Last night Decoded Fashion launched their Meetup series in Paris. Held at NUMA, the co-working space and incubator that opened recently in the Sentier garment district, the event had a full house and a great list of speakers to address the theme of Omni-channel retailing.

Heading the Paris launch, Celine Lippi of Fashion Capitol Partners orchestrated presentations from Pauline Butor of Google, Christophe Biget of iVentures Consulting, and Demandware's Laurent Peron followed by a panel discussion on best practices from Regis Pennel (l'Exception), Alexandre Fauvet (Fusalp, and formerly of Lacoste), and Roland Herlory (Vilebrequin). The event ended with presentations from three startups, Bodi.Me, HappyBeacon, and Shop'nBrag, which, together, explore many opportunities in the future of omni-channel retail. 

Representing Google, Pauline Butor demonstrated serval of the available tools accessible to brands to gain insight on the market such as Google Trends, where search terms are quantified and how we know that there are five billion queries regarding fashion and beauty every month. We also saw some innovative uses that brands have found for google+ and the facility of cross promotion with other websites (, blogs etc.). Content like live hangouts that can be embedded in many different sites or clipped into bite sized excerpts to create new, sharable content for fans and blogs, and provide what would normally be VIP access to anyone with an internet connection. Topshop was the featured example, bringing the customer into the experience on all levels, including a behind the scenes hangout showing live footage of prep for the runway show, and a live stream from the model's view of the runway.

Both Christophe Biget and Laurent Peron spoke to the importance of linking the physical and the digital to improve the customer experience. Through the insight of the eShopper Index, Biget showed how distributors have made greater strides than brands in their omni-channel systems, and how within the brand category it is the luxury companies that are lagging behind. Again emphasizing that best practices mean going beyond great in-store customer service. Brick and mortar operations are beginning to realize that they are missing out on market share by limiting their accessibility to the physical versus integrating the digital. Sites like amazon and zappos are among the best performers because they have maximized on the before, during, and post purchase activity of the customer. Their platforms might be ugly, but they are built to sell. And they sell like champions. This means creating as many moments as possible in the consumer's experience to give them an incentive and opportunity to buy.

There was a grounding moment during the panel, when Alexandre Fauvet reminded us that behind all of these amazing seamless digital systems, there remains a physical product that has to be manufactured, stocked and delivered. While our imaginations can run wild with the innovative ways an item can travel from magazine page to your closet (shop'nbrag has some great things in the works), there is a physical transport of goods involved. Just like we try to minimize the number of clicks from first sight through moment of purchase, we have to minimize the distance traveled for merchandise, from manufacture to end consumer. If brands and distributors do it well, the customer will never need to think about the logistics, and will consider only the quality of their experience.  

For some of these services that up the ante of convenience (l'Exception will deliver your order in only 2.5 hours within the Parisian region) brick and mortar can't easily compete. There are many services existing online that are either not yet possible or are very costly to implement offline, such as a wish list or shopping cart or suggesting items that you might like based on previous purchases. More than just an incentive for brands to implement omni-channel practices, it will soon be a necessity if they want to keep up with the evolving demands of todays consumers.

From the presentations it seems these challenges are frontiers that consultancies startups in fashion & tech are tackling and will soon be part of our normal shopping experience. Laurent Peron showed us shop-able window displays, Bodi.Me lets you try on clothes virtually (currently 79% of returns of online orders are because of fit issues), and HappyBeacon has sensors that will push notifications to your phone when you are shopping to tell you about promotions on those shoes you were checking out last week online, or this blouse that is similar to the one that you wanted last season but was sold out. Up to each of to determine how much of this we consider value added, or invasive of our privacy.

Borders are being redrawn between fashion and technology, with a space in between growing larger every day. As Laurent Peron put it: "For some these ideas will seem like the past, for some the present, and for others, the surreal." We see science fiction everywhere around us, and we prove over and again that our imaginations are the limit for what is possible. From the ideas shared last night, it seems clear that a combination of online and physical integration, in both directions, is imperative for the future of retail. And at the forefront of the discussion was this point: whatever moves a company makes in their omni-channel initiatives, it's all about improving and streamlining the customer experience.