The super-swish One Embankment played host to Decoded Fashion’s 2014 London summit; an event that brought together fashionistas, tech geeks, entrepreneurs and many in between with one common focus: how emerging technologies are ‘writing the future’ of fashion and how brands can, and indeed should, be embracing them, both on- and off-line.
The all-day event, co-hosted by Decoded Fashion’s founder, the incredibly charming Liz Bacelar, and TechCrunch’s (equally charming) editor at large Mike Butcher, covered a range of topics - from the challenges of creating personalised brand experience at scale to the ROI of fit technologies to the way in which brands can leverage new affiliate opportunities presented by online publishers. All, of course, topped off with a handful of presentations from companies doing some seriously cool things in the fashion tech space.
Here are our key takeaways from the event.
People over platforms
Personalising the customer experience was a topic that often surfaced in discussion, with interesting points made about striking a balance between people-centric and disruption-centric approaches to innovation.
In an impassioned keynote speech, Facebook’s Tracy Yaverbaun brought the (somewhat surprising) warning of the dangers of focussing on disruptive technologies and platforms instead of the people using them. “We now have the tools to make business and marketing personal again”, she commented. “We need to market to people, not cookies”.
For Rosanna Falconer of Matthew Williamson, creating a bespoke experience that makes customers feel valued and special is key. When she joined the luxury retailer, she took over all of the company’s customer service channels; now if anyone has an issue, they can contact her directly, and she personally responds to queries on the designer’s Instagram feed with her email address. Though admitting this was a ‘very manual’ way of doing things, when questioned over its scalability, she responded “I think it has to be scalable. I follow ASOS, for example, one of the biggest fashion retailers, and I've noticed they conduct a very similar policy on their Instagram...you’d be missing an absolute trick if you weren't responding to these comments.”
Giving customers a personalised shopping experience was at the heart of discussion about emerging ‘fit’ technologies. Not only were brands like Metail and Fits.me boasting significantly reduced return rates, but collaborations between highstreet retailers and fit technology pioneers like True Fit were helping in-store stylists make better recommendations.
Big data is (still) a big deal
Unsurprisingly, talk often turned to meaningful ways in which brands can use the data that they collect on customers.
Natalie Thng of Temperley commented that brands often get ‘bogged down’ in data - that they should instead focus on what drives their business and use data to drive KPIs. Ultimately, she said, you have to show customers the “right products, at the right price point and at the right time”.
According to Elaine Cook of Intel, many brands struggle with turning data into actionable business decisions. Brands should start by identifying problems, and then figure out how data can help solve them, she advised. Elaine used social media microtrends as an interesting example of how brands are using data from social and blogger channels to predict what would be popular in-store. On a ‘less-glamorous’ note, she highlighted the growing need for brands to be aware of the responsibility they have for keeping customer data safe.
Tracy Yaverbaun spoke of the need to create an ‘insights first, insights fast’ approach, using data-driven insights to make decisions, and highlighting customer segmentation as a means of doing this - something that’s “not happening enough in fashion”.
Customers want to feel ‘part of the gang’
Social media has fundamentally altered the way in which brands approach customer loyalty. There was a lot of talk at the conference about turning customers into ‘brand ambassadors’ through online communities.
The consumers Sarah Watson of Net-A-Porter targets are people who tend to be on the move - global travellers. For her, being able to connect with consumers wherever they are in the world is important. Moreover, social commerce is a big deal; networks like Instagram turning people into brand ambassadors and creating ‘style tribes’, with people no longer basing their style on their close social network, but on what could be a picture from the other side of the world.
The idea of consumers as brand ambassadors was echoed by José de Cabo, whose platform Olapic effectively crowd sources images from across the internet for brands to make use of.
For Rosanna Falconer, brands must recreate the ‘part of the gang’ feel by creating a lifestyle that people can buy into that is inherent in all content they produce. The idea of VIP clubs, she said, has been around for ages; brands just need to find a way of recreating this online - for example, at Matthew Williamson, if someone makes a large online purchase they receive a hand-signed note from Matthew himself.
Devices are decisive
Mobile was a predictable hot topic, with many speakers talking of the challenges retailers face ‘joining the dots’ between on- and off-line customer visits.
Elaine Cook cited research that found that a fairly shocking 36 per cent of UK brands don’t have a mobile-optimised website.
Daniel Bobroff made the bold assertion that we should stop referring to mobile as the ‘second screen’, we should refer to it as the ‘only screen’.
Emily Cotton of digital signage company Vivid spoke about a future in which RFID and bluetooth technology will allow retailers to track consumers around their store - something that, when linked to their CRM systems, could be used to track them online too.
5 seriously cool fashion tech startups from #DFLondon you should check out:
1) Leap Motion - an incredible controller that tracks both hands and all 10 fingers, letting you navigate, zoom, click (and more) in mid air.
3) Viewsy - this technology captures passive data from customers’ mobile phones in-store giving important insight into customer activity.
4) Dash Hudson - a cool platform aimed at time-poor, fashion-conscious twenty-something guys, matching them with stylists and making recommendations about the clothes they should be wearing.
5) Browzwear - this fashion design technology lets designers create pieces in glorious 3D, helping them get creative, and also shortening time-to-market.