In digital tech innovation, the UK high street is a dedicated follower of fashion

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Fashion retailers need to embrace smart technology.

When it comes to shopping, we all have our favourite brands, stores and products that we’re loyal to. Whether it’s a new season winter coat or replacing yet another lost phone charger, we tend to stick to the familiar. But eventually, we can find ourselves in a shopping rut.

Do we miss out when sticking to our usual shopping cycle? Could our shopping experience be improved if we could revamp our lifestyle or wardrobe with new products and services? We need to know where to start if we’re feeling adventurous. However, as we’re often bombarded with so much choice and information from brands, it’s just easier to revert to our comfort zones.

Now, thanks to the emergence of AI, machine learning and big data technology, retailers can better serve customers with a curated choice of products and services we didn’t know existed. By leveraging the opportunities presented by new retail technologies, brands who share personalised store ads, or have a virtual stylist suggesting the latest trends, are shaping the future of retail and driving real growth.

Best foot forwards

Platforms like YouTube and Instagram have now overtaken print media for product research, meaning shoppers often do their research online before hitting the high streets to purchase in-store, often called 'webrooming'.

Yet, at the same time, as shoppers’ needs become increasingly demanding and expectations are high, merchants also need to have a seamless shopping experience on devices. By embracing an omnichannel approach, retailers can provide shoppers the experience that allows them to shop for something they’ve seen instore, online and have it shipped, known as “showrooming”.

Nowhere is this trend more prevalent – and crucial to get right – than in the fashion industry. New technologies and channels are increasingly being engaged by smart fashion retailers to ensure shoppers’ attentions are grabbed. As Criteo’s 2017 Apparel Trend Report showed, brands are really starting to innovate with technology including:

Chat bots: Talk to a robot and get all kinds of AI-driven advice. Retailers including designers Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger are already working with this to make fashion suggestions. With both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp reaching the 1B user mark in 2016, why not have your favourite brands tell you the latest trends like your friends would?

Mirror mirror: The Internet of Things has the potential to revolutionise apparel sales. Seen something you like on a video screen? Use your phone to take a picture, locate it, buy it and have it billed and shipped. In stores like Burberry and Ralph Lauren, eBay’s magic mirrors are showing what the clothes look like in other sizes and colours – which can then be purchased with one tap.

Cultivating loyalty

Gaining new customers is notoriously hard, and according to Criteo’s Fashion Flash report, it usually takes several purchases from the same shopper to generate a return on the investment. Converting new customers into loyal ones takes time and commitment. As we’re faced with a new generation of shoppers, where the majority of under 35s are mobile-first, digital technologies have quickly become the main form of interaction and engagement.

In the mobile-first age, brands must constantly think of ways to maintain a fresh and interactive relationship to keep shoppers coming back. Applying AI technology can help attract and retain customers. Luxury lingerie brand Cosabella started using AI when it decided to offer a wider range of apparel as it moved into the lifestyle sector. By using intelligent technology to track customer behaviour, make recommendations and predict the trends and categories that would appeal to its customers, Cosabella found it could deliver an improved and smarter shopping experience to new and existing customers alike.

What does the future have 'in-store'?

Beyond fashion, retailers across all sectors need to embrace smart technology as it increasingly impacts their bottom line. The constant evolution of shopper behaviour means that retailers need to adopt ever-more innovative ways to target customers creatively and effectively.

The blending of AI intelligence into the retail sector represents a huge shift in the way we’ll make purchases and engage with brands in the future, with the concept of brand loyalty taking a different shape. Instead of the quality and trust in the product which keeps us coming back, brands will have to consider our lifestyle, daily habits and changing preferences to maintain our interest.

John Gillan is managing director, UK and Northern Europe, for Criteo

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