Digitization came to the sector to stay. Throughout the year, MDS will publish a series of reports sponsored by Facebook that will analyse how several technological transformations have generated new ways of operating fashion companies and, especially, new ways of interacting with the consumer in the new omnichannel environment, where technologies such as Internet, mobile phones, the Internet of things, social networks or big data come into play.
From dialling four numbers to contact Customer Service to receiving a WhatsApp message from a brand. The digital transformation that the fashion industry is going through has impacted on logistics, distribution processes and the product, but above all on one of the mainstays of the sector: the relationship with the customer.
In the new omnichannel environment, which includes multiple elements such as the Internet, big data, artificial intelligence or robotization, the interaction points between the brand and the customer have given a twist. From an ad on Facebook to the web, going through a group of WhatsApp, the showcase of a store or an image shared on Instagram, the customer journey, that is, the journey in the decision of the client to purchase from a fashion brand has today many more interaction points.
“The revolution is complete,” explains the expert Luis Lara, founder of the consultancy Retalent. “For decades, the relationship between the client and the brand was very business-led,” says Lara. In the past, the customer always followed three steps when purchasing: a first consideration when they thought to acquire an article, a second phase of evaluation, which took place in the store, and then, the decision of buying or not.
The consideration, the evaluation and the purchase were the three steps in the process of obtaining a product before digitalization
Nowadays, with all the stimuli that the client receives, the customer journey has changed and, although these three steps still exist, the micro-moments have been extended and the client has the ability to express themselves more and through different platforms. “The complexity is that the client is not as controllable as before,” says Lara.
The first factor that has changed in the customer journey is the communication between the customer and the brand. “Before, it stayed in the private sphere between the shop assistant and the consumer,” explains Enrique Bretos, founder of the footwear company Pisamonas. “Now the conversation is in a public space where there can be many participants.”
The interaction between the brand and the customer has fundamentally changed in the sense in which the information is handled. “The consumer is much more trained and informed,” points out Luis Gestal, General Manager of Antony Morato in Spain. The manager states that social networks and sharing information publicly has been one of the keys to the transformation of the customer journey. “Social networks in terms of communication channel have made the context expand beyond an immediate environment,” notes Gestal.
In addition, the opening of the communication channel has also made the purchase process go from being something individual to being part of a joint decision among many players. “The purchase is no longer unidirectional,” underlines Lara. Social networks have made that the first point of contact between the customer and the brand does not start in the store, but in another area, different for each client, so that brands have to pay great attention to their strategy.
When the customer has already established contact and evaluated the offer of the brand, the next step takes place: the purchase. This process, which previously consisted of two steps, has now become much more complex with the irruption of technologies. From an app in the mobile phone, from the website, in the store, in the store but online, online but in store...
“There are no common patterns that repeat, each client makes a particular journey from their own experience,” analyses Bretos. “There is no standard purchasing process now,” says Gestal. The key is to monitor the phases and to analyse when the client decides to invest their money in the brand, and then work on a strategy.
One of the changes brought by the Internet is the fact that the customer is much more informed
Experts point out that there are no common patterns or profiles or paths for each customer, each purchase or even each segment or type of product. The customer journey is also different in a company specialized in the bridal sector or in the footwear industry, and the sale of a car requires more time than that of a purse.
The key is, according to the experts, to make use of the technologies, the same ones that have transformed the process, in order to identify the needs of each consumer. Data analysis, artificial intelligence or robotics will serve to not standardize sales, soften the barriers between the client and the brand and implement an almost individualized strategy.
The customer journey, now that it has become so complex, has several challenges to face. “The first one is to be coherent in all the communications,” says Jaime Garrastazu, founder of Pompeii. “Brands must give the same message in all the channels where it is present,” he adds, “because otherwise, apart from confusing the consumer, it loses credibility.”
Coherence in all the channels in another challenge for brands when communicating
Currently, the second challenge faced by fashion companies when connecting with the customer is the physical integration with the online and adjustment of the routines that were the usual in the processes. For instance, the way of operating physical stores has become extremely complex and must meet the expectations of each client. “There are some who are in a hurry and prefer to charge themselves, others take their time to consult the clerk, others who do not go with a fixed idea of product...,” says Lara. “Omnichannel has created different customer profiles and brands must learn how to deal with each one,” summarizes Lara.
Softening the friction points in the customer journey is another issue that fashion companies have to face. By expanding the contact points between the customer and the brand, the points where the customer may feel uncomfortable and stop buying have also widened. The most common cases are returns, queues or blockage of mobile apps.
It is not easy to find disruptive companies that have changed the methodology, there are new models, but in general without much success. “The challenge is in changing the mindset on the way of purchasing, since it is nothing more than a cultural or rooted issue,” points out Bretos. Ten years ago nobody thought that buying online fashion was something reasonable, and now it is the sales channel that grows the most.
Experts agree that the customer is, or should be, the centre of brand strategy. The question is to make life easier for the client through contact and convenience, since everything revolves, starts and ends in the client and fashion companies must anticipate their wishes to create ad hoc solutions “in order to be able to build loyalty, if that word exists in the 21st century,” says Gestal.
To that end, the most important thing is to know who the consumer is, to whom the product is sold and to try to define it so that it enters the universe of the brand. Because, according to Luis Lara, “now, the value of the client is not to buy, but to influence, to repeat the cycle, to speak and generate notoriety.”