I wanted to take the time to better define the term “virtual styling.” If you follow my posts (you should) or visit my consulting site (shameless plug), you’ll need to understand the difference between my definition and everyone else’s. Contrary to the many definitions one can find via Google, “virtual styling” has little to do with styling wardrobes, or putting virtual lookbooks together for consumers to fantasize over (although this is one of my favorite, most enjoyable past times thanks to Polyvore). In the context I refer to it, “virtual styling” is about designing experiences where consumers encounter brands in the virtual world.
Virtual Reality Check
So why call it “virtual styling”? The virtual part is obvious; ‘styling’ refers to ‘tailoring’ experiences that are customized for the brand-customer interactions, similar to the way a tailor fits a garment to their clients. Stylists have pivotal roles in connecting brands to customers through visual representation (Chanel does not simply float onto models, it’s strategically placed there by the keen eye of a stylist). Without stylists, clothing would remain on hangers, in boxes and out of consumer culture. In the same way, “virtual styling” connects the brand to the consumer within the virtual realm.
Unfortunately, most brands can’t hire a fleet of stylists to meet the needs of each customer. But creating one-on-one experiences in-store and online is vital for brands in the multi-channel shopping universe. Both consumers and competitors are global and new stores open daily. The world clothing and textile industry, inclusive of luxury goods and footwear, surpassed $2,560 trillion globally in 2010. As brands compete for consumers across multiple channels, they have to create superior experiences in lieu of competitive pricing and lookalike pieces available pretty much everywhere. That experience will be what separates great brands from everyone else.
“Great businesses know how to flawlessly mature their production through 3 dimension procession but only exceptional brands find the 4th dimension of Experience.”
The experiences Schmitt mentions are the basis of “Virtual Styling. Brands that master the 4th dimension,have the highest economic value because they create personal experiences where customers are guests and memorable motivations are sensation based. To get to 4th dimension, brands don’t have to embark on an epic journey into folded time/space dimensions; they simply have to have a closer relationship with the customer base they seek to serve (not sell, but serve).
The customer-centric approach involves understanding the consumer in a new light. Consumer archetypes should be developed that define the thought processes, motivations and decision making constructs a consumer engages in within a product category.
Denim Study : How and Why Men Shop
The ‘Athleisure’ movement has surely put a dent in the sale of denim as consumers opt for more comfortable alternatives in their wardrobes. Denim sales dropped over 6% within the year, triggering what some analysts deemed as “the death of denim.” To help alleviate the declining sales of denim in the US, I conducted a study to define male denim shopper archetypes and really understand what men need in their shopping experiences. The study identified several issues:
- Male shopping motivations are rarely studied although the male apparel market is a rapidly growing demographic (Du Preez, Visser & Zietsman 2007). As a result, not much information exists on how the male shopper engages in his purchase decisions. The world menswear industry should exceed $402 billion in 2014*
- Shopping experiences in general are designed strictly to cater to women, and as a result men typically do not like the shopping experience (“Women Shop and Men Buy”, 2007). Men prefer more efficient shopping methods than women, yet men’s stores are set up exactly the same as women’s.
- Men engage in both hedonic and utilitarian shopping behaviors, contrary to previous misinterpretations that stated men were purely utilitarian shoppers. Yes, men take a utilitarian approach to shopping but their shopping motivations are hedonic, just like their female counterparts.
The study went on to identify specific behavior of male denim shoppers and categorized the behaviors into distinct archetypes. The archetypes identified motivations, needs and preferences of men shopping for denim that had not previously been explored in-depth. Based on the study, suggestions and recommendations were made on how to create better experiences both in-store and online that satisfy the needs of the male denim consumer.
Virtual styling is a big deal for brands and consumers. This area is the focus of my expertise but I recognize more and more studies being conducted to contribute to this specific field. For more information on how “virtual styling” methods can assist your brand, or for access to my denim report, feel free to contact me!
Jessica V Couch | Luxor + Finch| 2015