COO@Hyphen-Group (IT, UK, US)
Recently one of my friends in London asked my opinion about the newest trend in immersive retail technology. Rather than focusing on the cool tech gadgets “in vogue” today, I thought it was a good idea to develop the following main points, based on my current experience with Hyphen-UK.
So, this story will tell you about:
– The new customer experience today.
– Availability of data and content as a paramount.
– The systemic approach of brands and retailers.
– New digital technologies as part of a planned and organized communication process.
– Brands as media companies and their need for an “Editorial Process”.
– The “technological operating system”: maximizing the alignment between the digital supply chain and the product supply chain.
If you are interested in getting my point of view about the above topics, read the full article below or … drop me a message 😉
Newest trends in immersive retail tech
There are some cool things happening in immersive retail tech that appeal to younger consumers and perhaps less to older and more experienced customers. These include things like a changing room where you can see your reflection on a display with different colors that may not be physically in stock. Or iPad, totems and displays in the store that help with making choices, customization options and virtual and augmented reality tools.
It’s important to be able to personalize the experience because habits and behaviours can differ widely in different parts of the world. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Augmented Reality can be important factors in this because they:
– improve understanding customer needs and therefore increasing the ability to adapt products and services or offer a more personalized experience. “Deep retail” allows brands to gain access to much more data and create an intimate understanding of consumers in a way that has never been possible.
– improve the pathway for customers to understand products much faster: the customer has a need and an idea of how it can be satisfied, they google it and find a brand that corresponds and a strong stimulus to go to a store and find out more and make a purchase.
– Auto-tagging systems that automatically correlate aspects of a product and that can make recommendations are AI tools that can increase customer engagement.
The behavior of the customer is changing in today’s retail
Digital technology is removing the distance, physical and otherwise, between communication, promotion, and purchasing. Until not so long ago, our need or desire for a product or service led us to look for them in physical stores so we could get to know them and develop an interest that could then convert into a sale. Today, our desire for products is stimulated through direct or indirect digital forms of communication. We can look, assess, and purchase through the same media without any mediation or interruption in terms of time or logistics. This means there is a strong “emotional” factor in purchasing as there is no longer the same time lapse that allows consumers to plan or change their minds.
The editorial content associated with the brand and its products is what becomes the primary element in communication and promotion. It is what allows communication to take place. Without quality (and self-explanatory) content, the whole process of communication, promotion, and sales comes to a halt.
Currently, there are certain aspects that make the customer experience in physical stores less appealing:
– Range of products: customers often go into stores well documented on what a particular brand has to offer. This is because of the digital experience they have already had, from e-commerce websites, e-wholesaler and e-marketplaces, social networks and the massive doses of advertising they experience every day. So they are disappointed when they enter a store and don’t find the style, colour or size they are looking for. However, it’s not just the range of products.
– Customers expect to have a “different” experience in a store. The point of sale is no longer just somewhere to see what’s on offer. It’s somewhere to experiment and get to know products better. Often we can be disappointed when we realize the sales person knows less than we do about a product. Or perhaps they just want to sell us what’s available. Omni-channel communication that’s been a subject matter for years now should have overcome this problem but that’s not the case in reality.
– The brand and retailers don’t behave “systemically”; they’re not prepared mentally nor are they organized to work as networks, and this hurts the individual sales points. When have you ever gone to a shop where they advised you to look for a specific product that’s exactly what you’re looking for in another store that might actually be part of a different organization?
So, it’s the customer who is dictating the digital adoption?
Yes, it is the customer, but digital adoption is a two way street.
Customers have the need to understand a product, first on their own through their smartphone, tablet, laptop or smartTV. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a customer to use more than one digital touch point at the same time when shopping, browsing or experiencing the brand and its products. This is why it is paramount that the most up-to-date brand and product content is fed in a tightly synchronized way across all digital channels and touch points. No incongruences. For this primary reason the solutions of the company I work for (Hyphen-UK) have always had a strong focus on brand and product content management (both text and visual) as well as channel data feed technologies. Brand and product content talks to the customer – the message must be clear and convincing, and it must be delivered without discrepancies. This is not an easy task to achieve for many brands who are managing brand and product data throughout a plethora of internal systems.
In the store there can also be digital tools like sales staff who use WebApps and other tools that can add to the customer’s understanding. The physical experience has to be a continuum with the digital one – a natural follow up. The Nike store becomes a gym where you can train and try out the brand’s products – this kind of experiential retail is something you could never do at home. The sales point has to satisfy a need beyond a digital window display. This means events, playgrounds, communities, networking. These are physical experiences that don’t detract from the digital experience.
The customer is king and has always been, but the king can be influenced. Smart brands and their brand ambassadors can use smart technologies combined with new approaches and strategies to present, inform and market brand and products. Smart brands are at the forefront of using digital technology not only to engage the customer and always provide the brand and product content/information they need/want, but also to lead the way in establishing market trends for both products and services as well as enhancing and improving the customer experience with the brand and its products. Hyphen- has always been an active player in this arena. We work to help bringing smart brand ideas to fruition with new technology and tools.
The challenges in achieving a congruent physical and digital brand identity.
Hyphen’s mantra is “No digital content, no business”.
The physical and the digital have to be completely intertwined.
Brands and retailers have to put into action a strategy and processes that allow them to manage e Digital Factory and build what we call the PRODUCT DIGITAL IDENTITY. The digital product includes images, information, stories and editorial content that can be distributed on the web and in stores. This has to allow customers to have perfect product understanding regardless of the sales channel. The digital product is the result of a Digital Supply Chain that has to be completely synchronized with the traditional Supply Chain that stretches from R&D through to physical distribution. There is no business that can afford to ignore the need to synchronize these two chains in a systemic way.
This means that images and product information have to be available in the sell-in stage and synchronized with sample centers and shooting processes, and product information has to be complete before products hit the stores.
The solution is to provide a single technology platform where the necessary synchronization can be achieved through a close connection with ERP, PDM, PLM systems. This allows collaboration to take place that eliminates redundancies that often occur when various roles build content for the various digital channels. It facilitates production activities for photographic assets and significantly increases the quantity.
Last but not least, Brands and Retailers need a platform that can manage their digital assets in a consistent way (Digital Warehouse) and enables them to quickly and effectively distribute those assets and deliver all the content available towards digital channels. stores, wholesalers etc.
How is this improving the interaction between fashion brands and their audience?
Digital is radically changing how and where brands reach out to consumers. Interactions between brands and consumers are now happening at a speed and in ways that were previously inconceivable and the number of channels and media where brands need to be present has greatly multiplied.
While it is true that this new, multichannel reality is creating new opportunities for building relationships, it is also causing unprecedented organizational complexity that is disrupting traditional business models.
The new paradigms for multichannel communication, promotion, and sales are forcing brands to build a solid Digital Supply Chain. However, the processes for producing and using digital content often lack alignment and synchronization with the operational needs of the people involved in the Product Supply Chain. For example, samples may not be produced in a timely fashion for e-commerce photos. Whenever a company produces content for the editorial process of a product, there must always be timely contact with the product supply chain. The two supply chains, digital and physical, must intertwine like the strands of DNA with the right pace and synchronization.
Tech platforms integration in the retail ecosystem
Hyphen- platforms for the fashion industries are the HSL & HILP product photography automation platform and the Chalco.BrandLife PIM/PCM/DAM platform. Both platforms are cornerstones of the retail ecosystem.
This is particularly true when the importance of the visual presentation/image of the product is very relevant for the retailer as it is the primary mean that is necessary for selling the product to the target consumer.
The HSL platform provides efficiency, high image quality and automation for product photography. In most scenarios product image data is then transferred for processing and management to our Chalco.BrandLife PIM/PCM/DAM platform.
Chalco.BrandLife functions as the Product Marketing Master Data repository offering content management services for product and brand content (both text and visual) as well as product data feed services to any digital channel used by the retailer to promote and sell products.
Consequently, in most cases Chalco.BrandLife serves as the central hub of the marketing and communication tech infrastructure of the client, brand or retailer. This entails the need for product data exchange and data management integration with many systems of the client back-end such as Product Lifecycle Management, Enterprise Resource Planning, Product acquisition and Inventory management, etc. Chalco.BrandLife collects the product data from the back-end systems (i.e. product technical data and specs), enables the client organization to prepare, edit and finalize the text and visual marketing content that is needed to promote and sell the products and finally delivers it to many customer facing platforms and applications (ie e-commerce, marketplaces, social platforms, apps, etc.).
Because of their roles and services in the retail ecosystem both our platforms require and have a high degree of connectivity and integration with our brand clients/retailers back-end systems, customer facing systems and digital infrastructure. Particularly for for Chalco.BrandLife, we have developed a variety of modules to import and exchange data with many of the most common platforms (both back-end and customer facing) of the retail ecosystem.
– The customer experience starts at home and can be concluded in a store. What customers look for in a store goes well beyond what they already know. This expectation cannot be frustrated.
– Availability of data and content is paramount: data guide business decisions, content promotes the business and can no longer be partial or minimal.
– The approach that brands and retailers take hast to be systemic and overcome “local optima”: from social networking to one-to-one relationships in a store, whoever is selling must be able to offer the customer the solution to their need, regardless of where they are in that moment.
– New digital technologies and gadgets help but are not sufficient if they are not part of a planned and organized communication process.
– Brands have to become media companies. Retailers who handle products from several brands must be part of the editorial process and they must enrich and contextualize it.
– Companies must have a “technological operating system” made up of tools and organized processes that maximize the alignment between the digital supply chain and the product supply chain, enabling the production of valuable digital content that can be rapidly distributed to the various channels.
Hyphen-UK is part of the Hyphen-Group, an independent Italian Hi-Tech company.
Hyphen’s mission is to guide and support customers throughout their Digital Transformation journey, providing them with innovative technology that seamlessly matches their digital production needs. Thanks to 20 years of experience with fashion and luxury brands, retailers, publishers and agencies, we design and develop customized, innovative digital solutions and services that reinvent the way product and brand content works to drive revenue and enhance market agility.
Hyphen- works with global luxury and fashion brands including Armani, Gucci, Diesel, MaxMara, Tod’s, Valentino, Jacamo, JDWilliams, Trussardi, Céline, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Simply be., United Colors of Benetton, Sisley, Luisa Via Roma, Borbonese, Loro Piana, Patrizia Pepe, O bag, Woolrich, Luxottica, Canali 1934, Imperial, Herno, Etro, Maison Margiela, Safilo Group, Marni, Rifle, agencies like McCann and Saatchi and Saatchi, and retailers like Tesco and Staples as well as many other smaller brands and retailers.
COO@Hyphen-Group (IT, UK, US)