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Beating Amazon Means Differentiating With the Right Data

For a company that’s focused on developing technology for brands and retailers, Lectra has spent a lot of time over the last two years focused on the consumer.

“The boundaries between business-to-business, business-to-consumer and business-to-business-to-consumer is becoming more and more thin,” said Céline Choussy, Lectra’s chief marketing and communications officer. “So for Lectra, and I think it’s true for all of us, we’re all in business to consumer.”

During a two-day event at the company’s headquarters in Bordeaux, France, Choussy explained, to really grasp what the new hyper-connected consumer is all about and to have any hope of delivering on their demands, the industry must work together and move much more quickly. Data will be at the crux of the solution, Choussy said. But amassing tons of information alone, she warned, isn’t enough.

“The key isn’t the data, it’s what you do with it. We need to understand the data to better serve the consumer,” she said.

Two of the company’s most recent offerings have been designed to allow brands and retailers to capitalize on their information they’re amassing. Kubix Link, which debuted in 2017, provides a platform through which the entire development and commercialization process can be coordinated for greater efficiency, accuracy and speed. And the brand-new Fashion on Demand by Lectra solution knits together the company’s latest innovations with existing technology to bring agility to the supply chain, making small runs and even made-to-measure a possibility without the prohibitive time and expense typically associated with these offerings.

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And it’s about time, according to Peter Jeavons, general manager Europe for predictive analytics firm First Insight.

Jeavons said personalization is the only way to stay relevant with consumers who are catered to in all other areas of the lives. He posits it will also be the answer to coexisting—and even thriving—alongside the giant retailers threatening to take over every consumer product sector.

Whether it’s Amazon or Alibaba, Jeavons said the formula is the same: create a one-stop resource that delivers irresistible convenience and low cost. And though shoppers are flocking to these e-commerce behemoths, he said the formula doesn’t work for every product—and that’s where apparel brands can differentiate themselves.

“From a fashion retail perspective, what we need to think about is how do we make things less commoditized,” Jeavons said. “Amazon and Alibaba are eating many people’s lunch, and we as fashion retailers need to think differently to make sure we can still survive in this environment.”

Without personalization, he said, the industry will continue to blindly create goods that are just as likely to sell as they are to end up stockpiled in warehouses, markdown on sales floors or clogging landfills.

“The opportunities are very much around harvesting data and looking at what that means and, in your case as fashion retailers of clothes, only making the things people want to buy,” Jeavons said. “There’s no point in investing money in stuff you have to discount that won’t sell.”

Craig Crawford, IT strategist and former Burberry VP, agrees data is critical—but, he said, it’s about collecting the right data.

Forget POS systems that track sales, he said. Today’s technology provides merchants with tools that can dive deeper into intentions—and shoppers’ closets. Crawford pointed to Fabletics, which has wired stores to capture information that goes far beyond the cashwrap. The athleticwear chain knows what shoppers are gravitating toward, what they try on and what they discard after seeing themselves in it. It’s a treasure trove, Crawford said.

“We’re all still doing a spend analysis, what do they buy? What did they return? What do I mark down? How about, what’s in this store that goes into the fitting room and never gets purchased? Why? What’s happening in that store?” he said.

What consumers actually put on their bodies is much more valuable than what they’re willing to put in their shopping carts, Crawford contends.

“There are lots of clothes in people’s closets that you don’t wear and yet because it was bought, brands will make more of that. And then it doesn’t sell next season. Why? Because no one really wore it,” he said.

Amazon knows this to be true, and it has figured out a way to use consumers’ selfie obsessions to fuel its product development. Launched in 2017, Amazon’s Echo Look is billed as a personal stylist and a hands-free camera perfect for outfit-of-the-day snaps. And while it does that, Crawford said the Echo Look is actually a genius way for the e-commerce company to determine how people are really dressing. Every time an Echo Look owner steps in front of this gadget, they’re feeding it data.

“It’s ‘what are you wearing?’ not ‘what are you buying?’” he said.

Armed with this level of insight, retailers and brands could up their accuracy in determining what will resonate with shoppers, boosting sell-throughs, margins and stock prices.

But before that data can become dollars, the industry has to rethink workflows.

“Industry 4.0 is about how companies use new technology to enable them to change the way they operate and deliver value to the consumer,” said Maximilien Abadie, chief strategy officer of Lectra.

For instance, he said, Kubix Link is designed for data management and easy collaboration that allows companies to make better decisions faster. With Fashion on Demand, automation creates a streamlined approach to designing and producing a variety of products quickly.

Ultimately all of the same technology that’s empowering today’s consumer like AI, machine learning and IoT, can be harnessed by brands and retailers to make satisfying them a reality, said Choussy, echoing Crawford’s comments.

“All of these connected devices in this hyper-connected world give us opportunities to think beyond e-commerce and simple marketing,” Crawford said. “It’s time to make that happen and move on to the next big thing. Getting amazing information and managing relationships at scale is where you need to be.”