ that works as a virtual dressing room where shoppers virtually try on clothing with different colours.
Location-Based Services (LBS)
Today, with Location-Based Services technology, fashion retailers know where their clients are and are mapping their preferred shopping areas. Apparel retailers are using technologies like LBS to target customers more precisely than ever before using behavioural patterns acquired through mobile devices. Companies are gaining insight into mobile customer information such as daily routines, shopping times, and spending habits. Furthermore, LBS provides a way for fashion companies and their customers to stay in constant communication, even on the go. In fact, almost half of searches conducted on mobile devices are locally focused. Customers are ‘checking-in’ at retail stores, giving feedback and reviews, and fostering an overall connection to one another, creating an immediacy that can only be formed through LBS technology.
Beacons and Geofencing
New mobile technologies are making marketing more personalized and customized than ever before. Beacons, like Google’s Eddystone or Apple’s iBeacon, are small sensors that are placed in brick and mortar retail stores that connect to customers’ smartphones and push content to them. This means that fashion retailers can send commercial content (product inception stories, product uses, ecological footprint, etc.) to the customer’s mobile device. Furthermore, depending on which department of the store they are shopping in, they can send relevant coupons directly to the phone of the customer standing in the running-shoes section, for example. In fact, customers are ten times more likely to redeem a mobile offer than print ones.
Moreover, geofencing technologies allow retailers within a larger zone to send ads and deals to customers at a neighbouring store. It would be possible for the same customer that is perusing the footwear section of one store, to receive notifications of a sale happening at the competing shoe store next door.
Fashion retail mobile sites are more optimized for shopping and are faster than ever before thanks to better and broader LTE data connections. To complement this, there are now a multitude of channels through which customers are making their purchases. According to BigCommerce, an overwhelming 96% of mobile users in the U.S. alone have made a purchase online; 80% of which have shopped online in the past month. Fashion retailers are encouraging customer to install their native mobile app, wherein the retailer displays its inventory and offers promotions. The most exciting example of this is Amazon Go. Amazon Go combines machine learning, computer vision, and AI technologies to detect products selected at the brick and mortar location, and automatically bills the shopper. Effectively, the customer can grab items they want off the shelf then simply exit the store.
Other mobile customer services include store points cards and targeted offers sent by SMS such as coupons to be claimed at checkout. The host of advertising paths that mobile technologies afford fashion retailers are also combined with a plethora of purchasing avenues for consumers. This marriage of technologies makes for a satisfying customer experience that is predicated on instant gratification.
Mobile technologies can be a double-edged sword for a fashion retailer. On the one hand, security and privacy issues present real challenges. On the other, with the help of mobile technologies, your fashion business’ day-to-day operations are unshackled from a fixed location, allowing you to operate faster and more efficiently. Additionally, satisfaction is heightened when customers are engaged and invested in your brand, are sent personalized offers, and have easy access to mobile purchasing channels. Ultimately, mobile shopping technologies are only going to improve and consumer usage is going to increase over time; invest in mobile strategies for your business’ future, today.