Can fashion retailers use the human touch to stay en Vogue?

David Buckingham
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In the constant battle to remain competitive, relevant and successful, the fashion industry has been one of the hardest hit by recent economic and political changes. According to PwC, of the almost 6,000 store retail store closures in 2017, the fashion industry was the most affected .

While it’s not all doom and gloom (McKinsey predicts triple growth from 2016-2018), fashion retailers are still searching for ways to boost their success, remain competitive and attract new and retain existing customers.

Improving customer experience is core to this mission, whether that’s improving personalisation across marketing efforts and/or improving the in-store experience.

Technology plays a key role here — and not just through improving the in-store checkout process, making retail assistants more mobile, or making it easier to pay. The retail press is full of stories about the use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), smart mirrors, and interactive in-store digital signage, making stores more destination-focused, immersive, and keeping customers engaged for longer.

But is it really what customers want? Not according to recent research by Klarna (a payments provider); it found half of fashion retailers were investing in technology like AR and VR despite the fact that 80% of consumers said they wouldn’t be interested in using it. In fact, consumers favour the human element of the in-store experience, a key factor in choosing this over shopping online.

This sentiment is supported by wider industry research from PwC that reported 75% of global consumers want more human interaction when they shop.


E-commerce giants are also paying attention to this call for human interaction — Amazon recently announced the launch of its first fashion pop-up store on Baker Street in London (following the retailer’s planned roll out of physical Amazon Go stores). While consumers will be able to spend five days at the end of October exploring Amazon’s own and leading fashion brands, they will also have access to in-store stylists, which is undoubtedly a major selling point.

While technology can certainly help in creating an immersive shopping experience, the human element shouldn’t be discounted. Perhaps success lies in balancing the two aspects and ensuring technology is more of an enabler to the in-store experience — helping boost engagement.


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