Keeping up with consumer retail

Two brands at the forefront of technology and innovation in the fashion retail industry.

Amazon is the biggest retail behemoth of our time. From its humble beginnings as an online marketplace for books, Amazon has grown exponentially over the last 25 years. With an annual turnover in excess of £136 billion, over the years it had diversified into selling consumer products across many categories including electronics, homewares, toys, sports equipment, car parts and even food and drink; whilst also introducing their own products and services including the Kindle, Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime streaming service.

Amazon and the fashion industry

 

Until recently, even though they had a clothing department, it is not an area of the business they were particularly well-known, or popular, for. Their giant warehouse come clearance sale approach – whilst hugely successful in other areas of their business – does not translate well to the fashion industry. As an online fashion retailer, it does not have the same reputation or pull of the likes of Net-a-Porter, ASOS, Missguided, Boohoo and Gymshark, or as established fashion brands with a strong internet presence.

However, this could all be changing soon. Fashion is currently Amazon’s second fastest-growing category, with ambitious plans to take an even larger market share of this highly lucrative industry. With their Prime next day delivery service offered on many items, trials of same-day delivery by drone and plentiful stock availability, Amazon could very quickly become a huge player in the industry.

How can Consumer retail brands compete

One brand who seems to be taking the Amazon challenge seriously is Zara. Part of Inditex, the world’s largest apparel retailer, Zara are considered to be market leaders in fast-fashion, understanding the consumers’ demands and dropping relevant products in stores within a matter of weeks. Even with this success, they are a relative newcomer to the ecommerce world, only launching their transactional website for fashion in 2010 – way behind many of their rivals. However, in this time they have fought hard to catch up with their competitors, making great strides in utilising technology to compliment and enhance their traditional bricks and mortar offerings.

Zara: ahead of the curve

For a few months this year, Zara opened the world’s first ‘online-only’ store in London’s Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. A temporary move whilst their flagship store was closed for refurbishment, the pop-up was manned with staff with mobile devices, ready to assist customers in ordering the clothes they were looking for. The pop-up also used cutting-edge technology in their mirrors, which would recommend available coordinating items in the customer’s size, when a product was scanned. Same day delivery and collection was also available on orders placed before 2pm, or next day delivery if ordered after 2pm.

In April this year, Zara launched an augmented reality app, which was a huge shake up to the traditional shopping experience in store. After downloading the app, you simply point your phone at the store windows or AR sensors in store and watched models come to life on your phone screen, walking around and modelling the clothes, in place of traditional mannequins. With a simple “shop the look” option on screen, customers could then easily tap to buy the outfit modelled on screen to them. It caused a big splash, not just in the industry but made tabloid and national headline news and provided Zara with lots of free press coverage. Whether this was just a big publicity stunt to generate column inches or was a genuine attempt to combine interactive, experiential technology with a traditional shopping experience remains to be seen, but it is certainly a more innovative approach than has been taken by their competitors.

Technology at the forefront

Once their new flagship store reopened in May this year, technology was at the forefront of the new store concept. Self service checkouts which register an item when you hold it up (no need to find a barcode), order-collecting robots at click and collect points and mirrors with in-built hologram technology, showing customers how individual items would look as a complete outfit (someone at Zara has been re-watching Clueless…) were all exciting new features designed to combine technology with an easier and enjoyable in-store experience for consumers.

Making headlines again recently, Zara have announced plans to implement a new shipping strategy, meaning that customers will be able to order items not just from centralised warehouses, but from their local stores, if they have the stock available. Designed to reduce occurrences of customers falling in love with an item, only to see the dreaded “out of stock” notification next to their size, it is also expected to help customers receive their orders more quickly and help Zara to manage their inventory levels.

Spurred on, no doubt, by Amazon encroaching into the fashion industry; fast and convenient delivery, combined with stock availability is going to be a key challenge for traditional fashion retailers in the coming months. Zara are ahead of the curve this time and have plans to roll this strategy out globally by the end of the year. Other fashion retailers should take note and begin implementing processes so that they can weather the storm Amazon is about to bring to the industry.

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