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  • 10 Dec

Getting closer to the source?

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Alan Morris, Chairman of Retail Assist

Imagine a time when retailers only buy what they know they will sell; no more overstocking; no experimental lines failing to deliver results; just products that customers are eagerly waiting to buy. Is this only possible in the far off world of “Retail Utopia”?

Do you remember when customers created their own desire to acquire things? They went to their preferred store, selected what they wanted, made their purchase and returned home. It’s different today. I buy things that I didn’t even know I wanted (let alone needed). Once the seed germinates, I explore the world looking at my options: what to buy, where to buy it from, how much to pay, how to have it delivered. Why? Because retailers are constantly seeding my mind with ideas of the things I could buy. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and increasingly Periscope, are all free-to-air media channels that I subscribe to, not for retail therapy but for day-to-day brand communications.

Using social as an influencer in retail has become an arena for creative innovation. Through various channels, fashion brands have gradually opened their exclusive doors to the consumer. A great example is Burberry, who recently initiated a “fashion first” by premiering its Spring/Summer ‘16 range through a behind-the-scenes photo shoot live on Snapchat. This follows from its Periscope premiere of the “London in Los Angeles” fashion show, which gave its followers unlimited access to all areas of the prestigious Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, from back stage to the enviable front row. As a result of widening its social media participation, Burberry also experienced the largest audience growth on Instagram of any brand at London Fashion Week earlier this year, with nearly 74,000 new followers thanks to the event.

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This was an eye-opening experience for customers and a bold move for the retailer, but could the idea of collaboration on social media be taken further upstream towards the source?

If a retailer wants to provide its customer with an experience that is tailored to their requirements in terms of choice, service and price then surely it makes sense to involve them in the process that actually brings the products into the store, website or catalogue. Should the retailer start involving the customer before the customer journey has, in the traditional sense, begun?

If a retailer were to explore the opportunity to collaborate with the consumer pre-production, using social media could be instrumental to the process. It’s an active, convenient, real-time channel to facilitate live feedback.

Nearly 75% of shoppers prefer using online media to discover new fashion trends. Imagine opening up a forthcoming season’s “look-book” to your customers and sharing the inspirations behind the designers’ and buyers’ thinking. With 73% of consumers saying that they actively engage with brands by commenting on posts, liking links and posting questions, consider the scale of indicative feedback you could receive, through something as simple as an A/B test on Instagram, or a Twitter poll. This type of invaluable feedback, carried out at very low cost, from a very real audience, could be critical when deciding which concepts to advance to production.

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The same principle could be applied when considering price points. Are your target retail prices too high? (Or too low, for that matter?) Are there subtle regional differentiations in the amount consumers are willing to pay for an item?

Of course, in this hypothetical foray, we’ve neglected to mention a key element required on the retailer’s part: trust. Giving the consumer the power to see the previously unseen, and risk “leaking” next season’s trends to competition, as well as price points, is an obvious flaw. But, when consumers have entrusted retailers with their own data, from payments to preferences, is it not fair that the loyal brand advocate receives something more exclusive, and more personalised in return?

The idea of customer and retailer collaboration isn’t new; focus groups have been around for years. But today’s “always on” world facilitates touchpoints where retailers and customers can participate in the collaborative conversation in multiple ways, on any device, at any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world.

The sharing of ideas and opinions between the seller and the buyer means that both have a more insightful experience. A revolutionary customer experience, better customer satisfaction and increased customer loyalty of course mean greater profits for the retailer.

Keep a look out for more Retail Technology News on our News page or check out our weekly posts on our Retail Technology Blog.

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