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Retail Trends - Dedicated fashion followers

By The Drum, Administrator

November 16, 2007 | 7 min read

Interestingly, traditional customer CRM has not revolutionised retail as experts thought, instead it has produced a generation of bland sales people.

However, there are increasing signs that simple lessons from the internet are being learned – like understanding the importance of creating a community, harnessing interactivity and fashioning customer experience.

And our love affair with online retailing shows no sign of abating. With the important Christmas period fast approaching, it has been predicted that Britons will spend more than £500 each online this year, according to Forrester Research. That’s £13.6 billion spent by 27 million internet users, a whopping 40 percent rise on 2006. Why is this happening? It’s because internet retailers are making it so easy to shop online.

The internet extends a huge influence on the customer journey with consumers looking at online product reviews, chat forums and price comparison sites. As everyday life is increasingly conducted online, innovative retailers are looking for different and engaging ways to enhance the web-interface creating new and authentic environments.

JC Penney’s virtual store in New York aims to prevent the influx of shoppers from the high street to the internet by combining it’s on and offline presence. Customers can simply order the goods from internet terminals alongside the in-store fashion displays.

So are real world stores doing enough to stem the tide of internet shoppers? Social networking is an area of the digital world that has a high profile at the moment. Brands like Facebook make it easy for their customers to engage with the brand and one another. Key ingredients of its success include sharing, discussion, discovery and the notion of bringing people together – interestingly enough these are much the same experiential values that coffee shops look to promote. So it’s little surprise that Costa Coffee is learning from these sites and engaging local societies to meet in their coffee shops and by hosting the kind of community notice boards often seen in independent cafes.

Paradoxically, the online world is also creating business opportunities offline. Flaubert’s eBay drop-off store in Edinburgh, provides a simple service where anyone can sell their goods on eBay. Customers just drop by the store with an item they want to sell, and Flaubert’s do the rest. After the item sells, they send the customer a cheque having taken a small fee for their troubles.

Even though this assimilation is providing learning and opportunities for both the high street and internet, seamless integration of these channels will not guarantee success on its own. There must be a purpose to it all. We all know about the growing “in-line” presence of retailers like American Apparel in Second Life. What is intriguing is that it’s now possible to get discounts on merchandise bought in American Apparel real world stores for those who buy in Second Life.

Amazon is another retail brand bridging the gap between virtual and real-world shopping. It is one of the most widely recognised and respected brands in the world today. Amazon’s success has been achieved through a combination of great choice, good value and one of the best online shopping experiences. The “1-click” function has made it incredibly easy to buy from them. It is this level of innovation and understanding that shows how Amazon has generated such trust from its customers.

The logical progression from virtual shopping will be to have avatars matching the physical appearance of the user allowing them try on clothes in the virtual world, so they don’t even have to leave the house. The purchased items could then be paid for and dispatched to real world addresses. This will mean that you can then see if your virtual bottom looks too big for those Howies jeans or what that IKEA coffee table will look like in the living room.

Like the blurring of the online and offline worlds, our own roles as consumers in society are being re-appraised. The power or the purse has been well documented in recent times as our matriarchal heads of the family make most of the domestic purchasing decisions. In DIY, women are now making up more than 40 per cent of the market according to research carried out by retailer B&Q. They have latched on to this trend by making their stores more accessible to women. They also demonstrate an understanding of their customers’ mindsets having established clubs in some stores that offer advice on different aspects of DIY.

Recognising this need for guidance, Tomboy Tools has established Tupperware-style “Tool Parties” where women can learn “how to turn home improvements and or maintenance projects into memorable experiences” – for the right reasons! This introduces a community dimension to the brand providing reassurance to customers.

In contrast, as men are taking greater responsibility and playing a bigger role on the domestic front, their influence as consumers will continue to grow. Men too will be looking for products and retail experiences that understand their needs and engage with them emotionally.

A recent edition of GQ featured an ad for the Indesit SIXL 145 Moon washing machine and tumble dryer. Not only is it an awe inspiring piece of aesthetic design, but it is incredibly easy to use with one touch dials, self-cleaning soap dispenser drawers and sensors that detect remaining detergent on your clothes triggering a rinse function.

It is also fair to suggest that new technology and the proliferation of consumer choice are creating an increasingly homogenised society. As a result there is a desire to locate niche specialist products and services. This has created one of the biggest trend drivers – the rise of the individual.

Individuality is a powerful and desirable value and if local businesses are producing brands that can offer this, then we’ll see a move away from global players towards more bespoke specialists. At least that’s how the theory goes.

It’s the large global brands that are capitalising on this, though. Nike is a well worn example, yet it remains a case book study of both integration between physical retail space and the online store. The website is the main vehicle for designing your own Nike Air, successfully transforming industrial production into a made-to-order tailoring process.

With rising transport costs and inner city congestion created by ever growing traffic volumes, consumers will be increasingly looking for at-home solutions. While our necessity shopping requirements are well catered for, our sensory and aspirational needs provided by physical retail space are not.

Mobile stores are combining the practicality of neighbourhood shopping and the low costs of a market stall site with the excitement of pop-up retail. As entrepreneurs are filling the experiential void left by the web, designer trucks and vans like Caravan, a clothing retailer in New York, and Petra Barran’s Choc Star, a stylish chocolate van that hits festivals and city centres in the UK, are beginning to appear. Customers can even track the store’s movements via a website.

Meanwhile, Travelodge want in on the action too and has unveiled its second generation Travelpod – the world’s first mobile hotel room. It will certainly appeal to our peripatetic, indulgent, festival-attending senses, however it must be a totally authentic Travelodge brand experience.

So what can we take away from this trend and insight spree? Well, an on, off and in-line presence is essential as brands find innovative and meaningful ways to engage with their customers. Retailers must establish their stores as places of information and inspiration. Customers will continue to buy from real world shops because the high street can create tactile environments but, real world shops need to choose whether they are merchandise showrooms that drive sales through websites, vice versa or if they’re to fulfill both roles.

Consumers will want to express and indulge their individuality. But we also need to understand that convenience is more important than ever before because unless your store is unique and personal, customers will no longer come to you... but you can always go to them!


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