For decades, Fashion Week shows were exclusive to industry insiders.
While the average consumer pre-Internet could see the latest trends in print magazines and newspapers in the days that followed, the elite industry event always felt closed off from most shoppers.
However, more than ever before, the recent Fashion Week season was dominated by digital technology, heralding a complete transformation of the events, and expanding their reach to include a broader audience.
Across London, Paris and New York, fashion houses and high street brands alike have harnessed a range of technologies to bring consumers into the exclusive atmosphere to increase user base and ultimately revenue.
YOOX NET-A-PORTER has even announced the opening of a dedicated space for its technology team to ensure it remains ahead of the digital game.
With the domestic market value of the UK fashion industry already worth £66 billion, increasing engagement with potential customers could mean big money for businesses who get it right.
Everyone is invited
This year, social media channels were the catalyst of the Fashion Weeks’ digital strategy, taking audience engagement to new levels through placing followers not only on the front row, but also behind the scenes.
In particular, 2016’s fierce battle for consumer attention between Snapchat and Instagram Stories emphasises the value attributed to harnessing fashion fans’ appetite for real-time experiences.
>See also: Machine learning: fashion’s next revolution
The technology at this year’s fashion show season was not just designed to improve the experiences for those outside the event.
Devices such as Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality headset gave those attending the Martine Jarlgaard London show the chance to view garments from all angles, and in greater detail.
This real-time engagement is crucial in today’s hyper-connected world.
The creation of a new intimate relationship with the designer and use of instant feedback and response monitoring have been integral to maximising the success of previously exclusive fashion brands during a very important time in their calendar year.
Converting engagement into revenue
However, key to fulfilling the expectations of the always-on consumer is the notion of immediate availability of the product on display.
For those lucky enough to attend a Fashion Week show, brands are innovating to make purchasing easier.
For example, Henry Holland has worked with VISA to make shopping instantaneous by using NFC-enabled (near-field communication) rings distributed amongst show attendees.
This allows viewers to make purchases on a pre-paid VISA card while the collection is being modelled; the audience can simply collect their merchandise fresh from the catwalk on the way out.
But what about those of us who missed out on a ticket?
Even the best digital strategies will fall at the final hurdle if they do not generate revenue by empowering followers to purchase the products they see easily and rapidly.
Recognising a fantastic opportunity to create additional value, fashion houses rose to the occasion in 2016 by making new lines immediately available online and in stores.
Whether through social media or Fashion Week specific apps, the ability for instant purchasing and speedy delivery has enabled brands to turn fashion enthusiasts into potential long-term customers and significantly expand the revenue pool.
Do not neglect data
Despite an expanded audience, it is still important to create personalised experiences for consumers, something that can be done by analysing data.
Moreover, through using technologies such as virtual reality and social media fashion houses can analyse which products were successful, informing next year’s lines and tailoring ranges to customer preferences.
Using these new sources of data, manufacturers, the supply chain and wider distribution networks can be prepared to meet consumer demand by knowing where the interest is sparked and in which line.
Through personalisation and crowdsourcing – inviting customers to share their thoughts and ideas – early on in the supply chain can be extremely beneficial. If retailers can get feedback on the design table instead of waiting for the catwalk, the line may be more successful as they became part of the ‘virtual design team’.
The key aspect about the use of technology in this year’s Fashion Week season from the business perspective, is that the opportunity for heightened consumer engagement has enabled significant revenue generation.
It also highlights the positive impact that technology can have not just on the consumer experience, but on the whole retail process from promotion to the show itself.
In summary, it has the potential to improve the efficiency of the entire purchasing and delivery network, while opening up the fashion world to the masses creates numerous opportunities, brands must ensure they are prepared to scale up and meet this increased demand.
One thing is for sure – technology has an undeniable presence in today’s fashion business and it will be fascinating to see what the industry does next to bring fans further into their world.
Along with increased consumer engagement, we are likely to continue to see brands personalise their offerings for fashion enthusiasts.
What will be key is cutting down the barrage of choices to what matters to the individual, giving options that allow a seamless, high quality experience.
Sourced by Trish Young, head of UK business consulting – retail, consumer goods, travel and hospitality, Cognizant