Many fashion retailers have reduced their pre-order budgets in the last three seasons due to the pandemic and were faced with empty warehouses, especially last autumn. Now the willingness of fashion retailers to increase their pre-order quota is on the rise. The current war in Ukraine also plays a role emotionally and concretely in terms of securing production locations in Eastern Europe.
War in Ukraine dampens mood on the street
“There is a state of shock,” says Birgit Engelmann. “Since the war in Ukraine started, it has been quiet in stores and on the street.” The retailer, who carries brands such as Luisa Cerano, Marc Aurel, Ana Alcazar and Herzen's Angelegenheit in her boutique in Berlin's Westend, has felt “very supported by my customers” throughout the pandemic and does not have to fear for her business; however, the situation has now worsened again on a purely emotional level, as “these are," according to Engelmann, “not nice days”.
This is not only the case in Berlin. “Again, we have no reason to be happy, we probably can't get out of the depression,” says Wolfgang Billmayer, who runs two fashion stores in Bavaria, one in Wartenberg and one in Freising, close to Munich. Of course, the current developments are making themselves felt, “here in Wartenberg, the customer frequency is currently zero”.
Mode Ruths in Friedberg and Bad Nauheim close to Frankfurt also feels the uncertainty, “not only among our customers, but also among our employees,” says Jochen Ruths. “Of course we are concerned when we hear from suppliers that their employees in Ukraine are now at war. But we all appreciate the focus on our daily tasks and feel how much our customers crave every bit of normality, even when shopping.”
Nevertheless, the current order round for the coming autumn season is still going on - and retailers' objectives have not changed: Many of them want to expand their fashion range, inspire their customers with exciting selections and - not least as a result of increased purchasing prices - make more sales with fewer items at higher average prices.
They want to avoid comparability and the usual; retailers are looking for special features, unusual colours and fresh styles. At the same time, it is simply a matter of having enough merchandise for the entire season so as not to miss out on sales like last year. At that time, many retailers experienced empty warehouses and gaps in many product groups. This should not happen again.
“We need innovative warehouse programmes”
Against this background, the question arises as to how pre-order, post-order and immediate budgets are now de facto weighted. The picture here is divided. On the one hand, there are the retailers who want to keep their pre-order budget at the usual level and place greater value on fashionable, fast-moving storage goods, NOS or long-term warehouse items.
At Modehaus Holzapfel in Abensberg north of Munich, for example, intensive work with NOS and temporarily stored goods is part of the strategy. The ratio between pre-order and NOS/storage goods of 50:50 and 60:40, respectively, is therefore maintained, and the fashion retailer works closely with companies that have a convincing storage or NOS offer. “We basically rely less on pre-orders and reorder daily,” explains Ulrike Holzapfel.
This avoids the risk of “having too many sleepers in the range” and always brings "the tried and tested articles to stores”. So far, she has always been able to get what she wanted. And if warehouses are empty, “you just have to look around”. This meticulous work on the selection “is the job of the buyer”. Nevertheless, she is aware that “it's a tightrope walk, you mustn't overdo it” and you have to have a feeling for which suppliers you can work with in this way.
At Vohl & Meyer in Limburg, close to Frankfurt, the ratio between pre-order and stock items is “65:35 percent for menswear, 75:25 percent for womenswear”. And “it should stay that way”, says owner Martin Acht. Basically, he expects not only pre-order items but also stock items to have sufficient novelty value. “Since the pandemic, it is especially important that there are innovative warehouse programmes,” says Acht.
Especially when it comes to pants, what is in stock also determines the choice of supplier. “With pants, we first look at the warehouse and only then at the collection,” says Acht. The procedure at Heikorn in Singen, close to the Swiss border, is similar. “For pants and suits in womenswear, NOS has to work smoothly,” says owner Bettina Kornmayer. If that is not the case, she has to look elsewhere. “If a supplier leaves us hanging in terms of stock, we see that we find an alternative supplier who can deliver,” says Kornmayer. She then also pre-orders with them.
As far as other product groups are concerned, Heikorn tends to expand pre-orders. “We had a very good year for jackets,” says Kornmayer. That is why she has increased the order here to some extent, because “we had too few to meet customer demand, we could have sold more if we had had more jackets during the season”.
”Those playing it safe do not have exciting product ranges”
Tim Stenger from Modehaus Stenger in Bad Kreuznach, southwest of Frankfurt, is also sticking to a clear pre-order focus; the ratio of pre-orders to stocked items will remain at around 75:25 percent for the coming autumn season. “We do have a certain contingent of stock and NOS goods,” says Stenger. But it is clear that “if we increasingly play it safe, the product range will become more boring”. However, his priority is that “the selection remains exciting - and that can't be done by minimising risks and offering only basics”.
Petra Wichern from Moden Holst in Sittensen, southwest of Hamburg, shares this opinion. She will continue to maintain her pre-order share of 85 percent, even if her “ideal would be a ratio of 60:40 - but only if items come from our regular suppliers”. But they do not keep that much in stock, and even though “everyone talks about ready-to-wear, it doesn't work out so well in reality,” is her experience. But “we manage quite well as it is,” says Wichern. She also appreciates being able to deal with pre-ordering in a compact way so that she can “concentrate one hundred percent on what's going on in the store afterwards”. Sabine Lehman from Lehmanns in Wedel, also close to Hamburg, relies to 90 percent on pre-orders. The ten percent that she adds are not new products, but “items we have already sold”.
”We need more fashion and enough merchandise”
”Now, the most important thing is to have enough merchandise,” says Jochen Ruths. To ensure that there is not a shortage of goods like last autumn, he has ordered “very tidily” for his two clothing stores in Friedberg and Bad Nauheim this time. There are suppliers from whom he has even doubled his orders - albeit after having reduced his order volumes in the three previous seasons.
In the case of one order for pants, he initiated an “internal NOS” for certain items that he considers to be very strong and that will not be available from the warehouse. “If there's one thing we've learned from Corona, it's that something can always happen,” says Ruths. Therefore, a certain risk prevention surely plays a role in the autumn order.
Wolfgang Billmayer, who this time “approached ordering with a more positive attitude” and “bought a little more everywhere”, also said that he “didn't skimp as much as last autumn”. Since “knitwear appeals [to customers] and there are enough pants”, shopping was easy for him. “People want to look chic again,” observes Billmayer. It does not have to be a blazer or a suit; many women are happy with dresses that they combine with leggings and a leather jacket for everyday wear, while young customers “tend to style dresses sexier”.
Quint manager Birgit Engelmann in Berlin, on the other hand, believes that one should increase the level of fashion experienced in the showrooms. “There is certainly a lack of innovation,” observes Engelmann. While familiar styles are being relaunched, fresh colours and completely new cuts are missing. “Women still need suits and blazers,” says Engelmann, “it would be great if there were extravagant jackets”.
And as far as dresses are concerned: “Plain dresses won't serve us in the long run.” According to Engelman, a dress needs colour and has to be really unusual sometimes. Against this background, “I was so bold in ordering where it was possible that I almost scared myself a little,” Engelmann laughs. All in all, she has pre-ordered about ten percent more, because since “manufacturers are cutting back on stock and you don't know what's going to happen next, I can't safely assume that I'll be able to re-order anything this year”.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.