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Could Apple innovation finish off struggling clothes retailers?

Waning footfall and the wholesale closure of stores chart the switch from bricks and mortar to clicks and same-day delivery

tim cook
Does Apple chief Tim Cook hold the fate of the High Street in his hands?

Boohoo Group PLC’s (LON:BOO) latest results served as a reminder to the likes of Next Plc (LON:NXT), Marks & Spencer PLC (LON:MKS) and Debenhams PLC (LON:DEB) that fashion retail is now an online game.

Waning footfall and the wholesale store closures chart the switch from bricks and mortar to clicks and same-day delivery.

And future editions of the iPhone could pile on more pressure. How so? Well, according to a report by the financial newswire Bloomberg, the 2019 Apple device could include 3D laser technology.

Tiresome and sweaty 

From there it is just a small step to being able to compile a very accurate representation of oneself that could cut out the most tiresome and sweaty aspects of shopping for clothes – trying the damn things on.

“Trying clothes on is, ultimately, little more than a data-exchange,” said Morgan Stanley in a recent note on the subject.

“3D scanning potentially allows consumers to establish their measurements very precisely.

“If/when these can be compared against detailed 3D product specifications, consumers should be able to establish instantaneously how clothes will fit them.”

Last remaining impediments 

One of the last remaining impediments to wholesale adoption of online clothes shopping is solving the problem of getting the right fit.

Not only is it a barrier to business it piles significant extra costs onto online businesses such as Boohoo.

That’s because 40-50% of all apparel bought online is returned.

Morgan Stanley reckons the returns number could drop as low as 10% if a reliable method of sizing such as 3D laser technology is successfully implemented.

Price cuts?

“We estimate that if returns rates were to fall to 10%, they [online retailers] would theoretically have scope to lower prices by a further 20%,” said the Wall Street bank.

And, of course, this could have far-reach implications for the old-school shop chains and beyond.

“Apparel accounts for approaching 40% of all non-food retail spending and provided nearly half of the rental income of Europe's largest mall operator last year,” said Morgan Stanley.

“So, if 3D scanning technology was to lead clothing retailing moving online to the extent that, say, book retailing has done, many high streets and shopping malls could potentially become nonviable.

“The investment implications of such a scenario would go well beyond the retail and property sectors.”

Quick facts: Boohoo Group PLC

Price: 315.9518 GBX

Market: AIM
Market Cap: £3.98 billion

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