It’s been a mixed picture for fashion retailers these past few weeks, with online successes not enough to counter a struggling high street.
Across the board, one challenge has been obvious – the visible disconnect between what retailers think consumers want, and how the modern shopper is really behaving.
As a whole, shoppers have become more demanding. Consumers no longer buy clothing, footwear and accessories in anticipation of the weather, stockpiling woolly jumpers and bobble hats in case it turns cold several weeks later.
“Fashion retailers are not the first to face this challenge, and there’s much they can learn from what is perhaps an unlikely source”
Nor do they get their Christmas party outfits in the wardrobe months ahead of the event. Kantar Worldpanel research shows that individuals are now shopping in direct response to what they want in the moment, rather than in anticipation of something they might need in the future.
It’s this shift in behaviour that retailers need to adapt to if they are to capture consumer spend. Online shopping has now become so easy that consumers need a convincing reason to venture into stores, and bricks-and-mortar retailers need to be nimble enough to meet the demands of the time-pressed shopper.
Fashion retailers are not the first to face this challenge, and there’s much they can learn from what is perhaps an unlikely source.
The grocers, despite their scale and many moving parts, are adept at responding to the world outside their doors – evidenced by how quickly displays of barbecue products spring up at the front of their stores at the first hint of sunshine.
Empowering shop managers
In today’s fashion market it’s about empowering staff at a local level to make decisions in the same way, giving consumers a shopping experience that feels more tailored to them as an individual.
Some already do this, to some extent – Zara’s more flexible allocation model, for example, builds on what is already selling well – but there’s scope for an even more granular approach on the ground.
The grocers have also demonstrated the ability to make more fundamental changes in response to changing buying habits.
Having seen how a multitude of promotions and offers was failing to meet the consumer demand for simplicity, the big four supermarkets noticeably streamlined their pricing strategies, with everyday low prices proving more appealing to buyers than constant multibuys and temporary reductions.
“Endless discounting has left consumers knowing that they can wait for a bargain, running counter to their desire to buy in the moment”
Simultaneously in the fashion sector, endless discounting has left consumers knowing that they can wait for a bargain, running counter to their desire to buy in the moment, and devaluing brand equity.
Taking stock of pricing strategies and making a leap of faith away from discounting, which it’s easy to assume consumers love, could pay dividends in 2018.
This year could be a real turning point for fashion.
The balance of power has shifted back to the consumer, and if retailers can properly align themselves with this then they’ll likely see a turnaround in their fortunes.
Shoppers simply can’t be told what they “should” be buying like they used to be, and the sector must accommodate this change.
It’s no longer good enough to blame a disappointing performance on something like unexpected weather, because retailers should be ready to tackle fast-changing demands, rather than finding themselves on the back foot.
It’s been refreshing not to hear this excuse repeated in 2018 so far, but having faced a winter of storms and snow, it feels like this is down to luck, not judgement – here’s hoping that this time next year we’ve got a more positive story to tell.
- Glen Tooke is consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel
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