The apparel industry is in a state of rapid change fueled by an increased focus on Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and generally collecting and doing more with data. While it’s hard to read the news without hearing something about the “retail apocalypse” some of the most innovative brands are growing faster than ever, and they’re taking marketshare away from those who can’t keep up. Rewind ten years ago and the concept of omni-channel and personalization was a game-changer and companies on the forefront saw the benefits immediately as customers flocked to a more connected experience.
Now in 2018, omni-channel and personalization have moved from innovative to required. Customers are no longer wowed by an omni-channel experience, they expect it, the same is true for personalization. So what are the most innovative brands focusing on today now that omni-channel and personalization have been crossed off the list? Data, and for apparel brands, the new digital gold is customer body data.
“Clothing companies now see body measurements as one of their most prized currencies, and millions of Americans are increasingly offering up their innermost personal data in search of customized pieces or a better fit.” (Source – Washington Post)
Collecting body measurements used to mean taking out a measuring tape and spending 10 – 15 minutes in-person with a customer, now this can all be done algorithmically, providing companies with accurate body data leveraging the latest advancements in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The impact here goes far beyond recommending a size, it’s starting to drive an entirely new process for the apparel industry as a whole to approach designing their sizing specifications, leveraging data that simply wasn’t available even five years ago.
“We see the opportunity to fundamentally change the way clothes are made by using real customer data. Apparel brands can now algorithmically obtain detailed body measurements of their shoppers and leverage this data upstream to curate AI-driven product decisions around sizing and fit.” (Source – Retail Touchpoints)
Along with advances in technology that make algorithmic body measurement prediction possible, consumer shopping habits have changed when it comes to sharing data about their bodies, and innovative retailers like Stitch Fix are using this to their advantage.
“Stitch Fix chief algorithms officer Eric Colson said he was surprised at how quickly customers were willing to share so much about themselves. At Netflix, where he previously led data science and engineering, the streaming-video service pushed to keep new users interested by removing as many questions at sign-up as possible. But at Stitch Fix, where building a profile can involve answering more than 80 personal questions, the follow-through rate is one of the highest Colson said he has ever seen.” (Source – Washington Post)
The challenge for many traditional apparel brands is how to move faster to introduce innovative technologies that can allow them to begin collecting and leveraging customer body data. There’s a reason why relatively new companies like Stitch Fix, Jet, and Warby Parker have been able to grow so quickly, it’s all about innovating faster than anyone else and that means adopting new technologies without getting stuck in the draconian RFP and never-ending A/B testing process that has led so many large retailers into dangerous territory when it comes to moving forward.
The race is on, now the question is, who is going to lead and who is going to be stuck playing catch-up? Trying to play catch-up in the current retail climate is incredibly hard and those in the lead, especially when it comes to data, are going to have a significant advantage that only grows with time.