The recurring question of whether the high street is dying and clicks have indeed replaced bricks is back in the news with House of Fraser and New Look’s high profile problems – but the largest ever fashion retail survey amongst digital-savvy millennials reveals they still prefer the human touch.

Real world experience and support preferred

One-in-two (49 percent) 18-34 year-olds say they prefer to shop for clothes in store, compared to 11 percent via apps and 39 percent through websites, according to the first Fashion Retail Barometer from the CX Millennial Index compiled by emotion analytics firm Adoreboard in partnership with survey platform OnePulse.

Adoreboard’s Queen’s University-based data scientists analysed the emotional responses expressed by 10,000 millennial consumers in a landmark survey about their clothing shopping habits, preferences and brand rankings, to help retail brands provide a better Customer Experience.

One-in-three (31 percent) feel less certain of their choices when they shop online, and brand trust seems to be generated more by human rather than AI support: an overwhelming 76 percent of millennials say they prefer human assistance online over a chatbot.

New Look performs well, H&M sizing issues dominate

The online fashion industry is predicted to reach £36.2 billion by 2030: 63 percent of the market compared to today’s 21 percent, but purely online retailers don’t fare as well in the Adoreboard Fashion Retail Barometer rankings. Asos is rated below beleaguered high street chain New Look and BooHoo comes in eighth out of the 10 fashion retail brands analysed.

In fact, despite its recent reported £1 billion financial debt and impending store closures, high street chain New Look far and away outstrips the other brands, coming out top of the 10 fashion retail brands analysed in the Barometer with an overall emotional response – or ‘Adorescore’ – of 42 despite sharp competition from second position ASOS with a score of 40. The Queen’s University analysts used Emotics, an AI platform which uses mathematical algorithms to calculate the overall Adorescore by assessing emotions such as joy, trust, rage and anger in respondents’ comments on individual brands.

There is stiff competition to win the hearts of the Millennial consumers who desire on trend fashion balanced with quality and value for money,” said Chris Johnston, Chief Executive of Adoreboard.

New Look’s efforts to appeal to younger shoppers is reflected in strong Trust in providing affordable fashion, whilst Joy has been driven by how Millennials rate the in-store customer experience. However, many would argue the allure of appealing to millennials has come at a cost of alienating core customers and reflected in plummeting sales for New Look.”

 Meanwhile, it seems H&M’s recent announcement about reviewing its sizing can’t come soon enough for millennial shoppers: complaints about the brand’s sizing being too small was the most recurring theme driving anger and sadness amongst respondents.

Sizing complaints seem to be at the heart of fashion favourite Topshop’s surprisingly low score, too: the brand ranked sixth in the 10 brands analysed, scoring particular highly on ‘Sadness’ due to small sizing.

Personalisation, ethics and sustainability rule rankings

Overall, personalised customer service, value, affordability and ethics are the most important clothes shopping motivators for millennial consumers – and these guide the ultimate rankings and higher scores of New Look, ASOS, H&M, and Primark. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) say ethics and sustainability are important when shopping for clothes, compared to 26 percent who were undecided or had no preference, and 12 percent who said ethics isn’t important to them.

At the other end of the scale, poor quality products, long queues in store and sizing issues lead to lower rankings and less overall brand trust for River Island, BooHoo, and Zara.

Trust in influencers, not brand marketing

The majority of millennial fashion retail consumers (61 percent) don’t trust direct brand marketing – and online advertising bombardment may be to blame. Nearly two-thirds say (65 percent) they would be less likely to trust brands who sent them too many ads.

Seeking information and peer-to-peer communication is more preferable to unsolicited brand messaging. A huge 85 percent of 18-34 year olds say social media influences their fashion buying decisions, with Instagram being the most popular influencer channel (28 percent). A further 53 percent report they would rather get their information directly from the brand’s app.

Chris Johnston said:

Brand marketers need to work smarter to start a dialogue with younger fashion retail consumers who are turned off by overt brand messaging. We know that they like to be in control of their consumer choices more than any other age group, and to feel part of a one on one, authentic conversation. The analysis notes that 85 per cent of Millennials say that emotion influences their purchase decisions, so marketers need to work smarter to build new experiences and retail theatre to heighten the appeal to these new type of shoppers. 

There’s been a lot of comment recently about the high street business model failing customers. But our Report proves that Millennials – those consumers whose spending power will drive retail and brand performance over the next generation – want, need and value that in-person, human, individualised experience.

So what does this tell brand marketers? Direct, one on one communication is key, as is providing a seamless customer experience from online to in store. There’s too often a disconnect between the value and convenience provided online with the levels of service and overall experience provided in store – and that experience is the high street’s key differentiator.

Putting the customer at the heart of your brand decisions is vital for brand survival and future growth. Exploring customer feedback through an emotional lens allows brands to generate more trust and build a seamless CX across every consumer touchpoint.”

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