Fashion is getting personal as brands battle for shoppers

Key Points
  • Brands are looking for solutions as inventory quickly falls out of fashion.
  • Many companies are finding success in offering personalized products and experiences.
  • Teen retailer American Eagle is partnering with a start-up to help shoppers create entire looks based around one item.
A shopper looks at Michael Kors handbags at Macy's flagship store in New York.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

The idea that shoppers won't buy their clothes online has been more than proven to be a myth.

And with growth in the clothing category slower than the overall retail sector, those retailers need to fight for every sale on every platform.

Industry experts recommend a strategy that provides customized products and personalized services both online and in stores.

"What's in the store, on your phone, on your laptop … it's a 360, sort of, surround-sound shopping experience and that's where customers are going," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, at the group's 2018 Big Show in New York.

Meantime, Amazon has created an overhanging "threat" against the sector that won't go away anytime soon, Don Kingsborough, the CEO of San Francisco-based OneMarket, told CNBC. That's what has pushed some brands to do more and to act swiftly, he said.

"We've seen these trends come and go, but this time retailers are being applauded because they're more thoughtful about where they position themselves and how," said Kingsborough, who also serves as a member of NRF's board.

A social market to buy fashion

Brands like American Eagle Outfitters are working with New York-based Find Mine to help shoppers create an outfit around one item. You might have a jacket you love, for example, but you aren't sure what to wear it with. Using machine learning, Find Mine helps you "complete the look."

The technology also allows a user to "search by photo," which is becoming more and more popular on retailers' websites.

Find Mine can help shoppers assemble outfits from start to finish, or offer completed looks based on algorithms. Likened to Stitch Fix, a subscription-based styling service, Find Mine is one of many players helping apparel brands get closer to consumers.

E-commerce service Tangiblee has been helping brands such as Samsonite and Rebecca Minkoff give shoppers an "in store" experience online. If you're looking for a ring online, for example, Tangiblee makes it possible for you to look at that ring on a hand that matches your skin tone with the same finger size.

Retailers are finding their websites must mimic some the same experiences that could be offered in a physical store, bringing the same level of expertise that an associate would give in helping a customer make a selection.

If you're in this business, "you have to make shoppers remember you," OneMarket's Kingsborough said.

"There were some big winners [this holiday season], and I think that reflects retailers stepping up and implementing the changes that need to be implemented," NRF's Shay told CNBC. "And that's what's getting talked about at the conference this year."

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