Are fashion brands putting likes before customer needs?

I love fashion and I love digital. Luckily my day jobs as a freelance digital strategist and senior lecturer at London College of Fashion and the British School of Fashion let me play a pretty large role in both industries. In the last year I’ve attended Web Summit and moderated panel discussions at SXSW, as well as undertaking global research projects on visual social media and big data. I also come from a visual merchandising background, so I am always thinking about the look and feel of products and the customer journey.

It’s been a hugely interesting year and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that while there is a huge opportunity for fashion and digital to work together,

“a lot of brands are seeking the social media clicks rather than truly putting customers and customer needs at the heart of a fully integrated digital strategy.”

It is as if brands are more concerned with the sexy social numbers and column inches rather than making sure their customer can even BUY the red dress that got the most regrams on their Instagram.

In my research I found this amazing illustration by Luke Best that really sums up the state of fashion right now in my opinion, the two ends of the horse, the shiny glossy front end, and the oft forgotten less glamorous back end.


Here’s five key areas where I think change needs to happen for the full potential of digital in fashion to be realised.

1. Currently, theres a disconnect between what some fashion brands are promoting and what customers want

In every fashion related job I’ve ever had, I’ve always been told to put the customer first and that the product should be the hero. It’s a rule that I think everyone from the Saturday shop girl to the CEO to the social media and marketing departments of brands need to know. At the moment it feels like customers aren’t at the beginning of the digital strategy. Yes, you might think I want them to share our content with their friends, but if the UX of your e-commerce side doesn’t work they can’t buy the product they are obsessing about on social.

2. Getting column inches and retweets is great, but want customers really want is the back end of the horse FIRST, the non sexy stuff.

During my research on BIG Data for a report called Demystifying Big Data For the Fashion Sector I interviewed 30 industry experts who told me that what comes through in their customer research is that customers really want the non sexy stuff- one click ordering, detailed product descriptions, fraud protection, flexible payment and delivery options, live inventory checking etc. Once these ‘hygiene’ factors are met ONLY THEN do they want to be delighted with shoppable video, curated UGC and augmented reality experiences.

3. Right now not a lot of fashion innovation is integrated into business

Last year saw luxury brands team up with Snapchat and this year JW Anderson hit the headlines with his Grindr partnership. These are clear ways to get press for catwalk shows, but they also aren’t consistent. Something like Henry Holland and his accessories that contained Visa contactless payment capabilities would be great to have not just once, but every season, and I’d love to see brands and designers around the globe being more consistent with their groundbreaking digital strategies. Rather than just thinking about the PR launch and not the follow up commercialization.

4. There isn’t enough effective communication between the front end and the back end of the horse.

One of the biggest problems that fashion brands have is that this huge divide exists between the two strands of business. So the developer who created the ecommerce platform, doesn’t talk to the buying team, or the marketing in house creative team about how everything works. There are still language and cultural barrier between the worlds of fashion and technology. This disconnect often results in the consumer losing out.

5. Invest in people first, then systems

Are brands spending as much on iterating their e-commerce sites as their manufacturing processes to provide an optimum brand experience across all touchpoints of the business? Are they community managing their social media channels with a stream of interns rather than investing in building a team of digital pioneers who can work cross functionally to amplify the brand equity. There must be a critical mass of digital believers to make the horse get to the finish line.

In my opinion fashion and digital go so well together, as they are both dynamic beautiful enablers. I think that if fashion brands focus on ironing out these problems they can digitally delight customers, create real dynamic change within the industry and increase sales.

Want more? Follow Karinna on Twitter here

Like this? Read WGSN’s Lorna Hall on how Burberry’s new retail model is a step in the right direction here.

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