Only a few years ago, the runway traditionally served as an exclusive industry event tailored to the privileged few press and buyers.

Those press and buyers would preview the upcoming collections and, slowly, images would filter out via the pages of glossy magazines.

Today, technology and social media have turned the fashion operating model on its head, and the approach from leading brands such as Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford epitomises this.

Today’s industry is all about embracing experience, telling stories and collaborating with fashion consumers in context, and so it is not surprising that many brands are tempted to unpick the stitches of 160 years of LFW tradition and adopt this approach.

New model

Last Wednesday, Madison Avenue in New York was closed to make way for a show-stopping glass enclosed runway for Ralph Lauren’s new collection.

No sooner had the models left the stage than the brand made it possible for shoppers to own the entire collection, and Ralph Lauren is the first firm of its size to offer up its wares to end-buyers in near real time.

Burberry autumn 16

Burberry autumn 16

Burberry fans can buy its clothes moments after their runway unveiling

Burberry unveiled its first-ever ‘see now, buy now’ show at London Fashion Week yesterday, bringing to the fore new ‘seasonless’ items for fans to get hold of just moments after their unveiling on the runway.

Supporting this new fashion immediacy model does, however, present substantial implications for production and supply chains, marketing communications and, importantly, the perception of luxury.

The immediacy of sharing images of catwalk and fashion content means that consumer expectation of real-time product availability is becoming a higher priority. In effect, rather than being one of a select few to own a product, consumers now want to be one of the first.

The catwalk is a powerful consumer marketing tool and makes a promise to shoppers that few can meet with traditional operating models. There are two keys to delivering on this promise: getting closer to the consumer and getting closer to the supply chain. 

Direct engagement

Consumers today are co-creating content with brands and are offering up rafts of information about themselves for retailers to decipher and act upon in context, as well as tailored to individual profiles.

“Shortening the link from catwalk to consumer means streamlining the link from warehouse to the consumer”

The catwalk is providing a new moment in time to engage with customers directly, which was previously separated by levels of editors, buyers and stores. Brands can harness data insight to design and engineer future interactions and even their collections, establishing ever deeper levels of customer engagement.

And shortening the link from catwalk to consumer means streamlining the link from warehouse to the consumer. Whether it’s a luxury or a fast-fashion retailer, brands need full insight into every aspect of their supply chain to be able to provide the right product to the right consumer in the right context.

High expectations

Research shows that 70% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand following a poor customer experience, and one of the reasons for this is a brand’s inability to anticipate demand and forecast, bringing cashflow implications which can make or break a brand. In addition, it is of growing importance that retailers maintain visibility of their stock across their supply chain.

Even more importantly, orchestrating that supply chain, and reaching the consumer in the quickest, most efficient and most ethical way, is proving to be a key brand differentiator.

“Retailers are now tasked with using customer-generated data, external trends and prevailing market factors to predict demand”

As digital media has lifted the veil of exclusivity covering the runway, retailers are faced with an exciting and real-time opportunity to fuse technology and fashion to meet the needs, desires and expectations of consumers.

Whereas previously, fashion brands were able to use feedback from press coverage and buzz to determine how to quantify stock, the real-time nature of runway consumption now shifts that insight. Retailers are now tasked with using customer-generated data, external trends and prevailing market factors to predict demand.

The real-time runway challenges retailers to fundamentally rethink their supply chain operating model to maintain pace with an increasingly dynamic consumer, technology and fashion retail environment.

  • Dom Poloniecki is director of commerce at IBM UK and Ireland