In this week’s [retail bytes]: is UK retail following Japan into the land of self-service?

Insert coins for panties: The wind of change is blowing through the retail sector again. According to the British Retail Consortium, 17% of UK retailers are expecting to cut staff numbers due to cost increases resulting from the new National Living Wage and the Apprenticeship Levy, which will cost retailers 0.5% of the payroll. From April 2016 the salary of the average retail employee will increase by about £910 per year, so the number of full-time retail jobs is already falling (-0.2% in the fourth quarter of 2015) as businesses prepare to deal with rising costs. Faced with the escalation of their wage bill, retailers are putting their thinking caps on to speed up the automation of in-store services, self-service and online migration. Are we facing the arrival of Japanese-style vending machines for everything from shirts to knickers?

Breaking a sweat: About 3,000 jobs are at risk following the administration of fashion retailer Blue Inc this month. As more chains are at risk investors are getting spooked, resulting in a 33% drop in private equity investment into retail and leisure in 2015. One notable exception is increased funding for online retail expansion, with Sweaty Betty, Mint Velvet and Mimi Holliday among those who have received strong backing for e-commerce growth.

If the bra fits… European retail is keeping up the physical retail fight, so how are they enticing shoppers to spend more in-store? Currently the best ratio of visit-to-purchase conversions in lingerie is found at Hunkemöller, the leading European undergarment retailer. This strong 25.6% conversion is partly a result of their new bra-fitting service, which solves the perennial fitting problem that the majority of women experience.

Three’s a company: As the UK retail wage increases, the lingerie sector will speed up its e-commerce migration, with bra fitting solutions already available online. Third Love (based in the US) is investing $8 million into a fit-by-phone virtual fitting room; a simple process starting with a multi-angle bra selfie (brelfie?), which is then processed to calculate and advise the customer on the correct bra size. Only the final sizing data travels to the cloud, which provides Third Love with the bra size but ensures that customers’ photos remain private. Good to see privacy baked-in at the fit stage!

We want it all! Self-service doesn’t need to be a cold vending machine, beloved by Japanese consumers but somewhat soulless in our (European) opinion. Watch this short video about OmniCart, a self-service fashion tool. It provides a simple, mobile-based shopping cart so an in-store customer can order, pay and select shipping in a few clicks. Combined with the staff-less Whoosh Fitting Room it provides a remarkably friction-free, pleasant and easy shopping experience. The author of the solution is speaking at the Barcelona Mobile Congress on 25-28th February. Don’t miss it – the future of omnichannel is mobile first.

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