Apparel Retail today: Adapting, Evolving and Embracing Technology

Compared to most other segments of retail business, apparel retail is the only segment that still probably functions like how it did since the last 20-30 years. There have been obvious upgrades like the introduction of technology in inventory management, but the basic premise of store-customer relation remains the same. To better illustrate this point, let us have a look at some examples from different sectors of customer use- letters have been upgraded to chat apps, waiting for cabs on the curbside has been upgraded to ordering a cab where you are, discovery of restaurants and eateries has become extremely simple with all the food delivery apps, buying standardised products has become extremely easy with ecommerce sites, ticket booking and hotel accommodations have become easy with a number of travel apps. And yet, apparel retail stores still rely on the age old method of connecting with their potential consumers using what I call “the Honeybee phenomenon”.


Heres what the Honeybee phenomenon means:

The honeybee phenomenon is widely seen in in most countries like India where single owner retail stores are omni present and thriving. The way these stores lure potential customers into their stores is exactly the same way flowers attract honey bees in nature- using bright elaborate decorative signage and attractive display of products. Stores literally spend a lot of money just to ‘pimp their rides’ in a way that their storefronts are attractive and eye catchy for the passer by traffic. It basically banks on the law of averages- If there are a hundred people passing by, with such elaborate decor, there is a chance 70 will glance at the store, 50 might find the product display interesting, 30 might walk in, 10 may like what they see and and so on. You get the drill. Keep in mind- nothing is certain. This is all still in a provisional “May” maybe interested, may walk in and may make a purchase.

Thus the location of the store and the display products are the two most important factors that apparel retail stores seem to bank on the most today.

But in the new digital age, there is another factor that has risen to the top, when it comes to customer priority. That is Convenience- while the location of the store and the store display are important components of the success of a retail store business, how convenient can the stores make the entire experience is turning out to be one of the most crucial.

In a research done by, 95% of shoppers said that shopping for apparels online is not their first or the favoured choice. But in terms of sales numbers, online shopping for apparels clocks around 35% of all apparel sales in major metros and big cities. One of the most important reasons why, is the convenience provided by the various ecommerce websites. The convenience of being able to view products where ever they are, at whatever time and to be able to make purchases at a click of a button efficiently taps into the customer`s pockets without them even realising it. But if there is convenience being offered, why do 95% of people still prefer the traditional retail route?

Well, as far as the apparel sector is concerned, one default advantage that the sector has is the ambiguity of the various parameters like size, material quality, the stitching and finish etc and the whole “try it before you buy it” mindset that seems to exist. And it can be assumed that it is because this inherent advantage that majority of people still prefer to shop in a retail store in comparison to online. And to add the customer service and ease of exchanges and alterations, retail stores seem to have enough firepower to take on the exclusively digital apace. But that being said, inorder to achieve market dominance and to stop losing ground to the convenience that the platforms provide, there is an urgent need to adapt, evolve an embrace technology in a way that this blanket of convenience can be effectively adopted into the retail store eco system.

What is this convenience- lets break this down.

As discussed in brief at the beginning of the post, the habits of consumers are changing at a rapid pace after the advent of the smartphone. Everything seems to be just a few clicks away. Hence, after being habituated to this in most of the other chores, there is a subscious buildup of resistance towards anything that takes up more time and energy. That includes the traditional retail store shopping. While the process of picking a product and checking out takes just a few minutes, the process of finding the right product from innumerable stores in the typical trial and error pattern takes 3-4 hours on an average. Because imagine this-
a potential customer`s first step towards finding the right store and the right product is to guess where the right store would be-it could be a shopping mall, a street known for its stores, online websites, anything.
After picking one of these areas, the consumer has to then go and start visiting each and every store that he/she thinks might have products he/she would like. This process generally continues till either time/energy/money is exhausted or the consumer finds what he/she likes. This process is extremely long and tedious for the present day attention deficit shopper and hence needs to be optimised.

What this means is that the customer needs to be able to find the right products in the right stores faster in a more efficient manner. While there are sites like that do exactly that for you, since this is a hyperlocal problem, you will probably have to wait till they or someone like them comes to where you are.

But until that time, stores may have to explore other avenues of digitisation that offer convenience. The most dominant and existing options are the directory listing websites like Just dial, Google and Sulekha that offer the consumer, information about your store that they may want. Another way to take your products directly to your customers is through social media websites like facebook and instagram where you could create a store page and upload products there.

One other way that we keep hearing about is by creating your own website. While a website does help in taking the business closer to the consumer, the overhead costs, inventory management and the marketing of the site itself can become an expensive affair. But if a website seems like the way to go for you, there are multiple sites like, etc that offer reasonable starting points at creating your storefront online.
But whatever it is, as a retail store owner try to keep your eyes and ears open to where your customers are heading. In short, you should be there for your customers no matter where they are or what device they’re using, and you should provide an excellent experience as your shoppers switch from one channel to the next.

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