Has Fabletics bridged the digital/physical divide with its omnicart tech?

Discussion
Photo: Fabletics
May 10, 2017
Matthew Stern

Connecting shoppers’ in-store habits with their online behavior without appearing invasive has proven to be tough for retailers. But activewear brand Fabletics’ omnichannel fitting room could provide a lesson in how to turn in-store showrooming into online purchasing.

Fabletics’ tool, called omnicart, has been in place for about 10 months according to Digital Commerce 360. When a member of Fabletics’ loyalty program visits a store and tries on articles of clothing, the items are first scanned by a store associate to place them in the customer’s online shopping cart. After trying on items, the customer gives feedback on each piece. If the customer buys an item in-store or reports not liking it, it is removed from the cart. Otherwise, the item remains in the online cart for the customer to consider purchasing later. Fabletics has not indicated how many missed in-store purchases are completed later online.

In addition to pushing conversions, the omnicart tool may offer a solution to the difficult problem of attributing online sales to an individual store or store associate for the purposes of commission.

Treating the physical location as an extension of the online experience seems like a natural move for Fabletics, given that the chain only recently made the leap from pure-play e-tail to brick-and-mortar. Last year Fabletics opened its first few physical locations, with aspirations of opening 100 within three to five years.

Other e-tailers that have pursued expansion into physical retail have pioneered creative connections between their virtual and physical presences. Amazon Books, for instance, uses data from Amazon.com’s vast repository of reviews to determine the stock that should appear in-store.

With advantages for customers that are difficult to replicate off-site, fitting rooms have become popular places for apparel retailers to explore interactive tech enhancements. Hointer introduced a touch screen fitting room solution that was later piloted by Macy’s. Nordstrom has piloted the use of “smart mirrors,” which become active touch screens when a product barcode is scanned. Shoppers can browse available in-store stock via the screen and communicate back and forth with associates.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think that omnicart could meaningfully increase Fabletics’ sales by tying together in-store and online activities? Could a similar solution be useful for encouraging online purchases by in-store shoppers in spaces outside of apparel?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I would expect part of their goal is to simplify the experience based on what they are learning. That's as good an objective as anything."
"...medium-term, this is exactly the type of thinking that will enable brick-and-mortar to survive and thrive in the age of Amazon."
"I think the key overlooked part is that Fabletics is unique -- it is a membership model at its core, and not a standard brick and mortar retailer."

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23 Comments on "Has Fabletics bridged the digital/physical divide with its omnicart tech?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

So let me get this straight — an employee is stationed at the fitting room scanning every piece going in as well as taking off whatever the shopper doesn’t want. So labor doubles or triples. Maybe this works at a known brand with low traffic but I don’t see how it scales. And without conversion numbers — results are as elusive as both the Hointer and Nordstrom projects.

Couple that with the “let’s go to the store, try on a bunch of stuff for our Instagram feed and leave without buying anything” factor and I don’t see this as meaningful.

Arvind Krishnan
Guest

Fair point that the current approach seems high friction, but I think there is value in giving users a way to “save” their context to pick up from where they left off at a later, more convenient point in time. It’s conceivable that they come up with simpler ways for shoppers to save items to their cart themselves — maybe a simple barcode scanner with email right in the change rooms. If the intent is there and can be harnessed, lowering friction shouldn’t be that hard.

Jennie Gilbert
Guest

I can definitely see where you are coming from. They do have a great opportunity, however, to iterate on their approach if they find it successful but too hard to scale. Advances in their technology could make the scanning process something consumers do themselves while in the dressing room. Iterate again and remove even more friction if sensors in the dressing room can automatically add pieces to the omnichannel cart. Maybe one day the mirror will record what you’re trying on and, when you’re done, all you have to do is tap to save the information or send it to yourself. You have to start somewhere! I see lots of ways to continue improving the omnicart if the concept shows promise along the way.

Gib Bassett
BrainTrust

Seems like it creates too much friction, process wise, to be a really high-scale activity. It’s a good test however, and I would expect part of their goal is to simplify the experience based on what they are learning. That’s as good an objective as anything.

Stefan Weitz
Guest
I don’t know if it will meaningfully increase sales in the short-term, but medium-term this is exactly the type of thinking that will enable brick-and-mortar to survive and thrive in the age of Amazon. I’ve been speaking for a while about the need for physical retailers to embrace what makes digital so appealing to consumers: ease of finding items, frictionless payments, access to reviews and product information and more. Those brands and retailers that launch initiatives like this omnichannel shopping cart (which I haven’t seen but sounds really impressive) are going to earn the right to exist in a world where e-commerce is a bigger share of the pie. Amazon Go is also pioneering removing friction from the first step -namely having to remember a rewards number or some other unique ID to engage in the omnichannel process. In that scenario, simpy launching the app to gain entrance into the store tells the system that you are ready to shop and begins to track your purchases as you walk down the aisles. Bottom line: a… Read more »
Charles Dimov
Guest

Stefan, you are right on track here. The physical store is getting a bad rap for being old-school. This is a great step toward modernizing it and improving the experience by blurring the lines between physical and online.

Yes there are hiccups and it might be initially a challenge. But it’s better to be experimenting and be seen as a brand innovator than as a laggard. Anything that improves the omnichannel experience is good for retail and good for the consumer.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Apparel is one of the toughest categories to sell online. Consumers want to touch, feel and try on the garment. In the case of specialized apparel for things like sports, getting the right fit is even more important.

The challenge is that customers have increasingly been showrooming stores … trying out products and then leaving to purchase once they have the right size and preferred colors.

In an omnichannel world, seamless convenience can trump price. Fabletics and Hointer are two good examples of focusing on the consumer experience ACROSS time and place.

Charles Dimov
Guest

Great observation, Chris. In omnichannel “seamless convenience can trump price.”
Key point … that the winners will work on delivering!

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

The process itself seems labor intensive but aside from that, I would like to know how many purchases are actually gained after the fact. I have not bought into this yet … but that’s just my 2 cents.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

It is always smart to focus on enhancing the shopper experience, but the cost/sales conversion metrics have to move in the right direction to sustain that strategy across the enterprise. My sense is that if Fabletics uses the technology to attract new customers that can then understand the fit and move back to ordering subsequent products online with confidence, that might be a long-term win.

Charles Dimov
Guest

Good angle. Capitalize on the innovation effect with consumers. A smart move will be for Fabletics to invite prospects to come into their store to try the experience for themselves.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

There is still too much human intervention required in the Fabletics business process. Why not automate the location and shopper’s experience and interest by RFID tagging every in-store item? Lululemon tags every item, so why not Fabletics? Retail’s dirty little secret is that it is a consignment business! As much as merchants don’t want to admit it or acknowledge this fact it is the reality. Why not simply come to terms with it and embrace this fact? Tag every item and place it in the store as consigned inventory. You can monitor its availability with 100 percent accuracy and it optimizes the entire supply chain all the way back to manufacturing. Integrating this with mobile proximity marketing and CRM will allow you to develop and sustain an ongoing dialog with your shopper/customer before, during and after the purchase — creating and establishing a “customer for life” strategy.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The scanning process is time and personnel intensive. However, getting immediate feedback on what consumers think about items as they try them on is really valuable. It will be interesting to find out how many people who keep items in their cart eventually buy them. This is an interesting test to better link online and in-store purchasing, especially for clothes where fit is a critical issue.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

This seems like such a labor-intensive process it’s hard to imagine it at scale in a busy, high-traffic store. Considering there are technology solutions to alleviate some of the excess labor in this process (and there are many examples, from Hointer to Rebecca Minkoff to Neiman Marcus and others — many led by vendors such as Oak Labs and Memomi) it will be very interesting to see the conversion metrics in the near future. The intent is a good one — clearly they are trying to bridge the gap between online and physical store and this at least shows they are thinking about creative ways to enhance the shopping experience. I think the execution, however, still needs work.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Several technologies like this have been around for years now. I think they are doing a good job of creating a more seamless omnichannel shopping experience where shoppers are getting more and more aware of the connection between channels. It’s up to the shoppers to execute on this capability. I’m not certain marketing strategies are targeting that fact.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
2 years 6 months ago

Adding items tried in the store to the customer’s online shopping cart will likely inspire incremental purchases after the customer leaves the store. While it may be a little labor intensive for sales associates today, once the concept catches on, the item scanning step could be shifted to the customer to scan from their phone. I also see additional uses for this technology such as consumers adding items to their online shopping cart from home and when they visit the store they have a shopping list of items to try on.

These omnichannel shopping tools are a good fit for any product that consumers like to touch, see or smell in-person or items that consumers want to think about before they make their final decision. Furniture would definitely be a good fit for this technology. Attribution of sales is key to Unified Commerce success and anything that transcends channels is a boon to sales … online/store/call center (catalog) sales are no longer pure because shopping by showrooming, webrooming and catalog-rooming is how people shop today.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

This sounds — and I clearly don’t know enough about it — like a technology looking for a problem. The whole system seems convoluted and frankly, expensive from the retailer’s perspective. Will AR/VR/AI and the rest of the alphabet soup of digital capabilities impact how people buy clothes? Of course! But, the interface needs to be a tad more seamless.

Jeff Miller
Guest

I think the key overlooked part is that Fabletics is unique in that it is a membership model at its core, and not a standard brick and mortar retailer. This type of technology and more importantly, innovative thinking, can help with with not just product sales but customer acquisition for new members which is one of TechStyle’s (Fabletics parent company) key metrics. It may be a bit intrusive and potentially labor intensive but if handled correctly, could lead to many more members.

Think about what a store in the mall would give to have the email address and products for every person who entered their store tried something on. That may be one of the greatest untapped parts of retail.

Fabletics will have to convince shoppers that giving their email address to use this technology is in their best interest but if they can perhaps with a discount or something than this is great new way to build up the CRM and have valuable data to retarget.

Mark Price
BrainTrust
Mark Price
Managing Partner, Smart Data Solutions, ThreeBridge
2 years 6 months ago

The omnicart concept is an exciting one. The question is how to structure the process so that the cart is actually a benefit to consumers. I am not sure that placing items tried on in-store in the cart will be a big boon to consumers who are used to making decisions much faster these days.

A bigger benefit would be to scan the consumer’s measurements and image in-store, and then permit the consumer to see themselves online trying clothes on. Measurement storage, as well as “next most likely product” marketing, would be clear benefits.

Storing items for later consideration could have a small lift, but is not the game changer.

Scott Magids
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

There is absolutely a need for a frictionless connection between online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences, although Fabletics’ approach may not be the solution as it seems far too high-touch to be practical. Stefan’s example of Amazon Go is a great example of where the intersection of online and in-store needs to live, and it’s relevant across all industries, not just apparel. It’s fully automated, with minimal interaction by consumer or sales staff. Fabletics’ approach is a somewhat awkward approach to gathering data, requires extra work on the part of the consumer (providing immediate feedback), and doesn’t really take into account the emotional motivators shoppers have for going into a store, or for going online. When the two can blend seamlessly, enhance one another with value-adds, and do so transparently while making the shopping experience pleasant and emotionally satisfying, then retailers will have a winning strategy on their hands.

Jennie Gilbert
Guest

I find that taken out of context, many people are quick to describe marketing technology of this nature (designed to re-market to you when you abandon items in your cart for example) as annoying. But in real life, it’s actually super helpful to consumers! And that is the key. Because Fabletics’ omnicart strategy is useful, I believe it will be successful. We already know that abandoned cart emails work. They’ve found a way to create more of them. Way to go Fabletics!

Julie Bernard
Guest

Fabletics’ omnicart feature does align in some ways with the re-imagination of in-store retail that brick-and-mortar needs right now. As recently as this week, we’ve seen reports on how innovative mobile, online, and app-based moments can drive positive outcomes for brands (such as Sephora).

In the case of omnicart, however, the in-store staff scans each Fabletics item into the customer’s online cart. Meanwhile, there are technologies that could truly create an auto-add experience for physical-retail shoppers without putting another manual task on sales associates’ to-do lists.

Also, does the consumer really want what could amount to the shopping trip that never ends? Will having to ultimately clean-up an item-filled online cart add to or subtract from those shoppers’ experiences?

These are significant questions to ask. It is right to wonder if omnicart is still too complicated — an idea awaiting its Steve-Jobs moment in terms of refinement.

Alex Senn
Guest

I think the movement as a whole is a good thing. The execution and still difficult process for customers and employees alike is not something that can actually scale. Fabletics needs to take a smarter approach. Using sensors to detect where a customer is, what they pulled off the shelf and what they tried on then adding it to their online shopping cart is the way to go. This is all possible, and it will encourage shoppers to get on the retailer’s app, which presents a strong opportunity for loyalty. People like experiences, especially technology-enabled experiences that wow in a subtle way, this does not appear to be it.

Back to the drawing board to utilize technology more here for seamless experiences rather than fragmented experiences that take time from both parties.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I would expect part of their goal is to simplify the experience based on what they are learning. That's as good an objective as anything."
"...medium-term, this is exactly the type of thinking that will enable brick-and-mortar to survive and thrive in the age of Amazon."
"I think the key overlooked part is that Fabletics is unique -- it is a membership model at its core, and not a standard brick and mortar retailer."

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