The fashion industry is characterized by always looking ahead to the future, predicting trends and anticipating the needs and desires of consumers. And while the industry has always been responsive - producing more goods in ever shorter timeframes to meet demand and pivoting to online and omnichannel sales to meet consumers where they are – the pace of change has only accelerated in the last year.
Not only have businesses had to focus on increased efficiency for success, but also providing an excellent customer experience. In a recent survey, one-third of consumer goods companies and nearly 40% of retailers named providing customer experience, commerce and marketing as their top priority for 2021.
Showcasing environmental credibility is one such way to connect with consumers, as they are demanding more sustainability and transparency from the brands and retailers they shop with and the fashion industry has increasingly been under the spotlight in this arena. It is increasingly an imperative for future success: a consumer survey conducted by the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) among more than 14,000 consumers in nine countries, including the UK, revealed that globally, 76% of respondents say sustainability is significantly important to them when choosing a brand.
Responding to these trends and preparing for the future requires reflecting on entrenched processes that may no longer be up to date, and considering novel uses of technology. Pioneers in the industry have embraced the technological ABCs - artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud technologies - and put them to use to their advantage and that of their customers.
Creating efficiencies from design to point-of-sale
The "Infor Design and Tech Lab" at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is using AI from IBM to develop a series of application programming interfaces (APIs) for the fashion industry. Among other things, it is using deep learning and natural language processing to improve the customer experience, optimise product design and merchandising/planning activities, and expand merchandise performance analysis.
FIT actually had its first experience with AI back in 2018, in a collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger and IBM Research on the "Reimagine Retail" project. The goal of the project was to gain competitive advantage through market insights, product design, and supply chain personalisation and optimisation, and to train the next generation of retail leaders in the use of AI.
Engaging customers across the lifecycle
Relationships between brands and consumers need to be based on trust and cooperation. Arianee, a leading NFT (Non-fungible Tokens) platform for the luxury and fashion industry, are working with IBM on a comprehensive blockchain-based solution that combines supply chain transparency with brand and consumer engagement.
The relationship between brand and consumer starts with the purchase of the product, but it doesn’t end there. It can be continued throughout the lifecycle of the product, via authentication and identification of the buyer, as well as special offers to customers - for example, with product-related incentives.
Proving sustainability through transparency
Very recently, the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) launched an AI and blockchain traceability project in collaboration with IBM and retailers such as H&M, Next, N Brown and New Look. The platform will use IBM blockchain technology to make information about garments - such as the place and date of manufacture, product composition and environmental certifications - accessible to consumers via a QR code. It will also use new technologies like AI and hybrid-cloud to monitor the environmental and social impact along the value chain to enable course correction.
With projects like these, the fashion industry will not only meet regulatory requirements for sustainability and the demands of its customers, it will also be able to flexibly respond to new regulations and trends. What's more, it can show it is one step ahead of its customers, able to anticipate and respond to their needs and offer them services that they cannot imagine today. Doing so will demonstrate that the industry is fit for the future and has its finger on the pulse of the times.
Roberto Battistoni, Fashion & Consumer Industry Business Development Lead, IBM, UK & Ireland