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Omnichannel Technology – A Holistic Approach to Retail?


Omnichannel Technology – A Holistic Approach to Retail?

As brands and retailers struggle to stay afloat in the chaos caused by COVID-19, e-commerce has been a game-changer for some and a lifeline for many. Despite non-essential stores in the UK being granted the right to open their doors over a month ago, footfall continues to be disappointing, at just 50% of what it was a year ago. We clearly can’t rely on a bounce back to normal as many had once hoped. Coronavirus fears are likely to remain until there is a vaccine or a truly significant drop in infections, with some experts estimating that the worst effects of the crisis could continue well into the first quarter of 2021.

Many previously brick-and-mortar-only stores are now adding e-commerce options to their arsenal – the Shopify share price alone has more than doubled since February. However, despite a rush to digitalize, the fashion industry has been one of the hardest hit by the crisis – homeworkers are less likely to buy new clothes; special events, vacations and parties have been canceled; and apparel is often the first cutback consumers make when looking to save on costs. We may be able to survive by using e-commerce options, but in order to once more thrive perhaps, it’s time to start thinking about e-commerce, not as a separate digital version of our stores for the online customer, but as a vital part of all of our customers’ holistic online/offline experience. Consumer habits are changing, and if the high street is to survive, it will need to create an immersive experience that makes the customer’s life easy, whether online or off.

Which brings us to omni-channel retail. Most professionals in the e-commerce and retail sectors use this terminology to apply to the practice of listing products across various online marketplaces. But what if we think of it in another way? What if omni-channel or “all channels” referred to every point in which we are in contact with the customer across their retail journey? From a poster on the street to an advert on Facebook, a visit to our store or a comparison of prices online. Imagine a fully integrated experience in which the customer journey is seamless and pleasurable. In order to achieve this we need new technologies, but fortunately, it’s not a case of inventing the wheel. There are already a number of futuristic technologies that have been around for some time, although it’s only recently that their functionality in the future of retail is being truly explored. With TradeGala – the B2B online marketplace, B2B fashion is simplified for both brands and buyers, with a retail-like, user-friendly e-commerce platform that allows buyers to go from order to receipt in less than a week.

Augmented Reality

Just a year or so ago, the idea of trying on clothes, shoes or make-up “virtually” seemed like something out of a Blade Runner fantasy. And yet, we’re all familiar with the Snapchat filters which gave us instant cat ears or allowed us to see what we’d look like in 50 years’ time. The first of these filters came out over 5 years ago, so the technology is certainly not new – and now Snapchat itself has partnered with footwear giants such as Nike and Adidas to allow consumers to try on a pair of virtual shoes before they buy. Zeekit is another industry pioneer, creating a virtual dressing room experience that allows online shoppers to “try on” clothing from home, taking into consideration the specifications of the product along with the customer’s height and body type. Within the beauty industry, Sephora and MAC were some of the first to introduce the Virtual Mirror to selected stores, allowing clients to try out different shades of makeup via an interactive “mirror” before making a purchase. Considered by some to be a gimmick at the time, with recent concerns about hygiene in both beauty and fashion, AR technologies are likely to become a necessity moving forward into a more health-conscious future, both at home and in stores.

Mobile Integration

QR codes are becoming ever more present in our lives. Bars and restaurants are using them to allow customers to download menus or make orders without going to the bar, while in New Zealand stores must display unique QR codes with which customers can trace their movements as part of the COVID Tracking app. Some forward-thinking retailers are using the same technology to help bridge the online/offline experience – Lone Design Club in London has been experimenting with window shopping QR codes, allowing customers passing their store to scan the products in their display and order directly online before taking another step. Even as stores open, consumers are likely to be wary of crowds and queueing at tills, but this versatile technology offers them the chance to check the stock in-store before they enter, and even scan and pay for items via their phone, thus minimizing their time in-store and contact with assistants and other shoppers.

Squad shopping

Online video conferencing and chat has now become part of our everyday lives, not only at work but in order to stay in touch with friends and family while separated. It’s no longer unusual for friends to watch a film together online while hundreds of miles apart, or have dinner and drinks via Whatsapp. And, thanks to apps such Squadded, online retailers can now recreate the fun of shopping with friends online – with peer advice and encouragement being a tried and tested booster for both sales and customer satisfaction. Many big brands including Asos, Boohoo and Missguided have already adopted the technology, and Chinese consumers (often ahead of the crowd) have embraced the trend with social e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2020 already eclipsing the whole of 2019.

Livestream Shopping

Another trend that has become hugely popular in China, livestream shopping is the QVC of social media, and it’s causing a stir as brands start to take notice. China’s leading live commerce platform, Taobao Live, has reported a 150% growth year on year over the past 3 years, and the Coronavirus lockdown has only increased its popularity. Popular influencers model products, answer questions & give their opinion while offers and limited stock alerts flash up on the screen, and eager viewers can go from like to purchase in a simple click. Influencer marketing is already big business, livestream retail is perhaps the next logical step in the customer journey.

Just a few years ago, most of these technologies would have seemed out of reach, accessible only to the biggest brands with the fattest wallets. But now, with social media platforms incorporating more and more online services into their portfolios, e-commerce SAS providers constantly upping their game, and app designers creating low-cost solutions at an alarming rate, retailers of all sizes can now jump on the omni-channel trend. E-commerce is the future of retail, but it may not be e-commerce as we know it. To paraphrase Squadded’s acute observation – Buying is the result, Shopping should be an experience.


Post-COVID-19: Slowing Down Fast Fashion and the Retail Sector

As brands and retailers scramble to adapt to the post-COVID-19 world, one thing is clear – the fast fashion trend that has dominated the sector as we know it is no longer sustainable.

The race to get ahead of the competition has ended up distorting fashion’s seasonality – whereas once the bi-annual fashion shows were held 4-5 months ahead of the upcoming season in order to allow brands and buyers time to create forward-orders and produce stock, these days retailers rush the latest trends from the catwalk to the stores within a question of days. It’s no longer unusual to see Summer dresses on the shelves in February and Winter coats in the stores before August is out. And yet consumers, bombarded with the latest fashion trends at all hours of the day via social media influencers and celebrities, want fashion they can wear now, not in months’ time. So in order to stay relevant, retailers are pressured to buy stock months in advance of when it’s needed, and then end up having to sell it off at sale prices just as it’s coming into season so they can introduce the never-ending round of latest trends.

This problem has confounded the industry for some time, but there seemed to be no way out of it – nobody wanted to be the first to “slow down.” And yet here we are, after months of enforced factory lock-downs and store closures, with an unexpected opportunity to rethink the way the industry works.

Gucci announced in late March that it would lead the way into a more mindful future, abandoning “the worn-out ritual of seasonalities” by reducing their number of yearly shows from five to just two. Other major brands were quick to follow suit, with a focus on less season-influenced and gender-exclusive collections, creating more fluid styles designed to last for months and years as opposed to the buy-wear-throwaway designs that have taken such a toll on our environment. It’s not just the brands themselves who are calling for change, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact the fashion industry has on our planet and demand for sustainable fashion has never been higher.

However, sustainable fashion production itself is still in its infancy and there are still a limited number of brands that are wholly dedicated to reducing the social and environmental impact of clothing production. But by changing the way retailers buy and sell their products we may see a real change in the reduction of waste before the product even reaches the consumer, and help end the practice of brands destroying unsold stock in order to maintain a fabricated “exclusivity.” It’s a case of changing the industry mindset, from fast fashion to fast provisioning, in which retailers can react quickly to new trends and only buy what they actually need. Those retailers who have embraced this new “test and repeat” model are among the few to have come out of the crisis with increased profits, as they were able to respond almost immediately to the changing demands of the consumer and weren’t stuck trying to offload months’ worth of dead stock to a public for whom it was no longer relevant.

For small retailers, the benefits are obvious – purchasing small amounts of stock regularly based on customer demand frees up storage space, reduces forward investment, and minimizes financial risk. Plus, they are still able to offer regular stock updates and variety which continues to be a major attraction in a social media influenced society with a notoriously short attention span.

Wholesale brands are looking for new ways to reach their buyers, offering livestock that can be delivered in a matter of days. With TradeGala – the B2B online marketplace, B2B fashion is simplified for both brands and buyers, with a retail-like, user-friendly e-commerce platform that allows buyers to go from order to receipt in less than a week.

The Coronavirus has forced an entire industry to stop, take stock of its problems,, and start looking for solutions. Amid the suffering and struggle that undoubtedly still lays ahead for the industry, this crisis offers us an unprecedented opportunity to change, hopefully for the better.

trade shows

The Future of Trade Shows in a Post-COVID-19 Fashion Industry

The fashion sector woke up recently to yet another trade show cancellation – the newly launched footwear show Sole, due to take place in August after its February success, announced that the decision had been taken to cancel for now, with 2021 dates to be announced soon. And today, Hyve Fashion has announced that their upcoming events Pure, Pure Origin, Scoop and Jacket Required will also be cancelled until next year. They’re just another in a long line of cancelled shows this Summer, including Premium Berlin, Modefabriek, Tranoï and Scoop International to name but a few.

There are some, perhaps more optimistic platforms, which have simply postponed their dates to later in the year, but there is a real sense in the industry that things might not go back to the way they were before. There is a universal feeling of uncertainty – lockdown restrictions are being eased, but with mixed messages from governments throughout the world, the idea of visiting exhibition centres packed with thousands of people from all corners of the globe is less than appealing for many.

TradeGala works with thousands of small boutique owners and, of those that we surveyed, 66% responded that they had no plans to attend a trade show for the rest of 2020. But if the very foundation of the industry is under threat, what will fashion buying and selling look like in a post-COVID-19 world?

In the short term, some of the major players are experimenting with technology and virtual reality to continue reaching their target audience. Shanghai Fashion Week was first to take the step into the unknown, holding their first fully digital event in April, while London’s famous Fashion Week followed suit with a virtual showcase in June.

Experimentation was the order of the day, with everything from live-streamed, green-screen catwalk shows to 3D virtual reality design galleries. Despite some detractors who found the new format somewhat lacking, and a few technological glitches throughout, both events were considered a success, and Paris is planning to host their first virtual events in July. Independent trade shows are also dipping into the digital world with Modefabriek launching an online B2B marketplace in July to showcase the collections from their cancelled event, while collaborations are emerging with Coterie, Magic and Project to launch “digital tradeshows” in August and September.

But won’t things all just go back to normal eventually? If we’re honest, do we really want to go back to the way things were before? Perhaps it’s about time we embrace the ways that technology can enhance our analogue experience. Why should brands and buyers be obliged to travel internationally (investing stretched budgets and increasing the fashion industry’s already heavy burden on our carbon footprint) when we have the option to reach out and connect via the web? London Fashion Week is already planning their next event in September as a virtual/real-life hybrid (lockdown restrictions permitting) and looks to continue this trend indefinitely – perhaps this is the future of trade shows as we know them?

At the end of the day, we’re tactile creatures, and there’s nothing quite like being able to see and feel a satin dress or leather handbag when considering our next season’s stock. But as bulk forward-ordering is no longer the only option (and a risk many buyers no longer wish to take), retailers will still have the option to attend one or two shows a year to source new brands or trends while supplementing their stock more regularly with suppliers online. This is where TradeGala can make a difference.

A year-round “virtual tradeshow,” TradeGala showcases brands throughout the world offering short-order stock for instant purchase. A user-friendly platform, it allows buyers to respond quickly to the changing trends and offer their customers what they really want to buy, rather than speculating months in advance.

One day soon, we hope, we will be able to attend our favorite trade shows as we did before – sourcing, networking, finding inspiration. Our Trade Show Calendar is regularly updated with upcoming shows throughout the world (both virtual and physical) and you can subscribe for the latest updates, so you won’t miss a date! But the future has come more quickly than we expected – is your fashion business ready to embrace the digital revolution?