If you are a relatively small retailer, the most viable strategy is to seek out a technology that fits your existing business model. Don’t benchmark or copy the behavior of your competitors; they may have a different mix of customers or different business capabilities. Look for a relatively self-contained part of your enterprise where you can introduce a full system. Tie it to your most distinctive offering and to what you are already doing online. Wait to roll out a full-scale launch until you have confirmed that your more contained effort works well. Hawes & Curtis, for example, introduced a virtual fitting room on its website in early 2011 with only a few lines of men’s shirts.
For large retailers, it might be wise to adopt more than one technology at a time. If one approach doesn’t scale or if it fails to meet your needs in another way — or if a major competitor fully adopts it first — you will have others standing by. And if you build enough communication among your R&D teams, the capabilities you develop for each technology will reinforce the capabilities you gain in developing the others.
The apparel retail sector is well positioned to be an early adopter of this technology. There is more room for growth in online retail clothing sales than in almost any other major product category. Apparel is currently the largest e-commerce category, with US$31 billion in online sales in 2010. It is even bigger than computers, which had online sales of $26 billion; therefore, at first glance clothing might not appear to be a top candidate for sales growth. However, those 2010 figures represented more than half of the computers sold anywhere — but only 9 percent of total clothing sales. That leaves a whopping 91 percent opportunity for apparel. A good portion of that growth will not go to pure e-commerce, but to hybrid models combining bricks-and-mortar retail with online fitting and customization. If companies add to this the highly personalized customer experience that augmented retail can provide, they can gain revenue rewards, intensive consumer loyalty, and the chance to outpace competitors.
- Annette Kramer is an independent business and communications consultant who works with startups and small and medium-sized enterprises. She has been a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a lecturer in communications at Brown University; she is currently a guest speaker at the London School of Economics.