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We recently collaborated with Retail Week on a report into digital marketing innovations in the retail sector – surveying 1,750 UK shoppers to find out how retailers are connecting with today’s fashion consumers. 

It revealed that the public’s fashion buying habits and expectations are shifting at an astonishing rate:

  • Almost three quarters of shoppers – across all age groups – now prefer to discover new fashion trends and products online.
  • More than a third of 18-44 year olds engage with fashion brands primarily on a mobile device.
  • Half of 18-24 year olds, plus a third of 25-34 year olds, share images of themselves with friends online before deciding to buy.

I already blogged about some of the findings from the report in my The quest for omni-channel: Fashion retail's holy grail article. But the report also shows fashion retailers are moving quickly to respond – with three retail technology innovations likely to change the game before 2016 is out: social commerce, personalised marketing and blending online and offline channels.

1. Social commerce

72% of 18 to 24 year olds (and 49% of 25 to 34 year olds) want to be able to shop straight from social media if they see something they like.

“Buy now” buttons are on their way to all major social media platforms – with far-reaching implications for fashion retail marketers. 

The Retail Week research shows more than half (58%) of 18 to 24 year olds and 37% of 25 to 34 year olds have decided to buy something after seeing friends wearing it online – and almost as many in each age group share “selfies” from shop changing rooms to canvass opinion before deciding to buy. 

Around a quarter of shoppers overall follow fashion brands – and those that do are highly engaged: even in the 45-54 age group, 82% of those following fashion retailers have commented on their posts.

Being able to move from inspiration to purchase in a single click will obviously have a dramatic impact, turning more of this activity into business – and crucially giving fashion marketers a much clearer view of their social ROI, too. But retailers will need to harness the impulse to share, and consider how best to stand out on brand-neutral social spaces.

2. Tailored messaging and recommendations

58% of 18 to 24 year olds and 52% of 25 to 34 year olds sign up to receive email newsletters from fashion brands.

Good tailoring is arguably now as important to fashion marketing as it is to the clothes themselves. With so many brands active across all channels online, the noise – whether on social networks or in customers’ inboxes – is getting deafening, and clever personalisation, which ideally form part of seamless 1-1 customer journeys, is vital if messages are to cut through.

Increasingly, brands hold detailed, personal information on each consumer, collated across multiple online sources – this gives a great opportunity to get creative, and customise content in a way that’s genuinely helpful or intriguing, without being detailed enough to appear creepy.

Here in the UK, Topshop used its data to send customers personalised Christmas greeting videos from the actor Kate Bosworth (it was surprisingly simple to do – find the details in the report) but personalisation can be as basic as prioritising the most relevant products and images in digital marketing, or automatically greeting the customer by name.

3. Blending online and offline

78% of consumers say they will seek out a sales adviser in store if they require more information about a product.

Ultimately, the experience of visiting a store, seeing products first-hand and talking to a human being will always be critical. And while advancing technology doesn’t replace the store or the art of customer service, it does mean shops need to work harder to keep up.

In the survey, 70% of shoppers aged 18 to 24 years old said they wanted a greater level of creative service – product reviews, advice on items and trends – than they experience now. 

To them, the distinction between online and offline is meaningless – giving retailers a double challenge: making the depth and variety of information online available in-store, and extending warm, human customer service into the online realm. 

This blneding of the digital and physical worlds - or digical as we like to call it - is fast becoming a huge differentiator for the retailers doing a smart job of it. 

The effect of the millennials

In every area of the Retail Week report, 18-24 year olds have significantly higher expectations around service and technology. After all, to a digital native, there’s no good reason for their experience to be any better or worse in store than it is online.

With every passing day, these demanding younger customers get older, and more move into the target market of major fashion retailers. It’s an inexorable trend, and when you add the changes happening in the wider online environment, it’s likely fashion retail will come to see 2016 as a watershed year.

Read the full report for yourself

Find out more about how retail consumer expectations are changing – and what leading fashion brands are doing about it – by reading the full Connecting with today’s fashion consumers report. This one's on us!