Before joining fashion retail tech firm Fits Me, which specializes in data analytics, Simms worked at tech companies including Microsoft and Rackspace, and it was these experiences that taught him the power of data, an area he believes is key to the future of fashion.
“Tech firms take huge amounts of data and feedback from the customer and then feed that into their product development process,” said Simms. “I have not seen a similar approach in fashion yet – where consumer insight and data is being used in a meaningful way to then understand how they should be sizing, grading or styling garments – and I think that is the real revolution that is happening in the fashion industry.”
Simms argues all aspects of clothing shopping could currently be improved and there are, “certain aspects that are really broken”.
He believes this is partly due to retailers being afraid to ask consumers for relevant data.
Fits Me is often asked by clients and prospects whether consumers are willing and able to share data such as their height, age and weight. Simms says the answer is always ‘yes’ as long as they receive something in return.
“There has to be a value exchange between the retailer and the consumer. The more data the consumer gives, the more personalized the experience and the more relevant the experience should be for them both in-store and online,” said Simms. “And I think that is the area I would really like retailers to focus on now.”
A study that Fits Me carried out with a major high street retailer found that 88% of people aged between 25-35 were happy to share data as long as they received value in return.
It is not just the Millennials who are happy to share data either. Simms claims the value exchange approach has worked with brands that target middle-aged women because this demographic has been willing to share data as long as they are engaged in a pertinent way.
Simms highlights how some major fashion brands can present over 200 results when a customer searches for a particular item, and once the customer has entered a plethora of additional filers to whittle down the choices they can finally discover their ideal product is out of stock.
“When we say it [the shopping experience] is broken, we think ‘what if we put the consumer at the heart of the experience?’ And then make sure whenever they are presented with new results that they are tied to their preferences, their size, and any other information they are happy to provide.”
Fortunately, Simms believes the future of fashion retail is an exciting prospect because retailers are beginning to understand personalization, and are profiling customers as soon as they come into contact with the brand.
Some brands such as Roam are customizing the experience around the individual by asking psychometric questions. These could include quizzing a customer on their favorite holidays or music in order to provide a detailed picture of a customer.
Whereas once retailers would get to know their customers through in-store interaction, they are now able to build a profile of their customers online as well.
Simms credits Nordic fashion brand Masai, a Fits Me client, with successfully extending the core values and services it offers in-store to its online customers.
“They were very selective about what tools they could use on the website that really mimicked the in-store experience they were trying to provide.”
However, it can be a challenge integrating the online and offline experiences successfully and this may stem from the traditional cultural and technological set-up at a retailer.
“On the cultural side, the e-commerce business might not necessarily be working very closely with the product or the back office operations,” said Simms. “Or from a technology point of view that data has been siloed, so the consumer data they are capturing maybe sits within the e-commerce business and is not necessarily shared with the product guys.”
Fashion retailers are going to great lengths to break down these silos as they seek to build a single view of the customer.
This is all creating a shift in the way retailers operate as they come full circle in shifting back to a very personalized experience, having more recently moved to a mass market model.
The Future Of Fashion
“If you think about how people bought clothing in the late 1800s they had a very tailored set of clothing – it was made specifically for them. I believe in the future there is going to be opportunities for consumers to have a more tailored, personalized service again.”
Simms also predicts innovations such as visual search, augmented and virtual reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence will have a profound impact on the future of fashion retail
“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible,” concluded Simms.