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Tech on trend

By Retail Technology | Wednesday March 22 2017

The global Fashion Weeks have been in full swing but what key retail tech trends are emerging from them? Martin McNulty, CEO at Forward3D, sees social media as the catalyst for change

At this year’s various Fashion Weeks, it was clearerer than ever the extent to what digital and ecommerce has swallowed events like these. What is once a truly exclusive luxury event now feels aimed at mass market, promoting fashion as ‘accessible to everyone.’ In previous years, these events were designed as a privileged trade show for buyers, rather than a promotional exercise for consumers. It’s something all retailers need to be aware of, as it has big implications for marketers relying on social platforms to reach potential customers.

This year, for the first time, Oxfam took to the London Fashion Week stage, promoting affordable fashion, in a way that wouldn’t previously have fit the high-end atmosphere. 

Their message? To empower people to discover the importance of fashion as a political and social statement, not just to reflect who you are or how you feel. Oxfam identified that social media was opening doors for brands, enabling them to communicate with potential customers instantly from the event. Consumers’ shift to starting nearly every purchase with a google search is now being reflected even at the upper echelons of high society.

I’ve  identified three key trends coming out of this year’s Fashion Weeks – and all three have big implications for retailers.

The hype of fashion and the impact of influencers

Although the hype around fashion has always existed, either through celebrity endorsement or exclusivity and aspiration, every brand would push themselves to be more creative and more extreme, to differentiate themselves from other designers. The events were designed to provide insight into the future of fashion, with only a chosen few attendees selected to share new designs and fashion trends with the world. This included fashion editors, whose main role was to report on the leading trends from the catwalk, and is now under threat from social influencers, who engage daily with their followers and as a result have the potential to have a bigger impact for brands.

However, in trying to maximise the commercial potential of digital and social channels, there’s a risk that brands are becoming more cautious with regard to the boldness of their designs, to ensure that the outfits that are on the catwalk are ready to be sold to the masses on the high street. British heritage brands such as Next and Marks and Spencer have struggled in recent years, reporting a significant decline in sales, and they are now using London Fashion Week to attempt to resurrect some of the excitement around high street fashion.
The rise of the shoppable runway

'Shoppable runways', 'live streamed shows', ‘consumer-led shows’, ‘snapchatters' and 'chat bots', are all allowing anyone with an internet connection to access, review and potentially purchase from collections immediately, transforming how we engage with content from the catwalk. Certain high-end brands, including Burberry, have been the driving force for the ‘shoppable runway,’ and Burberry were one of the first brands to have their collections instantly available after their show. Despite the expectations of an instantly purchasable runway, Burberry has continued to push fashion boundaries, notably with a collection for 2017 that was inspired by sculptor Henry Moore.

Social platforms such as Pinterest and Facebook have recently improved their ecommerce offering, making it easier for brands to market their product instantly online. The fact that WhatsApp has just announced it’s exploring buying products direct with the likes of Net-a-Porter, and Instagram has introduced its Buy Button, shows that the industry is starting to understand that searching for nice things can come from a number of channels. Brands consider Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat as valuable marketing tools, where marketing spend can have a profound effect on sales. 

Shoppable social content still only accounts for a small percentage of direct revenue for many brands. However, across Forward3D’s large portfolio of global fashion brands, we are seeing social engagement becoming a key driver of revenue for brands with more than half of customers using social as their key channel to follow latest trends and browse products, before purchasing with the brand directly. 

Instant is tough for designers

Catwalks were previously used for buyers and journalists to review upcoming trends, and to target wholesale buyers pre-production. These design trends would eventually bleed out into the high street where us normal people could access trends when they’re already a little tired to the trendsetters. This new paradigm, where consumers expect to instantly search for things they’ve seen, make instant purchases and have speedy delivery, means that designers and retailers have to be prepared for their creations to almost instantly become available to anyone with a credit card and internet access. Whilst this may affect creativity, threatening the future of high fashion, it could well be a boon to the high street.  
Fashion Week across the globe is now consumer driven, which restricts the creativeness of the industry and allows consumers to call the shots on what is displayed on the catwalk. Yet it also opens up opportunities for more mainstream brands to get in on the action.

Although revenue for major high street brands seems to be continuing to decrease, they are relying on events such as London Fashion Week to promote their products to the masses. The use of social media during events such as London Fashion Week enables consumers to make instant purchase decisions while taking into consideration the changing role of social media. Technology has made so many products available instantly, that it is now expected by consumers. While brands seem to be more accepting of the platforms available to them, it is still important they remember what the show was meant to be about. 

Given the eventual diffusion of the intriguing and seemingly unattainable designs from catwalk to high street, it’s vital that the recent consumer desire for instant search and purchase can co-exist peacefully with the amazing creativity of the world of fashion. 

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