If you stroll down any high street in the fashion capitals of the world, you’ll notice one thing – shops are closing down. Whether it’s up and coming designers or industry veterans like Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, there’s a visible shift happening in the consumer world. We first realized the disparity in one of London’s more affluent neighborhood high-streets, the Kings Road and Fulham Road – one store after the other is suddenly up for lease, and more and more pop up shops are quite literally popping up in various busy locations.
Though we’re referring to brick and mortar stores, emerging and high-end designers are also calling it quits. Just last year, namesake brand Millie Mackintosh went into liquidation, followed by footwear brands Nine West declaring bankruptcy with plans to sell, and Charlotte Olympia closing down all US stores. What exactly is causing this? For one, commercial rental space prices have skyrocketed, and secondly, the more obvious reason is because shoppers are increasingly turning towards the online retail space to complete their purchases, leaving retailers struggling to attract footfall. With big fish like Amazon reinventing online shopping and excelling at customer service, consumer are able to fulfill all their purchases from the fingertips – either via an app or on mobile sites.
In the fashion industry, both high-street brands and high-end designers are facilitating your shopping experience without even popping into a store. Take for instance the likes of ASOS, Topshop and co. whose packages can be delivered at your closest corner store so that you don’t have to be at home at a specific time to sign for your delivery. This is particularly handy for people who work outside of normal working hours and are able to pick up their parcel at their convenience. In the luxury fashion world, pre-order pioneer Moda Operandi is yet again on the rise with an upcoming entry into the Asian market.
As avid shoppers ourselves, it seems pretty clear why many consumers are turning to the online world as opposed to classic brick and mortar store. Besides the convenience and time-saving process, the in-store experience is not the same anymore – sales assistants don’t attend to the client as thoughtfully as they used to, on top of being often understaffed due to pay squeezes, it often seems as thought you were doing the store a favor by coming in, which is certainly not how it should be.
After contemplating at what brands could be doing wrong, or spending less on, we came up with a few ideas on how fashion houses need to elevate their in-store experience to remain in the game. A good example we witnessed on our last trip to New York City was at the sustainable women’s clothing brand Reformation. As one might have expected, there wasn’t much staff, because a lot of customer service was done behind the scenes – via a virtual wardrobe to which you can add pieces you’d like to try on. Need a bigger size? Simply tap on the iPad installed in your changing room and request another size – shut your in-room closet door, wait a few minutes and a new piece will be added to your closet, ready to be tried on. Magical forward thinking, if such thing exists!
So why aren’t more brands following the trend of elevating their in-store experience in order for shoppers to actually come into the store? Many simply don’t have the capacity or the capital anymore, nor don’t invest enough in the right places – such as technology and creative thinkers. Others have simply given up on brick and mortar due to high leases and prefer to give their all towards their online platforms. The risk with the latter is that there still exist a lot of people who have yet to be convinced to shop online – most still appreciate to be serviced and get advice from a sales assistant, not to mention try the clothes on before buying them!
But for all those that do wish to heighten the in-store experience, and aren’t yet ready to give up on their real estate, there are areas they can invest in that will differentiate and strengthen their brand. According to one former fashion chief executive, you should invest in technology, invest in the supply chain from beginning to end, data analytics capability, four-wall experience, building distribution, people development and retention, as well as new categories of business.
From a consumer’s point of view, we’d like to feel more seen and understood – our needs should be anticipated and addressed; before we decide to leave and complete our purchase through our smartphone. Retailers should focus more on getting to know their customers – they’re not like they used to be. Which leads us to the area where retailers should spend the most on: customer service. Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University says that retailers are hemorrhaging the love and trust of their shoppers with rude and inept service – across channels: in-store, chat, phone, e-mail. Hearts are broken daily. With trust at all-time lows and anger at all-time highs, consumers are quick to judge and not as forgiving as they used to be.
We want to know – where do you shop? Are you a 50/50 kind of gal who enjoys stepping into a store front time to time to see the merchandise straight up, or do you strictly rely on the Internet to get your shopping done?
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