There’s a secret held by every consumer that is nearly unknown to brands. It’s the shocking truth that almost every fashion house and sport products company ignores. Because of the blindfold that they have chosen to wear, they have lost billions of dollars in potential revenue. Each day, individuals look less and less at what a brand is trying to sell them and, instead, focus on their own curated tastes. Every person has their favorite pair of jeans, their most comfortable pair of shoes, and their go-to t-shirt.
As individuals, we have collectively decided what will be our “look” and what we prefer to wear on a daily basis. This has resulted one simple truth: Consumers do not shop from a single brand.
Consider this; one male consumer might wear the following outfit:
• Chuck Taylor low-tops from Converse
• 501 jeans from Levi’s
• Tee shirt from H&M
Another male consumer may wear a similar outfit to achieve an entirely different look:
• Chuck Taylor low-tops from Converse
• 511 slim fit jeans from Levi’s
• Slim fit dress shirt from Calvin Klein
• Ludlow blazer from J. Crew
But the sad fact is that these brands may never share consumer data, nor may they ever try to cooperate in any way in order to increase their respective sales figures. The consumer has moved to a true omnichannel model where they have created their own personal consumer “brand”, with their unique set of preferences and data, and are expecting traditional corporate brands to meet their needs. Unfortunately, the modern fashion industry simply isn’t set up to meet these expectations.
If these brands are going to change, and start embracing this new consumer model, they need to start at the beginning; with the product development process. Today, fashion companies focus on creating a single product that can reach as many different consumers as possible. In the future, however, customers will be expecting product that they can tailor to their own specific tastes. Therefore, companies who are eager to differentiate themselves are now shifting to tools and processes that allow for easy product customization. This is especially true in the footwear industry where each runner has a specific stride, foot strike, and comfort preference.
Tools are now starting to arrive that will allow footwear to be designed so that it can be easily customized at the point of sale. The next step would be to allow customization, of color and material, that might allow a pair of shoes to better coordinate with the pants from another brand being worn by the consumer. Here again, this may require brands to cooperate in their design approach to the consumer.
Changing Face of Retail
Traditionally, companies have drawn a sharp division between their online stores and their brick and mortar counterparts; each selling product using completely different methods. At brick and mortar retail, the consumer is free to browse a small, fixed collection of products and soak in the brand identity. Online however, the consumer has to give up much of the brand identity, but are given access to a much larger, searchable set of inventory.
Looking forward however, some companies are breaking out of this model and mixing the best of the online experience with the best of brick and mortar. These companies are starting to bring the online experience into stores so that, while consumers may be able to browse key items and colors in store, they have access to the entire online inventory at the same time. They can also use these tools to build outfits, predict fit, and customize products; perhaps even customizing the product directly in the store. Finally, consumer preferences can be captured by these digital devices and fed directly back to the product teams via analytics built into modern PLM systems. But what’s still missing is the ability for the consumer to build a virtual closet of all their favorite products, regardless of brand, and have it travel with them from store to store; whether that store be physical or online.
Product customization is nothing new; especially in footwear. Many of the major footwear brands have offered customization for years: Adidas, Nike , and New Balance all offer online product customization. But this is typically just color and material customization and doesn’t allow for changes to fit or cushioning. Some brands, such as New Balance, are just starting to use modern 3D tools to provide customized outsoles to the elite athletes and, eventually, consumers. Once again, however, this begs the question of customization across brands. Will I be able to print the authentic Vans checkerboard pattern on my Gap t-shirt? Will I be able to customize the color of my 3D printed New Balance outsole to coordinate with my faded Levi’s 501s? Probably not. But the marketplace is changing and what was unthinkable in the past, may just become commonplace in the future.
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