Why fashion retailers keep getting e-commerce wrong

Fact: Retailers need to adapt with the times, this much I know. I started on the shop floor and worked my way up through the retail ranks and then over to consulting, and along the way I have kept the first rule of business at the forefront of my mind: the consumer should be the focus. And now, that consumer has changed behaviours, and is demanding more from retailers. With an increased dependence on their smartphones and desktops, consumers are looking for robust e-commerce sites, where they can browse seamlessly, and get their order ASAP. So retailers have to do more to firstly capture the attention of the consumer and then build a relationship. However, in order to build these robust, easy to navigate e-commerce platforms that will benefit the business and drive new revenue streams, retailers need to consider the following:

Modern Retail: The building blocks to successful commerce. Modern Retail focuses on building a strong platform for growth to accommodate the four tenants of retail to engage customers and build loyal shoppers who willingly become advocates. First things first, you need to hold a mirror up to your business and go back to basics. In order to become a modern retailer, you need to get a clearer picture of who your consumer is and the service you are providing for him or her. What is your website like? Is the user interface easy to navigate? How are you presenting the product for your consumer? Is the site clunky and hard to use, and is that resulting in consumer basket abandonment?

Federated “Me”: A personalised user experience. How are you curating a personalised experience for the consumer? Retailers should consider moving to true personalisation – curation and personal service combined. We’re starting to see this a lot more with the use of artificial intelligence, which uses machine-learning and big data to offer customers a much more intuitive experience than ever before. As an example, if you’re an online shopper looking for a pair of shoes, AI begins populating other matching items based on your browsing choices and replicates lots of similar options for you to review. This is very different from what has been done in the past because AI identifies the nuances of a customer – in many cases – more effectively than a human could. The overall experience then becomes more intuitive, efficient, and personalised; your experience would be different to my own experience.

Product Insight: Real-time visibility to product attributes and data. In order to be a successful modern retailer you need to know how much product you have, where it is, and how easily it can be transported to the consumer or nearest store. Look at Argos as a key example; the retailer had a traditional business model, and recently moved its focus to digital; the reason that worked so successfully was because Argos has warehouses across the country, constantly tracking product volumes. The company knows its inventory inside and outside and so it can respond to customer needs in real time. Fast fashion retailers like Zara do this well too, moving stock quickly and efficiently around its own supply chains, making sure that staff have real time views of inventory in store and orders can be fulfilled from any location, which ever satisfies the customer delivery requirements best.

Seamless Commerce: A fluid process across all channels. One of the key reasons that Amazon came onto the retail marketplace and quickly surpassed most retailers in sales, is because of the ease of its e-commerce platform. The consumer can save their details and that makes the checkout process easier each time, rather than the consumer having to input the details each time. Faster payment time builds loyalty with the time-stretched modern consumer. Also as a retailer, if you have a hefty delivery charge – but your core customer is a price-conscious young shopper – that will cause an immediate barrier to building a relationship. Finally, once you’ve set-up your e-commerce, how are you recognising and rewarding customer loyalty, and furthermore how are you personalising that loyalty? For some customers it’s about discounts, for others it’s about exclusivity.

Unified Inventory: A seamless, holistic view of inventory. Currently the way that a lot of retailers operate is that when a consumer places an order, that product is delivered to the consumer from the warehouse or top selling store. However, good business sense here would be to take stock of your nationwide inventory, and have the technology in place (predictive analytics) so that the consumer receives the product from a store where you have less demand,  therefore improving productivity and reducing mark-downs. This strategy is a key way to maximise capabilities, and ensure the product isn’t making a loss – in reality the consumer doesn’t mind whether her purchase comes from the Oxford Street store or the Woking store, she just wants the item.

Like this guest blog? ThoughtWorks is a global tech consultancy that delivers digital transformation for clients in various sectors including retail, financial services, public health, and media.

Follow ThoughtWorks and Ruth on Twitter here: @thoughtworks and here: @ReLUXPartner.

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