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Fashion Retailing: Customers Buy More With Self-Serve Access to Inventory


By Andrea Morgan-Vandome, Oracle Retail

Fashion retailing is unique because in many cases, customers don’t know exactly what they want. All they know is that they’re excited by, and interested in, what’s new. They want to see what their favorite designers are bringing to high couture, sportswear or cocktail dresses this season. They may even be looking for retailers themselves to give recommendations as they curate their own offerings, presenting styles and product pairings that are most likely to appeal to identifiable customer groups or even individual shoppers.

At the other end of the spectrum, many customers are looking for the speed and convenience of a streamlined shopping experience. If they find something they like online they want to know where it is available. Once they find out, they will either buy it online, or head into the brick-and-mortar store that has it to complete the transaction. These customers want — actually they expect — the item to be in stock, in the size and color they’re looking for.

When they can’t find an item in the store, less brand-loyal customers will simply leave. But brand-dedicated customers may be more willing to procure the item through another channel when it’s not in the store. Fashion retailers want to make accurate inventory information available in order to enable reserving the correct item at another store, or shipping it directly to the customer’s home.

How can retailers meet the needs of these distinctly different fashion consumers? It takes more than the traditional “arts” of planning and merchandising, though these are still vital to any successful strategy. Today there’s also a pressing need to apply science to multiple aspects of fashion retailing and solutions are readily available.

Take inventory management, which today also means data transparency. In order to let online and mobile shoppers know which items are actually in-stock before they commit to visiting a store, retailers need to make accurate inventory information available, on a 24/7 basis. In the fashion vertical, this requires retailers to maintain a granular, near real-time view of exactly where each item is, store by store and SKU by SKU.

This can require significant investments in systems and processes, but the rewards go beyond customer service. By integrating customer analytics that accurately predict which shoppers will be most interested in which items, retailers can allocate products to the channels, touch-points and store locations where demand is greatest. In addition, by making this an ongoing process during the fashion season, retailers can manipulate the levers of consumer demand, maximizing sales and minimizing markdowns by matching product availability with those shoppers willing to pay full price.

Enhancing connections with customers can also be used to tailor the store experience. For customers seeking a more curated, consultative shopping experience, store associates armed with purchase history data can make highly targeted recommendations. Even for self-guided shoppers, retailers can take advantage of new media within the store, making “haul” videos and fashionista recommendations available via interactive displays or mobile devices.

Most of all, retailers must be able to “read” their fashion customers on an ongoing basis. For example, the same shopper may be seeking convenience when buying basic wardrobe items, but may want to treat herself to a tailored, consultative experience for a special event purchase.

Much has been written about the technology-empowered customer that knows what she wants as well as where, when and how she wants to buy it. Thanks to easy access to competitors’ prices, she even has some control over what she’s willing to pay for it. While these trends have been reshaping all of retail, they are creating new challenges — and opportunities — as fashion retailers seek to offer items when, where and how consumers want to shop. Inventory transparency is a critical step toward delivering a great customer experience and enabling sales.

Andrea Morgan-Vandome is VP, Oracle Retail.

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