That’s the view of Lana Hopkins, CEO and founder of Mon Purse, a brand which is using technology to empower customers to design their own handbags.
Hopkins believes retailers are only at the very beginning of the technology journey.
“In the next five to 10 years we will see a mountain of new technology evolve,” she anticipates. “In particular, as the customisation trend continues to evolve, the ability to replicate online the most accurate render of the end product is vital, as will be the virtual reality technology that shows how the product will look on a customer before they purchase it. If you can’t get this right, you will be left behind.”
But, at the end of the day, Hopkins said it was still all about connection.
“If you think about the way advertising and online brand content is evolving, one of the worst things a brand can do today is not empathise with its audience. People want to see themselves in a brand, they want a brand to understand them. Retail should embrace this. We should be with our customers, alongside them, not coming from the top down. We should be travelling with them across platforms, reaching them wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.”
Similarly, Will Rogers, co-founder of Kent & Lime, which provides an online advisor to hand select clothes for men, told Inside Retail Weekly that the ability to offer legitimate personalisation comes down to, “data, technology and execution working together”.
“Deeper still, customers want to be surprised, but surprised naturally,” Rogers told Inside Retail Weekly. “Here at Kent & Lime, we capture about 40-50 points of data about a customer, from fashion to sizes, what they need to hobbies. We map all our products so they correlate with attributes on a customer’s profile. We’re able to understand the social environment they’re in and the specific activities they do so to affect the clothing they wear. Basically, it’s behavioural economics and understanding the emotional intent of a customer.
“This isn’t just an algorithm. It works back with a real person to create that bond. Once the bond is created, customers can choose if they want more automation or a more hands-on experience with a style advisor. Creating this bond reduces customer dissidence and increases brand awareness and loyalty.”
On demand manufacturing
Gary Elphick, co-founder of customised sports equipment manufacturer, Disrupt, said big data offered his company huge opportunities on two levels, starting with production control.
“We have enough data for some of product lines that we know what you’re going to order before you do. So we’re already ordering you materials and cutting your blanks, just waiting for you to purchase,” he said. “Whilst a little creepy, it helps us shorten the time it takes to get products to you and creates just another wow moment. We’re already half the time of the rest of the market in our surf line.”
The second opportunity is in design optimisation.
“We’re not overly advanced in this area currently, but we do have the engine running waiting for the right time. This includes real-time search monitoring for new breakout design and materials trends, its demographics design preference and even city and seasonality. The data we collect and will end up using simply makes your life easier serving more relevant design and product date to you.”
Elphick believes it is all about using technology to add targeted value for customers. “Rather than just design, it’s about making complex structures simple and solving big problems, like shoes that aren’t in your size and width, or surfboards that aren’t the right volume or don’t take into account your weight distribution.
“The change isn’t just what you see as a consumer – that is, easy interactive sports equipment design platforms. Rather, the real transformational change is what happens behind the scenes with on demand manufacturing – the ability to use technology to innovate the supply chain, turning large scale manufacturers to agile and lean, empowering them to create ‘one at scale’.”
Hopkins suggests that technology would aid innovation in everything from payments to shipping, from product visualisation to packaging.
“Given the SAS that exists out there, I would also suggest you will see some of these businesses come together so as to own more of the retail value chain and deliver a product that allows the retailer to deal with fewer service providers and seek more end to end solutions.”
Rogers expects that the use of technology to foster personalisation and customisation would continue to grow. “This will, if done well, ultimately save the commodity we can’t buy – time,” he said.
“For me, fashion is a real sleeping giant due to the width and rapid turnover of product and styles. I believe that both online and stores need to move away from simply displaying their product to becoming more relevant with the offer. Customers want choice, but when they have to do most of the work to distil a purchase it becomes a hassle, confusing and time consuming. Customers are great at consuming, and while as retailers we want them to buy, we also want them to come back. The real lever for this is customer experience and relevance. For example, we want to know our customers are getting clothes that work and complement what they have already. If a customer knows you’ve got their back and helping them get real value from a purchase, they’ll return.”
Looking ahead, Elphick predicts that a future market opportunity will be distributed manufacturing so that, “the goods arrived at your home before you did”.
“Not 3D printed plastic polymers, but mini agile manufacturing locally in each town or suburb so that we’re no longer forcing customers to buy things and are instead making what they want and when they want,” he said.
“The biggest opportunities for retailers are to look at their assets and how to make the most of them. Indeed, 85 per cent of sales are still instore with a huge amount of footfall and a very active community. If they leverage that and work with good partners, good logistics and materials suppliers and good customisation platforms, they can disrupt themselves in the same way Domino’s has.”