As fashion’s future weaves itself more tightly into the digital realm, fashion brands strive to remain competitive through these times of rapid change. Nearly everyone in fashion agrees that to thrive even in periods of disruption, brands must focus more on e-commerce. According to the McKinsey 2021 State of Fashion report, 70 percent of fashion executives anticipate more than 20 percent growth in their e-commerce channels. Indeed, the world’s leading fashion experts call e-commerce “the biggest opportunity by far” for brands. And with brands racing to make their mark in the digital realm, physical retail suffers. Compared to 2019 levels, offline store sales in Europe will likely drop by 8 to 13 percent, and U.S. offline sales are expected to decline by 22 to 27 percent.
However, although fashion brands are experiencing depreciating levels of offline sales, brands still recognize the importance of their retail footprint. Physical retail remains important to a brand’s growth strategy, asserts Laura Pomerantz, a Forbes contributor and expert retail real estate strategist. “Investors are demanding that retailers reassess their real estate to maximize their space,” says Pomerantz. But to maximize their retail space, how should fashion brands leverage manufacturing, especially in a time when online sales supersede in-store purchases?
Focus on an Omnichannel Customer Journey
Traditionally, a retail store’s success depended on how much product sold within the four walls of their retail space. But with the internet’s expansion in the 1990s, brands quickly realized they should create multiple channels of access through which customers could purchase products, including online stores. Through the multichannel shopping experience, brands gave consumers the option to engage on the channel they preferred. And once customers selected their preferred channel, brands optimized the shopping experience within that particular channel to increase engagement. Although customers at this point had access to multiple shopping channels, these channels weren’t necessarily integrated. The multichannel approach treated channels as independent silos, and this limited the potential to increase engagement between channels. Thus, brands pivoted to the omnichannel approach, which allowed them to integrate the multichannel approach and offer consumers more personalized products, offers, and messages.
To optimize a retail space, fashion brands must drastically boost in-store omnichannel integration because consumers require a compelling reason to shop offline. They are accustomed to buying a wide range of products online, and consumers won’t visit physical retail stores unless fashion brands give them a good reason. McKinsey calls in-store omnichannel integration the “table stakes” in the next phase of industry growth. In a survey of United States apparel executives, 76 percent said they plan to improve omnichannel integration in stores. To radically accelerate this integration, fashion brands should consider the following:
Reconsider the store’s role. – Since consumers require a compelling reason to come in-store, fashion brands need to consider the store’s role beyond merely a transactional site. Instead, stores should improve how consumers discover products in-store. This product discovery process could incorporate more access to exclusive merchandise (e.g., through “in store only” product acquisitions). Exclusivity for consumers could also mean trimming down the retail space, which may effectively provide a more exclusive shopping experience.
Maximize in-store pickup. – Consumers are increasingly demanding contactless fulfillment options, and stores can play a pivotal role in the fulfillment process. Including options such as curbside pickup or in-store pickup from an online order can improve omnichannel integration and allow a more personalized shopping experience to customers since sales associates can engage with customers at pickup.
Personalize in-store touchpoints for consumers. – Store associates should have access to customer data such as loyalty and purchasing behavior to capture customer attention prior to their in-store visits. Important customer data acquired before their in-store visit can help with a more personalized product discovery process that begins online but finishes in-store, thus creating a more integrated shopping experience.
As fashion brands take these practical steps towards in-store omnichannel integration, they will need to continuously re-think their store footprint to adapt to today’s sophisticated and ever-increasingly complex consumer. If fashion brands properly adapt to their consumers, they can persuade online-first customers to buy more and make additional in-store purchases.
Production Plan with Your Manufacturer to Get More Out of Your Retail Space
How should fashion brands design their supply chain processes to support omnichannel optimization?
Furthermore, how can brands integrate digital innovation in the supply chain design process and accelerate these decisions?
When working with the predictive methods that help make these accelerated decisions, fashion brands should consider shortening the planning cycle and partnering with smaller manufacturers. In doing so, fashion brands can make themselves nimble enough to respond to rapid industry changes and better inform which sales channels to focus on. Not to mention that smaller manufacturers are often more amenable to a fashion brand’s changes in production planning, particularly because smaller manufacturers focus more on quality standards than volume quotas. Additionally, smaller manufacturers maintain a relatively insular network of highly-vetted suppliers and other manufacturing specialists. In building partnerships with smaller manufacturers, fashion brands access such insular networks and its more collaborative culture, since smaller manufacturers maintain a network built on both vested and personal interests. Therefore, these smaller manufacturers can play a critical role in a fashion brand’s manufacturing success because they offer brands more personalized solutions, show more willingness to go the extra mile, and even troubleshoot with fashion brands to find potential manufacturing solutions.
To effectively plan production with manufacturers, especially in the fashion industry’s rapidly changing environment, fashion brands should make efficient use of important customer information. Considering that the core of the omnichannel approach prioritizes the customer rather than the product, fashion brands should ultimately remember to put their customer’s needs first. Fashion brands should maintain an exceptionally detailed understanding of their customer’s needs, both now and in the future. This detailed understanding plays a critical role in achieving omnichannel excellence, as customer information will help fashion brands decide which channels to serve, which products to serve, and where to offer them. According to a McKinsey report on the future of retail operations, this important customer information “should be combined with customer behavior insights culled from customer interviews, observations, and the latest research from market experts, as well as analyses of competitors’ e-commerce offerings.” By harnessing this multidisciplinary analytic approach, fashion brands can gain a clear understanding of customer expectations, anticipate their changes, and respond accordingly, all without running up against tightening online privacy regulation.
Frida Plata studied the Humanities at the University of Chicago (MA, 2020). She is currently a Content Marketing Intern at MakersValley. An avid museum-goer, Frida enjoys learning about art and fashion from all over the world.