As the fashion retail landscape continues to evolve due to changing consumer habits, the rise of technologies which marry the physical and digital retail spaces in order to create smarter stores shows no signs of slowing. We spoke to Niclas Qvist, vice president, global sales and marketing at EllaFashion, to find out more on these developments.

Nowhere are the seismic changes that have affected bricks-and-mortar retailers in recent years more obvious than in the dynamic world of fashion retail. Successful fashion stores of today bear little resemblance to those of a decade ago – and more changes are yet required if these retailers are to continue to be prosperous in the years to come.

Significant shifts in consumer behaviour are the primary driving force behind the need for these changes, and in response to this need, a new wave of digital technologies has emerged, designed to help fashion retailers keep up in these tumultuous times. To learn more about these developments, we spoke to Niclas Qvist, vice president, global sales & marketing at EllaFashion, an electronic pricetag solution based on e-paper technology.

'The fashion industry has always been fiercely competitive, and this is only increasing as consumer shopping habits evolve,' says Qvist. 'The rise of e-commerce has changed customers’ shopping habits for good. In tandem with this, shoppers are becoming less brand loyal, and so it stands to reason that fashion retailers must find new ways to keep up – both by better interacting with their customers, and also by running more efficient and effective stores.'

However, according to Qvist, the ceaselessly shifting terrain of the fashion retail landscape should be embraced, and not feared, as it offers the retailers the chance to set themselves apart. 'The key takeaway from all of these changes, however, must be that brick-and-mortar retail is not now, nor will it ever be, redundant,' he added. 'There may be challenges, but with these come new opportunities for retailers to position themselves firmly ahead of the competition.'

Perhaps the most glaring difference of the past decade is that operating multiple channels has become the backbone of many fashion retailers’ overarching strategy. However, the emphasis is no longer simply upon having various streams of commerce. Instead, it has shifted towards unifying these channels, and building a single, streamlined omnichannel environment.

'Today’s consumers are channel-blind. They seamlessly and apparently unconsciously slip from one channel to another – webrooming by researching products online before purchasing in-store one day, and showrooming by coming in-store to touch and feel products before buying online the next,' Qvist explains.

'Because they don’t actually distinguish between channels, customers expect the same products, prices, services, offers and promotions whether they are online, instore or on their mobiles. It's therefore vital that fashion retailers ensure their propositions and consumer experiences are consistent across all channels. If I could offer one piece of advice to fashion retailers, it would be this: now is the time to enable an omni-channel environment, or you will fall behind.'

Of course, the challenge here for many fashion retailers is how to ensure this consistency always occurs in their offline stores. 'It goes without saying that on-line retail affords a great deal of flexibility. Prices can be changed, promotions offered and services updated with the click of a button,' he adds. 'However, this degree of flexibility can seem like a luxury for high street stores. To enact such changes can be time and labour intensive, and requires store employees to be taken away from value-adding customer facing tasks.'

So how can bricks-and-mortar stores compete with these benefits so easily afforded on-line? The answer, it seems, lies in the question. 'Rather than trying to find an offline solution to this offline problem, it's a case of integrating digital solutions into stores, thus bringing the benefits of online onto the shop floor,' says Qvist. 'Digital solutions offer stores the opportunity to develop a seamless experience for consumers across all channels. Digital price labelling is one such example. Easily integrating with legacy back-of-house systems and attached to apparel for sale, digital pricetags allow product prices to be automatically updated, so pricing is consistent, and dynamic pricing – previously the remit of online only – can be enacted in-store, whenever and wherever needed.'

However, new digital solutions for fashion retail are not confined to the enablement of a better omni-channel environment – there is also a growing awareness that they can be used to optimise store operations. In particular, fashion retailers are increasingly looking to adopt technologies which can enhance inventory management. 'Fashion is faster than ever before,' expands Qvist. 'Managing inventory therefore needs to be done more effectively, so as to free up stock space where possible, and to ensure stock replenishment is done rapidly so as to maximise sales and revenue. With technological solutions that afford real-time insight into inventory, retailers are able to anticipate these better.'

Real-time inventory tracking can also provide retailers with insightful analysis that can have a wider impact than upon only one store’s operations. 'Retailers can track purchasing trends according to location – meaning they can re-allocate excess inventory to those stores with higher demand, or enact other such initiatives which tailor the customer shopping experience based on the specific requirement and desires of local communities,' says Qvist. 'Localisation is being increasingly recognised as a hugely important way to personalise consumers’ experiences, and real-time inventory data enables retailers to impart more effective strategies for this.'

Changes to fashion consumers’ shopping habits mean that retailers need to look to new sources for innovative answers to these new challenges. The future for fashion retail is not solely online – but it is increasingly digital,” concludes Qvist.

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