Shopping has changed drastically over the last year. Shop closures - most temporary, but others permanent - have seen fashion customers flock to e-commerce and online marketplaces. Brands and retailers have followed consumers, establishing and expanding their presence on channels such as Zalando.
With the most stringent lockdown restrictions beginning to lift and bricks and mortar locations reopening, fashion retailers will be hoping that the coming months will see shoppers return in droves back to stores while online sales continue to surge. While there are certainly reasons to celebrate, fashion also faces a series of hurdles in the near future. How can retailers and brands best navigate the post-Covid recovery period on the high street and across digital channels?
Consumers are linking offline with online - retail should too
Regaining significant instore footfall may be more difficult than many expect. Online channels have spent lockdown offering easy access to a seemingly unlimited range of products. Consumers won’t simply forget how easy it is to peruse a variation of lines and prices from the comfort of their own home. Recent research found that two in five shoppers expect they will shop online more frequently even after lockdown ends.
Retailers should treat physical stores as another channel in their overall strategy, rather than an opponent to their digital plans. While this could be seen as added complexity for the modern customer’s path to purchase, forward-thinking retailers recognise that every touch point needs to be an optimised opportunity for customers to make a purchase - and it’s likely that post-lockdown shopping will bring more cross-channel activity than before.
Recent ChannelAdvisor research conducted between UK lockdowns found that 45 percent of consumers were researching online more frequently before buying the product instore. Factors behind this could include a hesitancy to spend too long in potentially busy or infectious shops, but it’s also likely that consumers don’t necessarily want to take a day comparing prices across different locations when they could just look up the best deal online.
With this trend likely to continue at least in the short term, it is vital for brands to keep information around where to buy, availability and any other product information consistent across all of their channels. Shops can still attract sales if online provides accurate guidance.
A new age of retail diplomacy
Post-lockdown life could also see different dynamics in the retailer / brand relationship. Over the last year many fashion brands have grown more confident with sales channels such as social selling, a broader range of marketplaces and their own D2C sites. In many cases, a brand’s survival has hinged on these digital shopfronts and new online customer bases have been established. Some brands may now question how they should prioritise retail partners in this wider ecosystem, whether they have more profit margin negotiating power and whether they should really dedicate ad spend to directing traffic to retailer sites when their own channels have fared so well.
Now is the time for brands to improve their retailer relationships, moving past being just a supplier and becoming true business partners. This is a more advanced relationship that will prove beneficial for both parties.
The reality is that it can be more beneficial long term for brands to recalibrate their digital marketing efforts to funnel customers to retailers again. This may appear damaging to a brand’s D2C sales but in most cases will lead a higher volume of conversions. Many shoppers have retained loyalty to certain retailers, so simplifying their path to purchase is more likely to result in a completed transaction. By providing these leads to retailer partners, brands can show their worth beyond the basic supplier relationship.
Adopting a data-driven relationship approach works both ways. Retailers should appreciate that brands have spent the last year utilising online platforms that offer a bevvy of information that brands can use to optimise their marketing, sales and even products.
Keeping pace with consumers and platforms
The ecommerce boom has seen the spotlight intensify on online shopping’s environmental sustainability. We’ve all heard how important the issue is becoming to consumers, but it’s also influencing marketplace and retailer requirements.
Take Zalando as an example - the fashion marketplace recently committed to make sustainable products a quarter of their GMV by 2023. Fashion brands looking to retain lockdown levels of business on Zalando long term will be well-served to take sustainability to heart - or they risk alienating both consumers and sales channel partners.
Meanwhile it’s unlikely that brands will see a significant drop in online sales once shops reopen and they should consider whether they’ve adopted environmental policies suitable for this high-volume delivery and return landscape. Sustainable packaging and paperless return options were good ideas before COVID but when online sales have reached this scale their impact can be huge.
This article was written for FashionUnited by Lauren Herouard, Senior Manager Client Services and Marketplaces EMEA at ChannelAdvisor, who specialises in the fashion industry. ChannelAdvisor is a leading global e-commerce cloud platform whose mission is to connect and optimise the world’s commerce.