An overwhelming majority of shoppers say they will continue to visit stores when the pandemic is over; but they report remarkable shifts in their behaviors and expectations. We’ve built a transformative solution apparel brands can adopt to be ahead of the curve.
As we sit anxiously in close quarters with our cohabitating family members, trying to juggle life, work and hope all in one shared space...many of us who run businesses are also trying to quickly reimagine what the future, post-pandemic world will look like. One thing is for sure, it will be a changed world. In every aspect of our lives.
I’m spending my time thinking about the future of shopping. Shopping for clothes in particular. While much of shopping for apparel has moved online, propelled in more recent times by the steady stream of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) brands that have been flourishing, apparel retail overall has been guided by the widely-known statistic that some 70% of consumers prefer to shop for clothes in-person (even more when it comes to Millennials). This insight, along with the challenging dynamics of profitably scaling an online business, has pushed DTC brands to experiment with physical retail in recent years, much to the delight of real estate partners.
But what now? Will this in-person-shopping-for-clothes-phenomenon that has long been the beacon for retail store growth, see a dramatic shift? We think so. At least for the foreseeable future. And this means that brands, retailers and real estate developers have an enormous and urgent challenge. To work out the role of physical retail in our post-pandemic world, and simultaneously determine how they will make shopping for clothes online offer more of the attributes of an in-person shopping experience. All this while resurrecting a sustainable path forward from our living rooms, zoom calls and contemplative socially-distanced walks. That’s what I call building a plane, flying it and re-routing it all at once.
I’m personally optimistic for in-person retail. My strong instinct is that because we are innately social creatures, we will be rearing to get out into the world as quickly as we are able, with a much-deepened appreciation for in-person connecting and experiences that will include visiting physical spaces. In a poll we conducted just this week, 75% of participants overall (and even higher among 18 to 35 years olds at 85%), said they will return to visiting retail stores post-pandemic. But they want their shopping experience to be markedly different...
An astounding 40% of participants said they are now apprehensive about trying on clothes. Almost all respondents expect apparel brands to prioritize hygiene and offer options like no-contact shopping. Just when we thought the playbook was experiential retail, and we were all furiously working out how to infuse some “ice cream factory-ness” and data-driven technology into physical retail, we’ve now been thrown a huge and urgent innovation curve ball..
As the Founder of a retail tech company, I feel the urgency and magnitude of the challenge like everyone else, and want to do my bit to help the world get back to (our new) normal. I’ve had the honor of working alongside a team of brilliant engineers and data scientists for the past year plus on a transformative technology solution that we always believed would help shape the future of apparel retail. We just didn’t know that “future” would be so expedited.
The end-to-end shopping experience hasn’t really changed in the last 50 years. While there have been examples of “in-store technology” on the retail floor, in my opinion we haven’t yet seen any truly bold innovation that materially impacts offline-to-online retail and vice versa. In fact, most of what we’ve seen has felt somewhat forced. Bold companies choose the future and build it; then others follow. Think Tesla vs every other car company trying to go electric today. What is needed in apparel retail is a transformative overhaul of the way we shop - down to the studs. One that addresses the needs of the evolved customer base, leverages modern advances in fulfillment and utilizes AI to give customers only what they want. This pandemic has only accelerated the need for this overhaul - both offline and online.
At FIT:MATCH we’re combining 3D and AI technologies to deliver an integrated offline/online no-contact apparel shopping journey that means consumers will never have to try on clothes again. The first-of-its-kind Fit-Predictive Personalization Platform matches consumers with the items that fit them 90% or better, and hides the rest so they can…. Shop what fits. Not what doesn’t.
We’re really excited about what we are bringing to the apparel retail space. At the highest level, we’re increasing shopper relevance and satisfaction, vastly improving retailer economics, and offering a data-driven technology solution that positively impacts apparel retail upstream (think design and inventory planning) and downstream (think shopping experience and logistics). The icing on the cake then is that this all culminates in huge strides toward sustainability, which is at the heart of my team’s mission.
In November 2019 we premiered the first-of-its kind AI-powered Fit Studio concept in BayBrook Mall Houston, as part of a broader collaboration with Brookfield Properties, one of the largest real estate managers in the world. Together with our pop-up partner - Melissa Gonzalez and the team at the Lionesque Group, we built-out the entire experience from start to finish, in just 4 days. The group of 15 pilot brands was a curated mix of international, national and local fashion brands including aspirational athleisure brand Urban Savage, Houston-based Nour De La Gaza and Samshek from India. During the 3 month period through mid-February, we collected over 300 million unique points of data from 3,000 participants who got fitched (3D-measured), and have joined our platform. The average age from this location was 24 years; so right where Gen Z meets Millennial. We learned the experience was overwhelmingly positive, achieving a Net Promoter Score of 90% and we are constantly receiving requests from those who have joined the platform to be able to shop their matches from their favorite fashion brands (we’ve collected a long list).
Perhaps the thing that’s blown us away the most is what we refer to as “the participation rate”. Some 80% of people who come into the Studio (the vast majority who are just passers by and have no idea about the concept) enthusiastically participate in the experience on the promise of never having to try on clothes again. That perceived value could only have risen in the past few weeks given the new backdrop.
The cornerstone of our platform is integration: Data integration and Web integration. We connect individualized biometric data we collect from shoppers with an apparel brand’s product data. Our technology also integrates with the brand’s website enabling an entirely personalized shopping experience. Each shopper will be presented with only the items that fit them 90% or better, and the rest is hidden. So my experience will be completely different from yours, and so on. Brands can also proactively market to those on the platform on an ongoing basis with personalized text messages offering proactive recommendations. This unique and ongoing data exchange between shoppers and brands is what powers our Fit-Predictive Personalization solution. And as brands learn more about individual and collective shopper preferences, our data helps inform future product design and aids inventory planning precision.
While our team is heads-down on roll-out plans that include openings in Chicago, Boston, LA and Houston later this year, our real estate partners are now in even greater pursuit of innovative technology-powered experiences to drive traffic and engagement that offer apparel brands and shoppers a more relevant way to sell and shop in our changed world. In the meantime, all of us have one critical responsibility to help the world return to (our new) normal. Please stay home.
And with that, I’d like to extend an invitation to executives across the apparel ecosystem to join our platform. Together we can leverage revolutionary data science to transform apparel retail. I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**April 2020 commissioned FIT:MATCH Survey: 100 women |18-55 yrs | United States