Fashion retailers such as H&M, Zara, Topshop and Forever 21 are known for stocking the latest catwalk fashion trends in record time. These retailers belong to a segment called fast fashion, and their businesses are built around producing products that are available in stores and online in matter of weeks instead of months.
In the past, tight production and operation cycles have discouraged fast fashion retailers from engaging customers in their business. Trends change quickly, and the short product shelf life can limit the impact of customer input on individual designs.
But while customer insight has limited application in product design, completely ignoring the voice of your customers can spell business trouble in the fast fashion industry. Customer engagement is more than just about apparel design, or which fabric, pattern or color to use. From the development of new customer-centric programs, to store experience, to omni-channel strategy, the feedback that you get from customers can be a rich source of insight in this competitive industry.
Fast fashion brands need insights that can actually keep up with the speed of their business. This need for both speed and insight is where I see online customer communities can help. With a community, you have an online platform where you can engage customers and invite their input into the boardroom. Here are three reasons why online customer communities are of particular importance for fast fashion retailers:
- Research has to be fast - really fast.
Traditional research approaches often take weeks to complete. They also often require time to be digested and be socialized internally before decisions are made and action is taken.
But compared to traditional research, online communities deliver insight 7 to 14 times faster. For example, with response rates typically ranging from 35% to 40%, VC Insight Communities can deliver actionable results in days - and sometimes hours - instead of weeks. Be it a quick temperature check or the need to better understand a broader objective, using an insight community can provide the customer input that you need to make faster, data-driven decisions.
- Your shoppers are social, ready to respond on their phones.
Many fast fashion retailers are trying to reach Millennials in their marketing efforts. And regardless of where these Millennials live in the world, they all speak one common language: social. Studies have shown that Millennials are always engaged and connected - be it texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. - leaving little time or patience for long, basic, old-world research.
Successfully engaging Millennials requires breaking through the clutter and reaching them where they are, providing experiences that feel natural to them. That's where online communities can help since these tools provide an engaging social experience.
With online communities, you can use tools that emulate the activities that Millennials already do. You can use interactive message boards that feel like social networks instead of relying on pen and paper. You can use visual question types so people don't have to read too much text. You can even ask customers go into a store and take photos of the displays that spark their interest, or have their friends make a video of the outfits they've put together for a specific event.
You can even make people in your community feel special by occasionally sharing sneak peeks of your brand's upcoming campaigns. And since these features are mobile-friendly, Millennial shoppers can easily participate using their phones and tablets.
By providing a research experience that mimics what Millennials are already doing, you're more likely to see people participating.
- Engaging younger men is all the rage.
Younger men are one of the fastest growing segments in fashion. Often overlooked in the past in favor of appealing to style-hungry women, men (or "yummies", as the young urban men are now colloquially called) represent a notable opportunity for fashion retailers, including players in the fast fashion space. They are not only a growing buying segment, they are dictating trends and product lines. For example, younger men today aren't embracing traditional dress shirts, instead opting to pair more casual sport shorts with slim-fit blazers. Think of the potential impact that has on what products or designs a brand may prioritize.
But reaching these tech-savvy people isn't always easy. They really have to be passionate about the brand - and retailers need to have a strong relationship with them - for young men to consistently participate in consumer insight.
Engaging younger men on a consistent basis is easier with an online community. A community built with a cohort of younger men can provide rich information ranging from how they shop, to what drives their purchases, to how they go about their daily lives. It's an opportunity to better understand this critical audience, and ensure your brand is taking strides to be relevant wherever possible.
Consumers today have more choice than ever before, and they won't hesitate to leave a brand if a hotter or sexier retailer shows up next week. In an industry like fast fashion where trends move quickly, insight from customer communities provides relevant and actionable information for all many areas of the business that can identify opportunities and stave off threats.