Research Reveals Retail’s Rapid Transformation – With More to Come

Findings from JWT, PMX Agency, Bomoda and Chegg are being presented at the WWD Digital Forum.

Amid market consolidation of brands, consumers’ craving for personalization and more experiential shopping options as well as the ongoing impact of influencers, the global retail and fashion market continues to see unparalleled change, according to several reports being released this week.

Research from PMX Agency, Bomoda, Chegg and J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, among others, are cued up for presentation at the WWD Digital Forum in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday. Notable is the PMX report, which ranked the online market share of luxury brands. On top was Ralph Lauren, followed by Michael Kors in second and Coach Inc. in third.

With the JWT report, the company partnered with WWD to update research from last year’s findings. This year’s report, titled “Transcendent Retail,” is a 137-page “deep dive” into retail’s transformation.

“We’re examining the impact of voice technology, augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI), on how retail is done,” said Lucie Greene, worldwide director of The Innovation Group at JWT Intelligence. “We’re also looking at the future of experience and what this means to the industry. Experience culture has come so far that it’s increasingly becoming the key driver in consumer spending, making the store experience more important than ever.”

Greene told WWD that the IoT “has reached critical mass” and that various technologies are accelerating the convergence of digital and physical retailing. “And there is still a very strong appetite for stores and experiences,” she said, adding that she was surprised by “the rate of disruption” at retail in this year’s report, which can be found here.

JWT examined digital trends and consumer behavior in the U.S. and China, and included case studies to support the findings. “The future of retail is rapidly becoming less about screens and even less about buttons,” Greene noted in the report. “It’s one of total immersion, intuitiveness and invisibility, and it’s one of total disintermediation from every previous traditional route to consumers.”

Greene said the market has entered a “new era of spoken commerce” where brands and retailers have evolved into “sentient beings and commerce can happen everywhere. Commerce is fabric, objet d’art, a digital layer of entertainment on our physical reality which can appear and vanish in an instant,” the report noted.

Technologies that leverage AI, AR and VR are changing how consumers interface with brands and retailers. “Photo recognition and visual analytics, from smartphones to screens on top of shop registers to Amazon’s clever new Echo Look (a voice-activated smart assistant that can take photos and videos) are enabling companies to analyze our environment, facial expressions and physicality, allowing for seamless payments and more personal recommendations,” Greene said in the report, which followed the release of Apple’s latest iPhones that include facial recognition technology.

AR is being deployed by companies such as home improvement chain Lowe’s to facilitate a better shopping experience by helping shoppers reimagine their homes. “Sephora, too, is using AR to inspire more confidence in customers buying makeup online,” Greene said. “The premium beauty retailer’s Sephora Virtual Artist app allows customers to try out different makeup looks and products by uploading an image of themselves to the app, which then directs them to purchase those products. The company’s New Sephora Experience stores, which the company unveiled in March 2017 in two French locations, allow customers to try out the Virtual Artist app on in-store iPads or digitally connected mirrors.”

The JWT report described verbal commerce as another “emerging tool in the path to a frictionless retail experience, and has the potential to replicate in-store human interaction. Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s soon-to-be-launched HomePod speaker are all bringing voice search into the home environment.” Greene told WWD that these technologies are essentially creating new channels of distribution.

But these technologies and immersive experiences are also key to the role of physical stores. In the consumer survey portion of the report, JWT noted that 57 percent of U.S. 18- to 34-year-olds “say that VR experiences would make them more likely to visit a store” while 54 percent say the same of AR.

Regarding the experience economy, Greene noted in the report that there’s a “relentless quest for newness,” which is also creating “a rapid metabolism of trends and a core of consumers whose expectations are higher than ever.” This is pressuring retailers and brands, forcing them to innovate, Greene said.

“Meanwhile, the shift to experience culture generally has already prompted many retailers and brands to radically reconsider their spaces and products, pivoting to offer services, exercise classes and music concerts, or creating rental coworking spaces in their store,” she said in the report.

Many of these technologies are also being embraced in China, which has a consumer culture that continues to evolve, JWT said. There’s harmony between online and offline, Greene said in the report, as social media (WeChat) also plays an important role in commerce.

Speaking of China, Brian Buchwald, cofounder and chief executive officer of Bomoda, will present his firm’s findings at the WWD forum on “key opinion leaders” or KOLs, in the country. The firm’s index looks at the social and commercial influence of celebrities and KOLs in China, which can help brands and retailers better navigate the market. The research included the top KOLs by category.

In activewear, Wang Jun Kai is the number-one spot as this KOL recently collaborated with Nike. In consumer electronics, Zhang Ruoyun scored highest while KFC endorser Lu Han was number one in food and beverage. For “High Street” fashion Yang Mi scored highest. “Rather than ‘official’ collaborations, High Street KOLs are principally cited as favorable outfit/style examples on Weibo and WeChat [for] their off-duty looks,” Buchwald said in his report. “Vetements is one of the most popular personal brand choices among top celebrities.”

In a separate report from PMX Agency on “Luxury Brands Online,” the firm noted that “brands that have historically relied on the allure of heritage, exclusivity and premium craftsmanship are now navigating the waters of the ‘new luxury’ — driven by digital, experiential offerings, and a deeper, more personal relationship with customers.”

“Personalization, omnichannel strategies and technological innovation require that luxury brands embark on a greater cultural evolution at an organizational level,” the authors of the report noted. “As brands seek to engage the modern, sophisticated luxury consumer, the ability to pivot to this new reality will continue to widen the gap between top-performing luxury brands and those that are slower to evolve.”

Researchers at PMX said these changes in the luxury market are “driving brands to think and act differently. Across the industry, there has been notable consolidation, with Michael Kors acquiring Jimmy Choo and Coach acquiring Kate Spade. These brands will now have opportunities to engage larger audiences and integrate product offerings, while also streamlining distribution networks and innovating new marketing strategies.”

With the rankings of brands, PMX said Ralph Lauren was number one, with 19.5 percent online marketshare. Michael Kors took second, with 17.2 percent market share and Coach with 12.7 percent. Louis Vuitton came in with 10.7 percent followed by Gucci, Chanel and Burberry with 7, 4.6 and 4.1 percent, respectively. Hermès came in next with 2.4 percent and Dior had 1.7 percent — tied with Louboutin. Versace and Saint Laurent Paris both had 1.5 percent, and Ferragamo has 1.4 percent. Prada took 1.3 percent, while Tom Ford and Armani had 1.2 and 1.1 percent, respectively. Marc Jacobs came in with 0.9 percent share while Dolce & Gabbana and Jimmy Choo both had 0.8 percent. “Other” luxury brands had 7.9 percent.

Lastly, online textbook company Chegg Inc. will be presenting at the WWD Digital Forum findings from its most recent research. Titled “The Style of Influence: What Inspires Gen Z to Buy Fashion and Beauty,” the presentation by Mitch Spolan, executive vice president of marketing services at Chegg, explores the behavior of this demographic cohort.

This article originally appeared in Women’s Wear Daily online

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