It’s hard to believe we’re entering the third quarter of 2020. With government restrictions on social gatherings and lockdown rules changing daily, little has changed since Covid-19 first hit in the UK. During those first months of lockdown, retail has never felt so challenged - with furloughs, bankruptcies, store closures, and huge drops in footfall all resulting in fear and uncertainty.
For this reason, we held our second Holition Talks on the topic of the future of retail. Together with London-based creative innovation studio Holition, we were joined by industry experts Rebecca Morter (founder, Lone Design Club), Sabinna Rachimova (creative director, Sabinna) and Jane Gorley (digital marketing strategist, ex Tiffany & Co, Net-a-Porter & Style.com), to share learnings from lockdown in the fashion and beauty space, and provide guidance for the next few months. Below, we’ve rounded up key takeaways from our digital event which gathered over 200 attendees from around the world.
ON REACTION TO LOCKDOWN
For businesses such as Sabinna and LDC, who have a big focus on physical events, initial lockdown enforcements meant that “all of a sudden, the whole physical aspect was just gone”. “We had so many events lined up so many workshops planned. Instead of cancelling everything, we decided to move them digitally,” shared Sabinna. “Instead of inviting people for a workshop, we started to offer DIY kits and teach them how to do this over Zoom.”
For retailers like LDC, the situation was similar. “We continued our planned store in March but also used it to broadcast to our audience and create video content, imagery and stills as much as we possibly could knowing full well that when full lockdown happens, it would mean that photoshoots wouldn't get to go ahead and it would be very difficult to be creating fresh new content,” said Rebecca. “When our investors were telling us “Cash is king”, we realised that actually “Content is king.”
Instead of taking the initial couple of months to completely stop operations or take things slow, LDC was operating harder than ever. “I think we did that [reflecting] for 24 hours and then, suddenly, we were taking everything that we knew about digital and maximising it – our live streams, our website, our socials. It’s been an extremely challenging past few months, but it has given us a really incredible opportunity to focus deep on our digital.”
SUSTAINABILITY & NEW CONSUMER BEHAVIOURS
Amidst lockdown, we also saw a dramatic shift in consumer choices While in March people would normally start preparing for summer, festival season and investing in items like wedding dresses, the pandemic meant more loungewear, home wear and Zoom-appropriate tops. “We had to be smart because we had less budget, less time, less customers and budget of customers to spend on clothes. But we need to survive as a business because we still have the same expenses,” said Sabinna, explaining that in order to combat the shift in consumer behaviour and spending, the brand created reconnect sets – best-seller sets like t-shirts and masks that people could send to friends. “We saw an increase of empathetic buys, as I call them, where people would buy for someone else instead for themselves to feel connected, rather than apart.”
Spending more time at home also meant that people didn’t feel the need to invest in that many new items. And when they did, those pieces were much more considered. “The trend of quality over quantity is going to continue,” shared Jane. “It’s about wanting more meaning from your purchases, whether that means investing in independent brands or just believing in the values of a company you buy from.”
THE NEW OMNICHANNEL EXPERIENCE
With the first iteration of global fashion weeks going digital and receiving mixed reactions, the pandemic hit the showcasing element of the industry hard. “Showcasing was the last thing on our list. Product was important, the customer was important, content was important, and showcasing wasn’t,” said Sabinna.
Instead of creating a digital video to show her collection, Sabinna joined The Fabric of Reality – an immersive virtual reality experience which paired designers with VR artists showcasing the designers’ worlds. “For the first time, we had the opportunity to capture the research, the inspiration, the journey that leads to a garment creation in a VR work and invite everyone to enter our minds. That’s how it felt”
At the other end of the spectrum, physical retail is also being supercharged by digital. “For us, pop up stores have always been about short term, maximum impact experiential retail. They’ve been a place for experience, community, storytelling. And the pandemic has accelerated where retail is hitting and where it needs to hit,” explained Rebecca.
Physical retail still has a very important role to play but the rules are being re-written. “Think about what omnichannel looks like. For us, it’s taking what we have with the pop-up model and shifting the ratio to digital with much more digital aspects. During our London Fashion Week pop-up store, we’ll be broadcasting live every day, for example. We’re also starting to build our own QVC channel and there’s a great hunger and interest from the community already.”
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
And so, as we’re going into Q3, what should retail brands focus on? “Invest in technology but make sure it’s to solve existing challenges,” advises Jane. “So it’s important to pinpoint those challenges. Identify clear KPIs for your innovation projects because if you don’t know how you’re going to measure success your money will go down the drain.”
“Focus on existing customers. What do they want from you, why do they love you, what can you do better,” added Rebecca. “And simplify. There are so many channels at the moment, we have content coming out of our ears! It’s really important to focus. Don’t just blast on every channel you possibly can because it feels ingenue. Focus on the ones that are most important for your customers.”
You can watch the full discussion here.
Holition and INTERLACED would like to thank our wonderful panel and everyone who joined live. Stay tuned for announcements about our next webinar happening in October. In the meantime, follow Holition and INTERLACED on social media for the latest updates on the future of fashion.