Covid-19 and the norms of social distancing have pushed the world to unchartered territories. Industries that require physical touch and/or in-person attendance have taken the most vicious beating. The fashion industry, acting via retailers and fashion houses, catering mostly to walk-in consumers, have suffered the most and is struggling to survive in the times to come. The forecast has already been outdated and piles of stock lying in stores unsold. That begs the question as to what attitudinal makeover is required to reshape the industry?
Behavioural shift in buying
Fundamentally, people are absorbing the reality and coming to terms with it. To say that we are living in unprecedented times feels like an understatement. To adapt to this new normal, there has been a stark behavioural shift towards online shopping. From buying groceries and daily necessity items to consumer products, the online market is here for a long haul. The role of buying online has increased across categories as consumers have substantially reduced their visits to stores and outlets.
Sooner or later, life will come back to normal but the shift in the mindset of consumer is here to stay. The priority now is to maintain social distancing, achieve top level of service, and not end up paying heavy premium for it. Therefore, retail brands must work towards meeting the customer satisfaction and simultaneously scale down their operational cost. This comes down to understanding of 3 aspects of the changed ecosystem – sell thoughtfully, maintain social distancing and change to meet your customer needs.
Virtual world of Fashion
Mathew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at London College of Fashion says that there is a dramatic shift towards a digital solution as they are overwhelmed with requests on how to create virtual clothing platforms.
This view is attested by the booming sales of various brands focussing online sales. Hugo Boss online sales have sky-rocketed by 39 percent in the first quarter. Puma saw its e-commerce business increase by 40 percent in first quarter and 77 percent in April 2020. Puma’s Chief Executive stated that the company’s decision before the crisis to invest more in online logistics stands revalidated.
Online retail is not something new to the fashion world. Brands have thrived using technology and social media platforms. However, there appears to be a systemic inertia to continue with physical retail. Time has come to widen the contours of fashion world and accept online retail with open arms.
Way Forward – E-tailing
Heraclitus once said, “the only constant in life is change”. In these unprecedented times, change is the need of the hour. E-tailing or digital retailing may be a solution that will help the fashion houses maneuver through these turbulent times.
Real estate is becoming expensive, thereby pushing the fashion houses to move towards stocking online stores and feeding promotions through social media platforms. Instead of shelf space, the focus is on cloud space. The fashion industry has now realized the importance of investing in technologies like cloud, data, etc.
Stich Fix, an online personal styling service of US, founded by Katrina Lake in 2011, is a unique busines model where you order online, stuff delivered at home, you try and if you don’t like you return. Its “try before you buy” mantra serves over 35 lakhs clients annually and generates billion dollars in annual revenue. Fashion houses can take a cue from Stich Fix and adopt a hybrid model, which brings together online retailing and bespoke tailoring. This maybe is a solution to past over the inherent dependency on offline retail.
Imagine a world where you choose the product online, provide your measurement through AI software and have the product delivered at your doorstep. For bespoke tailoring, add another step of ‘trial at the doorstep’ by a sanitised tailor and thereafter the delivery of perfectly customised product.
This shows a real and immediate need to drive resources towards e-commerce. This is not to say that fashion retail through stores and outlets will be eradicated completely. The touch and feel element will always attract the customers fancy. However, the intent should be to diversify and provide equal (if not more) impetus to online fashion and e-tailing and substantially reduce operational cost.
About the author
The author is currently the head designer for Studio One, a menswear brand.