The impact of technology on the fashion sector

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Ken Price, Blake Mill

Ken Price, Founding Partner at Blake Mill, takes a look at how tech and eCommerce are revolutionising the nature of the fashion sector, and why it's so important that modern businesses are aware of their power.

Few industries have changed more radically, for better or for worse, in recent years than fashion. From the meteoric rise of fast fashion to the decline of the high street, there are few sectors which have seen such turbulence and disruption.

Technology, eCommerce in particular, has been driving much of this change. 

Statistics

The global fashion market is big - roughly £1 trillion excluding footwear and jewellery, as per a report by CO Data in May 2018. According to Grand View Research, 83% of this market comprises offline purchases.

It won’t come as a surprise, therefore, that while the overall global fashion market is expected to grow close to 6% per year according to Statista, they expect eCommerce sales in the global fashion market to grow by 12.2% annually up to 2023.

A rapidly changing market

At Blake Mill, an eCommerce pureplay selling individual and irreverent men’s shirts, we’ve seen first-hand the changes that have taken place in our industry.

Based upon our experience, there are several areas where eCommerce has had a profound effect on the fashion industry. The rise of giants such as ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided (the latter two based in Manchester, itself fast becoming an eCommerce fashion Mecca) is one of the most obvious manifestations of the inexorable triumph of eCommerce, even in testing economic times.

Data and analytics

In our experience, eCommerce is more than simply having a platform upon which to sell your product.

The platform itself is of course hugely important, and these days vendors have a wide range of options best suited to their business, their product and of course their budget. In our experience, however, the real value stems from the insights that businesses such as ours are able to get; the ability to make real-time, business-critical decisions that are informed by empirical evidence and data has been a massive game-changer for industries such as fashion, where change is not only incessant but also very fast.

The ability to gain insights from analytics and related data sources has allowed Blake Mill as a business to take major strides forward in areas as varied as inventory management, customer satisfaction, and product development. 

The increasing sophistication of the broader eCommerce ecosystem not only bolsters the ability of vendors to get invaluable insights into customer behaviour, but also correspondingly enable those customers to benefit from a vastly enhanced user experience.

Personalisation tools, often bolstered by artificial intelligence, have made a huge difference to the customer experience on-site; and going forward, the rise of voice search, AR and VR will let even small businesses create virtual fitting rooms, personal shopping assistants and much, much more.

Social media impact

Social media obviously plays a major part in any eCommerce business. Facebook is obviously a hugely important marketing tool, and Instagram has been a fertile breeding ground for many fashion businesses, boosted significantly by the rise of influencer culture.

It’s also important to mention that social allows eCommerce businesses to have one-to-one conversations with customers, and to create a real sense of community based upon the customers’ love of the product and/or brand. Companies like Charlotte Tilbury have really harnessed this sense of community, which, when coupled with a well-designed and robust platform, can maximise revenue without compromising brand value.

And community is not just about selling. We’re now able to much more meaningfully respond to real concerns that our customers have, and deliver that message in a personal and human way across several channels. At Blake Mill, we know our customers take sustainability very seriously - as do we - and that’s a message that is always front and centre when we converse with the Blake Mill community.

On a more operational level, we’ve found the ability to target potential customers at a very granular level to be hugely beneficial. Furthermore, these insights allow a business to monitor ROI much more effectively; in an industry where daily revenue volatility can be extremely high, the ability to apply financial market tested technical analysis such as tracking 10 and 30-day moving averages is invaluable when considering product placement and marketing spend. 

Ultimately, it’s fair to say that technology more widely, and eCommerce in particular, has already had a profound impact on the fashion industry. It’s also fair to say that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The ability to make key decisions, based upon real data, the rise of AI, and the increasing sophistication of not only eCommerce platforms such as Shopify and Magento but also of the broader ecosystem, means that the frantic rate of change in the fashion industry will continue. Ultimately this will benefit not only businesses, but also customers.