It took them a while to embrace e-commerce so it's easy to forgive fashion brands and retailers for taking so long to use leverage smartphone technology to reach customers. But they won't get a free pass for much longer. At a panel during WWD's CEO Summit, savvy apparel retailers are having no trouble wrapping their heads (and dollars) around mobile-friendly sites and apps as a way to boost revenue and connect with consumers.
James Gardner, CEO and co-founder of CREATETHE GROUP, an interactive agency whose clients include Burberry, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Neiman Marcus (NM) and others told me:
Spending is higher on the web, but the mobile apps help brands reach the consumer wherever they are with their mobile device, and offer another engaging way to interact with the brands, strengthen brand loyalty and to offer a creative way for shoppers on the go to browse a brand at their own convenience via an iPhone, iPad or another connected device. This ultimately helps drive sales. While a consumer may spend a few minutes window shopping via a mobile app but may not make a purchase, that action helps convert more sales online and in-store.
Though the preponderance of purchases happen on the Web, Gardner asserts that two of CREATETHE GROUP's largest luxury retailers average eight to nine percent of their total sales through mobile. Flash sale site Rue La La projects even bigger results with 20 percent of its sales expected to come through mobile by next year.
The most successful brands to convert will offer customers an array of ways to connect and shop. But you don't necessarily need to rely on an app. Gardner tells me that mobile commerce enabled sites are more important.
While apps were a craze and a focus for 2008 and 2009, what quickly became important to CREATETHE GROUP's clients is mobile commerce - and really making their sites accessible and shopable on all mobile devices including the iPhone and iPad that do not support Flash, because anyone can access a retailer's site on their mobile device whether a branded app is available yet or not. The focus shifted away from apps to mobile commerce, and our most recent examples of mobile commerce enabled sites include Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, DKNY, and Juicy Couture. With these clients and others, we are in progress of the next level of optimizing mobile design and the checkout process.
If a brand has the resources to do it, developing an app can offer the potential customer a more robust way to shop remotely. David Yurman's iPhone app for its timepiece collection allows users to browse collections, view detailed descriptions, make purchases through a personal shopper, and view product images in their actual size to see what the piece would look like on their wrist.
Smart brand managers would do well to begin incorporating location based services that go beyond a store locator. Nordstrom's (JWN) recent inventory integration between stores and warehouse allowed shoppers to see what was available in nearby stores or shop online and pick up in the store. The initiative has made Nordstrom's inventory turn at record-setting speeds (to 5.41 in 2009 from 4.84 in 2005) and improved margins on merchandise that would have languished on racks until marked below 50 percent.
There's still plenty of room for improvement. Piers Fawkes, founder of trend research firm PSFK, believes retailers should encourage mobile phones in stores and provide free wi-fi for shoppers to enhance the browsing experience. Fawkes also suggests retailers to take control of their inventory cycles by synchronizing special discounts for groups.
You can encourage people to purchase when you want to move stock. You can also focus on your loyal consumers and reward them with group purchases. And you can test the popularity of new concepts or product ranges or brands before you make them.
One thing's clear: if a multichannel shopper spends four times, on average, what a one-source shopper spends, fashion retailers who haven't started developing mobile-friendly sites yet better get busy.
Image via DKNY