Innovate, Don’t Equivocate

Savvy retailers should seize this moment to find opportunity in hardship.

It’s clear that COVID-19 has created some fundamental social and economic shifts, and retail has not been immune. In fact, there are few economic sectors that have been more affected by the virus than retail.

But the impacts are not distributed equally across all verticals. Fashion has been hit terribly hard. Many firms have pushed back their product launches until September, essentially writing off six months of commerce. And a six-month hiatus in fashion is long enough to change customer behaviors. People start thinking: I don’t need that new dress, that new handbag. That can have long-term impacts on basic consumption patterns.

But beauty products are another matter. They’re taking off! That presents a different challenge. Many cosmetics companies are now finding that their difficulties aren’t demand, aren’t website-associated—the problems are with their warehouses. They’re struggling to address a backlog of orders. The issues are all about distribution.

Still, some broad trends are emerging. First, retail—all retail—must become more digitized. Most consumers don’t have the option right now of going to a physical store; their purchases are perforce made online, and this will only increase their brick-and-mortar expectations when the pandemic is over. There will be a clear shopper preference for brands that provide a great customer experience both in the store and on the website. The omnichannel—including app commerce—will reign supreme as never before. And customers will want more from their digital experiences, such as augmented reality for trying on clothes and accessories.

Second, the temptation to reduce online traffic and create holding pages must be resisted. It’s a potentially fatal mistake. Turning your website into a “Be back soon” sign simply turns customers away—and off. Many won’t return. And it impacts SEO profoundly, making post-coronavirus recovery all the more difficult. Invest in your digital infrastructure. It’s your future.

We need to anticipate dramatic and long-term changes in product preference. Fast fashion is decelerating, and luxury shoppers are moving to more affordable products. The ephemeral, ultra-cheap, and disposable will fade—but so will the ultra-luxurious and hyper-expensive. Why? Necessity. The value of money and the desirability of well-made and durable products are becoming obvious to everyone.

Finally, the old cliché says it all: one door closes and another opens. There really is opportunity in hardship—even when it comes to fashion. The savvy retailer is always thinking about what the customer needs at any given moment. Right now, most people are staying home. Few are concerned about making an impression on the street, or even in the office. After all, they’re not going to the office—but they still want to feel well-dressed and stylish.

So what’s poised to go up? Loungewear: clothes for nesting, for staying at home. Change is implicit in the fashion industry—so embrace it.

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Gita Samani

Gita Samani is consultancy practice lead for Astound Commerce UK.