The retail apocolypse may be here says David Courtier-Dutton, CEO of SoundOut

Back in the first dotcom boom of the late 1990's, internet analysts were predicting the imminent death of the high street.  This didn't happen, but 15 years on, we may finally be at the point where this retail apocalypse will finally arrive.

The relationship between retailer and consumer is evolving rapidly – it used to be more akin to a one-to-many relationship with the retailer truly knowing their customers and customer insight/focus groups helping to drive innovation, but increasingly this has become a many-to-many relationship and now the consumer is in charge.

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This is most notable in fast fashion, with teenagers as likely to buy online from Asos, BooHoo or Misguided as New Look, Topshop or Primark.  Brand loyalty is all but gone.

According to David Courtier-Dutton, what was a pull model (shoppers come to the bricks and mortar stores) has become a push model – retailers are frantically trying to chase consumers, machinegunning them with emails, promotions and 'targeted' marketing.

Right now, the traditional retailers are losing and the market is getting tougher with retail prices falling every month for the last 36 months and clothing down a whopping 7% year on year.

"Looking down the UK high street, there is only one business that stands out as truly successful – and that is Zara.  Zara controls its entire supply chain meaning it can take a design from concept to store in just 4 weeks and then use real time sales feedback to restock or design and manufacture new designs to meet emerging trends." says Courtier-Dutton.

"Zara competitors cannot replicate this as they have resorted to the cheapest manufacture in the Far East to stay competitive, a strategy that involves longer lead times and kneecaps their ability to compete."

So is this the end for many of the existing fashion retailers, will they fall one by one like BHS, or will the approaching precipice drive adoption of new technologies that change the conversation with their customers?  Put another way, how can they out-Zara Zara?

"Zara tests a design in store and if it sells fast they ramp up manufacture.  In effect, they ask the customer what they like then go and produce it, knowing that it will sell.  Contrast this with other fast fashion retailers who use their gut to decide what will sell, manufacturing everything and then putting it in store only to find it doesn't.    The ability to trial all your products with potential customers before buying stock would transform the average retailer's business and also cut down on the chronic waste in the industry." Explains Courtier-Dutton.

"At SoundOut this is exactly what we do, and the retailers we are working with are seeing dramatic results.  We have over 1.5 million consumers rating and reviewing new products and can predict on a product by product basis what will sell and how strongly.  This enables retailers to only order what they know will sell and calibrating this feedback with what actually sells in store we can continually finetune the predictions."

So where will this all lead?  Ultimately retailers will be able just the right amount of stock to ensure a sellout on every line every time.  Although promotions will always be around, the need for set piece sales will no longer be necessary.  Knowing there may never be a discount means that perceived rarity will drive full price sales.  Companies like TK Maxx will struggle to find discounted stock and the online flash sales sites will have nothing to sell.

This in turn will lead to dramatically improved margins, leaner, smarter retail organisations and significantly less clothing ending up in landfill.

It could even negate the need for the mass sales frenzies we call Black Friday and Cyber Monday …so enjoy it while you can…

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