The Importance of Adapting to Consumer Shifts - A Reflection on the Experts' Opinion on Retail


  Taking a look at the conversations from Lone Design Club's first digital fashion summit, The State of Retail. An interactive discussion that looked into the effects of the pandemic and how independent brands can benefit from this consumer shift.

We are all aware of the changes Covid brought to light when it comes to shopping, there were many growing dissonances between what retailers were doing and what consumers wanted. For the brands who didn't address these challenges, they were unable to survive the pandemic. Fortunately independent brands have the opportunity to be fluid and pivot quickly. In our conversation we looked at how small brands can benefit from these changes, be ahead of the curve and emerge on top post-covid. Innovation was the keyword that featured most. Dependency on technology and its improvements are nothing new but there are a number of exciting new opportunities for brands to get on board with. In this reflection, we'll shed light on the key areas brands need to invest in. Businesses will need to  shift their priority on digital aspects and greater focus on sustainability. 

Consumers shifted their spending behaviour many years pre-covid, with the rise of social media and next day delivery, fashion has never been so accessible and with that, fast fashion e-commerce has shot into the limelight.

The effect has been that fewer shoppers attend bricks and mortar stores; shopping hasn't lost its thrill, but it needs to accept tech and become far more experiential to attract these shoppers to come back, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Retailers require to address and adapt to this missing gap and introduce an innovative approach to compensate. 

The pandemic clearly portrayed how unprepared the retail industry was, but what does that mean for small businesses? Arguably, independent businesses have a greater advantage as they have the opportunity to maintain a strong direct to consumer relationship, experiment more and handle quick changes. We've seen the rise of 'phygital', as seen with interactive store windows in our very own pop ups, where QR codes were displayed on windows to enable a better shopping experience. Consumers are looking for a direct experience and independent retailers are in a position to build upon that, ‘I would rather be a smaller business than a larger one as there are plenty of opportunities for them’ – Lauretta Roberts, The Industry.

However, it's always much easier said than done. How is the digital and physical retail world actually going to work together? As Muchaneta Kapfunde ( stated; "Online shopping is all about convenience, but in-store is about experience. If we reflect on the shopping mall phenomena, it clearly shows that they do run perfectly together, they just need to evolve."

Virtual storytelling is gaining more and more significance. We've seen a massive rise in livestream shopping and virtual showrooms. This really is going to be the future of retail, regardless of whether or not it is attached to a physical store. This trend has been gaining huge popularity in China and the rest of the world needs to catch up to stay relevant. Involving innovative tools, the question here is how can a small business jump on the bandwagon, how accessible is it, especially if you don't have the budgets of major fashion houses? When it comes to digital tools, people often associate it with high costs, but there are numerous free tools available. One such tool is video calling customers for a unique shopping experience and one of the employees can try live for you the garments you like on, or using social media platforms to showcase and engage. Again here, combine convenience with experience. Small businesses can experiment with these tools and find what works the best for them, it can be simple and even through Instagram. Additionally, the usage of using virtual 3D designs or even a digital showroom increased and allows to create a one of a kind e-commerce experience. Most of these tools are free to use but require a skilled person to make the best out of it.

Technology is all well and fine to focus on, but brands must be careful to not underestimate the value of human connection, 'There's something more at play [than technology] that independents are so much better prepared for, is that this is a career and we need the industry to remember that what is being delivered is that magical human connection. Far too often sales assistants are overlooked, yet they're the ones who are transforming the in store experience. Data cannot deliver that personal touch.' Matthew Drinkwater, Fashion Innovation Agency. 

The changes that are needing to take place in retail are not limited to technology, but a greater focus on making positive fashion choices in regards to the environment. Greenwashing is becoming more prevalent as larger brands attempt to make changes towards becoming more sustainable, but continuously fall short and end up lying to consumers. 'People aren't going to get away with it,' Laura Harnett, ex Digital Director for Selfridges. Consumers are really into these topics and will call out brands. Independent brands have more of an opportunity to prove their transparency, but it's not enough to be sustainable anymore, you have to be doing something about it. Company’s need to go much deeper and take ownership into their supply chain. Not everybody cares about sustainability and brands can’t impress everyone with that, there has to be a greater focus on consumers who care about it.

Since Covid, people have had more time to reflect on their habits and spending behaviour -buying less and supporting local shops. People's spending behaviour shifted regarding these topics; consumers enjoy buying products with meaning that have a personal connection and experience. Retailers will need to provide the customer with the personal value, with the story behind the items. Consumer are being able to look through the business side and really look into the values. For small brands it is important to find the middle ground. Listen to your customer, explore alternatives and experiment. Give the customer more what they’re looking for.

Another crucial aspect for smaller businesses was on investing the money smartly, this could be in research - especially into the world of smart garments - and in collaborations. As the Jonathan Chippindale (Holition) mentioned: 'Collaborations are good movement happenings, but people are not willing to go for it for a long run'. In this case, collaborating as an independent brand with a well-known one provides enormous both-sided benefits; Attracting a new audience and getting discovered.

To make things a little more interactive, this wasn't just about our speakers insights but recognising industry shifts as pioneered by brands and consumers. We ran an audience poll to gain a point of view on different opinions. We asked 'Are you optimistic about the future role of physical retail as we emerge from covid?' 36% said 'Yes, definitely', 61% said 'Maybe, but it will take some time', 2% said 'No', 1% weren't sure. Although it's not the overarching optimism we expected, this does show that on the whole we should expect to see a return to physical. It will probably change it's form but it's not going away forever.

The major positive factor about small independent businesses is that they are not afraid of changes and are willing more to experiment, whilst bigger companies fear the conversions. Therefore, as all of the guest speakers agreed, there are multiple tools for independent corporations freely available, it just requires to understand the usage of it. Last but not least, the best way to get an understanding of consumer demands is to value the people on the shop floor because they are the one who transforms the experience. 

A very special thank you to our panelists and attendees, we hope to see you at the next one. For more information on our upcoming industry focused events, sign up to our newsletter and keep an eye on the website here.

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