More innovation needed to excite evolving fashion consumers says strategy guru

Retail is in the middle of a major period of change and large chains need to learn from the more dynamic smaller players in the market, as well as from bigger brands and stores outside of their price positioning, if they are to win customer allegiance. They also need to innovate and to tap into the particular priorities of their target consumers, to try to emotionally connect with them and to bring store shelves to life.

 
Some retailers are expert at bringing shopping to life said strategy expert Camilla Crane


That’s the view of Camilla Crane, director of strategy at major global brand design consultancy Elmwood, who spoke to Fashion Network this month.

Crane said that we're in the middle of an “enormous and compelling” shift in the philosophy of buying and retailing and that “while high street shops are closing in droves and the top brands are losing share value, it's the smaller brands with a clear point of view that are winning customer allegiance.”

And that customer allegiance is key to driving sales growth. She added: “It used to be the case that people treasured consumer goods and the access they had to them. But today, consumers believe it’s they who should be treasured by the brands they buy from.

‘While many big brands continue to stumble, we need to learn from these small, gutsy, highly adaptable brands that are thriving. To succeed, retailers need to question how prepared they are to break free from their comfortable past and take on the agile Davids (as opposed to the Goliaths) of the retail world.”

She believes the exponential rise of e-commerce and a change in consumer behavioUr have both had a massive impact on the retail space over the last 20 years, as evidenced by the decline, and in some cases demise, of brands such as BHS, Jaeger and Jane Norman.

“We’re moving from a world of bricks and mortar giants, which are primarily accessed by cars, to flexible, integrated formats that bridge the gap between physical and digital, convenience and grocery, urban living and the suburbs. “

BE INSPIRED BUT ALSO INNOVATE

She said that while physical giants close stores, digital specialists are opening them and retailers could learn a lot from initiatives like AmazonGo with its lack of checkouts. “It’s a great example – it’s taking us back full circle by connecting both the physical and digital worlds through a seamless experience. To succeed, brands must ensure they meticulously research who their customer is, that their product is well designed, and that they’re agile enough to evolve with the market and consumer expectations. Fail to be savvy and you could be the next BHS.”

But she warned against taking a copycat approach. “Brands lazily copying their peers is a trend that's ultimately responsible for a fragmentation of brand loyalty among consumers – it creates intentional confusion between private label and big name brands. It’s the brands that dare to stand out and personalise their message by connecting with individual values that are winning.”

She cited River Island as an example of the right way to do it. In what was a first in the fashion world in the UK, it connected with its target Millennials by partnering with messaging app-of-the-moment, Snapchat. Its 'Snap & Share' campaign let users who visit stores in the UK and Ireland, access River Island-branded filters. These season-specific filters brought River Island's cultural messaging to life, helping it “stand out and appear relevant to its consumers.” The chance to win a £1,000 shopping spree helped to incentivise its app-savvy customers.

At the other end of the market, she praised Gucci, which recently became a member of non-profit organisation Parks – Liberi e Uguali (meaning free and equal), which helps companies design strategies that support diversity. Its CEO said the move is part of the brand’s mission to celebrate “ethnic, age, sexual and gender diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity”.

“If the last 50 years was about brand marketing and how brands positioned and presented themselves to people, the next 50 will be about ‘people marketing’ – brands must leverage data to deliver hyper personalised, immersive moments for their consumer,” Crane said.


Modern consumers are happy to mix budget chain store finds with purchases from luxury stores


And it’s not only a consumer’s tastes and lifestyles that brands have to adapt to, but their geographies and climate conditions too. “With constantly evolving globalisation, fashion and beauty can no longer rest on their laurels and presume to be relevant in just one geography or climate at any given time. Modern, successful and globally forward-thinking fashion houses have had to bring their shows and collections closer to season so that these collections can be bought and worn immediately, regardless of where their customers are in the world.”

She also believes that one important way that brands will be able to keep up with the demands of their consumers is with virtual reality (VR), which may be relatively small for now but should grow. “VR facilitates richer customer experiences and better connectivity. Recognising this see-now, buy-now trend, Samsung created the first-ever interactive VR fashion show for New York Fashion Week in 2017 so designers could bring their collections to life and make them instantly accessible to the global masses. This essentially meant that anyone with a VR headset could interact with footage and share style ideas from the comfort of their homes, as if they were sitting on the front row of the runway.”

SQUEEZED MIDDLE

With all the change that’s happening she believes that some retailers and brands in the middle of the market will struggle. “The middle is a difficult place to be,” she explained. “The squeezed middle is painful, and SKU rationalisation will see the continued decline of mid-tier brands, as more people lead a 5:2 lifestyle of saving to reinvest. Meaning, for every ‘5’ savvy choices consumers make, they make ‘2’ more indulgent ones. Where does your brand fit? Are you part of the ‘5’ or ‘2’ choices?”

She said brands and retailers should “be bold, pick a side and stick to it, and shout about whichever side you’re on. Whether your brand is premium or discount – confidence in brand identity can often yield a loyal following.”

She sees Yoox Net-a-Porter as a good example of this as it demonstrated its superiority over other online retailers last year when it reported phenomenal growth figures. Sales were up 17.7%, which rose to 19.2% in Q4. “The brand is clearly doing well at not only knowing their customer base inside out, but growing it, and those directing the course aren't worried about their premium offering, rather this is something that is part of their identity that they are capitalising on.”

But while many of the developments she talks about may make it tough for some brands to know what is the right way forward, she said that on another level a “monumental shift in power from brand to consumer has led to brand liberation.” How so? “There is no single way to be any more,” she said. “Premium shoppers in one category are not necessarily premium shoppers in another category – I may drive an Aston Martin, but I’m also free to shop at Aldi.

“This brand liberation is being jumped on by private labels. They now have a proactive audience, and this change is no more evident than in the UK where Aldi and Lidl have forced established leaders to change their brand strategies.”


Retailers must innovate to avoid being the next Jaeger or BHS - DR


She said we have seen the same effect on the UK's high street with the fashion ‘bargain store’, such as Primark, also witnessing an equally meteoric rise. “The stigma that was once associated with shopping at this kind of store has all but vanished, and the shoppers who choose to spend their income here are increasingly being seen as ‘savvy’ as opposed to ‘cheap’.”

Such value-focused retailers “pulled the rug from under the feet of mainstream retail,” she said, creating “seismic shifts in quality and price expectations,” not just in Britain but globally too.

So how do brands and retailers stay ahead of the game? “They need to study who they’re targeting,” she said. “Products should be designed for specific consumers and their homes, not the retail shelf. It’s time to take it even a step further and go beyond a static aesthetic – let’s bring the pack to life. The end goal is always to emotionally connect with consumers through unique and seamless experiences. So in a shifting landscape, there is no single solution – you need to rely on agility and creativity.”

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