With commerce transactions completed on mobiles and tablets expected to total $114 billion in the U.S. by the end of the year, and the number of smartphone users estimated to reach 5.9 billion in the next five years (according to research firm Forrester and Ericsson, respectively), investing in mobile commerce is a no brainer — even for the late adopters of the fashion world. The abundance of increasingly smarter (and cheaper) mobile devices targeted to an audience that is always online is rapidly transforming a lot of sectors and it certainly can't leave fashion unaffected. And while there's plenty of opportunity for the discerning marketer, such as taking of advantage of tools like geo-targeting and push notifications, all these developments come with a lot of challenges. From offering customers a seamless multichannel shopping experience to making sure that a luxury brand's allure is strong even when one is experiencing it on the go, there's a lot of issues that need to be addressed. We try to shed some light on this brave, new mobile world and get a better understanding of how the rules are being, once again, rewritten for the fashion brands.
Fashion retailers like Net-A-Porter have put great effort in creating content-rich websites that feel like online magazines — and are best viewed on a big screen. How can this high-quality content be transferred to a mobile phone screen? What are the alternatives?
You have to think about how to create rich and emotional experiences on smartphones differently. Because of the small screen real estate of smartphones, 50 percent of the experience is about the quality of the content you create, 50 percent about how you display it. UI/UX and gestures play such a big role in triggering emotions on mobile. Facebook Paper is an example of an app that has nailed just that — every single interaction and content display has been executed in an innovative way that makes the overall app experience delightful. You browse through content seamlessly, and you’re delighted by every single interaction and gesture. That, to me, is emotion on a small screen.
What are the biggest challenges for luxury companies trying to offer an effortless mobile browsing and shopping experience to demanding customers worldwide? Can luxury truly fit into a small screen?
Luxury HAS to fit into a small screen. From discovery, to intent-based or impulse-based purchases, all of shopping is moving to mobile — demanding customers or not. Research shows that the top retailers in the U.S. are already seeing at least a 50 percent increase in mobile revenue. The challenge for luxury to get there? Talent and culture. Luxury is stuck in its traditional ways. Luxury brands need to move quicker and hire people who do both online branding/storytelling and ‘elevated’ e-commerce right. My biggest concern for the luxury industry is that it will miss out on one of the most important demographics. Millennials are using mobile for 90 percent of their discovery — if luxury brands are not there to reach them, I’m concerned about their future.
You said recently that push notifications are the most underrated channel of e-commerce. Could you give us a few examples of how retailers can benefit from them?
Smartphones’ home screens are the most valuable piece of real estate for marketers because it is the most intimate communication channel, and the users who allow retailers in that space are likely to be the most valuable to them. For both reasons, push notifications are highly efficient. Retailers have noticed and are thinking hard about their push notifications strategy and investing in the platforms that support them. Push notifications are most powerful when in context (sent at the right time, on the right device, with personalised content). An example of folks who do it well: the music app Jukely sends you push notifications about concerts of artists you like, and suggests Facebook friends who like the same artist and could go with you. Incredibly efficient. Very much like email, push notifications are also powerful when leveraged for both engagement AND re-engagement. Often retailers don’t realise the potential of push notifications for re-engagement, that’s why mobile CRM tools like Kahuna have emerged to help. For example, retailers could target users who haven’t visited the app in 30 days with a ‘New collection now on sale’ push notification.
How do you see the race for the universal, one-click-to-buy checkout developing? Who are the strongest players?
Facebook, Apple, Google, PayPal, Amazon, everyone is at it. They’ll either partner up to make it happen (there are rumours of a partnership between PayPal and Apple) or go at it solo (Amazon, likely). With 575 million registered iTunes users of which they have registered payment information, it’s a no brainer for Apple. Today you can buy apps or make in-app purchases in one click from your phone, you should be able to do the same on commerce apps. It hasn’t been a priority for Apple to implement it...until now. Facebook just released ‘Autofill with Facebook”, a feature that lets customers pull in credit card, billing and shipping info stored on the platform. PayPal might partner with Apple and Google for it and release their own product as well.
It seems that personalisation is key when it comes to mobile commerce. What kind of services do you see happening based on this need?
Mobile has brought another layer to personalisation: context. Now it matters what you do, where you are, the device you are engaging on, etc. So I see mobile challenging retailers to redefine personalisation based on context. Walmart is a good use case: when users enter a Walmart store, the app turns into an ‘in-store’ mode, delivers coupons for that store personalised to you, shows you in which aisle to find items on your shopping list, etc.
What's the one thing that fashion retailers need to stop doing when it comes to their mobile commerce strategy?
We’re at the dawn of mobile commerce and cards have yet to be distributed; this is such an exciting time. Fashion retailers should embrace this opportunity. They should be innovating more, experimenting more and being open to reinventing themselves through mobile. 90 percent of them offer mobile experiences that are undifferentiated and a simple extension of the desktop experience.
According to American entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen, “Retail guys are going to go out of business, and e-commerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice.” Do you agree with this notion and if so, why?
For commodity items — yes, absolutely. E-commerce offers lower prices and much greater convenience for users (especially with same-day and free delivery becoming the norm), there’s nothing the offline guys will be able to do to compete. But the story of Warby Parker or Bonobos proves that Andreessen is wrong to some degree, as both retailers had to launch offline channels to find scale. “There is a problem in being online-only, which is: it’s not a great service experience to not be able to try on clothes before you buy them, if that’s what you want to do,” said Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos. For non-commodity items experience matters a lot, sometimes for tangible reasons like the need for customers to touch the fabric or ensure the fit is right.
As e-commerce continues to grow, how do you see physical retail spaces responding to this challenge? Do they need to focus more on creating concepts and offering a richer in-store experience?
To be able to compete with the convenience of online, offline is reinventing itself and focusing on ‘experiences’ — unique, emotional experiences that create a deeper relationship with customers. The explosion of pop-up stores and the rise of new concept stores like NYC’s Story or Urban Outfitter’s Urban Complex in Williamsburg prove that.
Do you believe that Facebook or Pinterest could offer an integrated shopping experience? Do you think they will give it a try?
They will, for the following reasons: 1) They’ll get more data about what users actually buy on their platforms. And they can leverage that data in a million ways, including better targeting. 2) It’s a new revenue stream for them. 3) It’s better for their merchants: less friction with increased conversion rates. 4) Most importantly, it’s a much better experience for their users, who will no longer be taken to third-party sites to checkout.
We see brands becoming publishers and publishers stepping into retail sales (for example, the Telegraph’s “Fashion Shop”). Is this the beginning of a new era for these industries? How do you see the relationship between media and retailers developing in the future?
It’s difficult for brands to succeed at editorial because it’s very expensive, and publishers often can’t do commerce because users who’re browsing publishing platforms have zero purchasing intent and it’s hard to get them to buy. I’m wondering if the issue is not how we think about editorial but how we determine if it is relevant in our time of personalisation, immediacy, visual and bite-size, mobile-optimised content. Are shop-able Instagrams, Pinterests or fashion blogs the future of editorial, or is there an alternative? I think there is one — I’d love to speak to anyone who has ideas about this!
Are there any online trends that have the potential to disrupt fashion?
Social shopping is already here but will take a whole new dimension when Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook will add a commerce layer to their platforms. Chat commerce (commerce happening through messaging platforms like WeChat or Line) is going to explode as well; fashion brands are already marketing and selling through those in China. The sharing economy has already disrupted a number of services industries — taxis, hotels — and is coming to markets of ‘things’, including fashion. I can think about ten different platforms that have emerged in the past three or four years (ThredUP, Threadflip, Poshmark, The RealReal, Twice, Vinted, etc.) that allow users to monetise their closets through resale or rent. I think 3D printing and personalisation of goods are next.
Which are the top five fashion-related start-ups that you are watching closely at the moment?
Poshmark, a leading unmanaged consumer-to-consumer fashion marketplace. The engagement of their community is terrific and they have a really solid mobile experience. ASAP54, the ‘Shazam of fashion’. It’s rare to see new products, business models or technologies that have the potential to disrupt this vertical, but this is one of them. Everlane, one of my favourite fashion labels. Their brand story is amazing. Vestiaire Collective, a leading managed consumer-to-consumer fashion marketplace. The quality inventory is unparalleled; they’ve built an amazing brand and product curation. JelloLabs, they haven’t launched but will soon, and I bet that’s going to be quite disruptive.