With heavy Covid-related restrictions likely to last through the winter, retailers of all sizes are figuring out how to make the best of a challenging situation. The Covid pandemic has hit the fashion industry hard, but the outlook is particularly bleak for small businesses. 25 to 36 percent of smaller-sized retailers are expected to close permanently as a result of Covid-related disruption, and three-quarters of all clothing stores have reported significant loss of trade since May 23rd. In a climate where online sales are booming while brick and mortar sales fall, Cathaleen Chen and Tamison O’connor of Business Of Fashion say, “the easiest way to avoid the effects of a lockdown is to invest in e-commerce.” By virtue of their size, independent stores are more nimble and better able to transform when needed, but does this make digital transformation the right path when resources are scarce and budgets tight?
The fear of spending money on something that won’t fit right, won’t look good and may have to be returned is one of the biggest deterrents to online sales. Addressing this issue head-on, forward-thinking retailers are investing heavily in augmented reality technologies such as virtual fitting rooms – a fertile market projected to hit $10 Bn by 2027. While department stores or retail chains might have the available cash to plough into a new fitting solution, deciding to make this kind of investment is more stressful for a cash-strapped independent. On the flip-side, investing in a technology that will help retain customers in uncertain times as well as draw new ones in from a wider pool, could potentially pay for itself.
So what’s an SME to do?
Is an investment in technology necessary for my business?
Yes! Independent fashion retailers have historically viewed sophisticated technologies like virtual fitting as the preserve of the larger stores with larger budgets, but this is no longer the case. Some of the solutions available today can be purchased off-the-shelf and readily scaled up or down to suit any sized business. If you opt for a solution that has been specifically designed to integrate with your current ecommerce platform (such as Wix, Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce) it can be surprisingly easy to onboard. As the solution has been pre-tailored to your shopping platform no extra programming or tweaking is required on the back-end and you can be up-and-running without further intervention.
How will virtual fitting help me retain my customers in this competitive market?
In a competitive market, the only way to win is to stand out. As a smaller business, retaining the loyalty of current customers while also entering new customer markets is essential. With in-store shopping currently on the back burner, it is crucial to upgrade the online shopping experience to attract more business. A virtual fitting solution replicates the real-world fitting experience as closely as possible thereby making online shopping both easier and less hit-and miss. Virtual fitting means your customers can shop online with greater confidence and make fewer “mistakes” leading to costly returns. The ease and convenience of being able to shop successfully anywhere and anytime will boost your online conversions while simultaneously delighting your customer. These days, the retail industry is abuzz with expressions like ”experiential retail or “retailtainment.” What this means is that your customers have higher expectations from the retail experience than ever before and this applies to both in-store and online offerings. Virtual fitting will help you tick the “experiential retail” box and boost customer engagement by making online shopping interactive, visual and fun.
Won’t it take months to implement?
In a word, no. The leading virtual fitting solutions, like Style.me, do all the heavy-lifting for you – from implementing a simple plugin into your website site to digitizing your clothing collections. You won’t need to pay for outside developers and it’s not uncommon for such projects to go live in as little as four weeks.
Is it REALLY worth investing in yet more software?
It is natural to be reticent about adopting another software solution, especially if you have limited personnel resources and already struggle to master any of the programs you currently use for payments, supply chain logistics, and other operations. The good news is that Virtual fitting solutions, like Style.me, have a very limited learning curve. They are completely intuitive and can be operated easily by anyone with a basic familiarity with technology. All the necessary tweaks are done during the initial onboarding so outside developers are not required.
It will probably be too expensive for us!
This is a legitimate concern particularly in today’s cash-strapped environment. Fortunately, it’s possible to find a solution that offers an accessible pricing plan alongside reasonable monthly fees. When considered alongside the ease and speed of implementation, many SMEs are finding virtual fitting technologies to be well within their reach. As with any investment, the initial cost should always be weighed up in relation to future gains. In this case, the virtual fitting room will contribute to both cost-savings and revenue increase for your business, providing a very positive and rapid return on investment.
If you’re an independent fashion retailer, your customers probably love the experience of shopping with you, popping into your store and getting that personal touch. They love the uniqueness of your styles and the charisma of your employees. If only you could rely on that pre-Covid reality to return. However, like it or not, “the shift towards digital enablement is inevitable for retailers” at this time. The problem is that everyone else is scrambling to get online too so simply launching an online store is not enough; you have to worry about differentiating your store from competitors as well. To date, you may have avoided virtual fitting and other seemingly-complex technologies, believing them to be beyond your reach both in terms of cost and scale, but current circumstances are forcing everyone to revisit old decisions. Fortunately, the cost and convenience of some of the solutions currently available place virtual fitting firmly within your reach.