As non-essential retail prepares to reopen on 15 June, fashion retailers face a unique set of challenges, aside from social distancing and new hygiene measures.
How do shoppers assess their choice of garment when fitting rooms must remain closed? How do fashion retailers return stock to the rails once it’s been handled by shoppers? How do they navigate returns, which was already a £60bn problem for the fashion industry pre-pandemic?
We caught up with Jessica Murphy, Co-Founder of True Fit, to find out what ‘new normal’ might look like for fashion businesses and some key initiatives that will help clothing retailers reopen, while reassuring nervous post-lockdown consumers as they get used to socially distanced shopping.
Retail Connections (RC): How will fashion shopping change once lockdown is lifted and clothing stores start to reopen?
Jessica Murphy (JM): As retail reopens, it is pretty clear that brands will have to manage new types of customer behaviours.
Some consumers will start shopping in stores again much as they did before; others will be happy to continue their journey online, again, much as they did before. But for a growing cohort, which will probably turn out to be the majority, they will be managing their online / off-line life differently.
What we know already is that lockdown sales have been shifting online; McKinsey expects the online share of fashion in Europe and North America to increase by up to 40% during the next 6 months to a year, while our own data shows more shoppers are coming online with average UK traffic growth in April up 20% compared to 2019.
RC: Will we see consumer behaviour shifting?
JM: Undoubtedly – and the objective for retailers is to understand these many changing consumer behaviours and develop a position to align to them.
For instance, consumer demand for personalisation is up – how can retailers align to this demand? What clothing categories pair well with hot sellers?
Correcting actions quickly will depend on connected data, through both the retailer and the customer journey and will enable consumers to start their journeys farther along the sales funnel. By applying what is already known about each customer, retailers can build upon the consumer’s previous shopping experiences rather than starting a buying journey from scratch.
Consumers want to be confident that what they are purchasing is something that they will want to keep. To ensure this, retailers will need to integrate online and in-store in ways that they have been talking about for a long time as part of their digital transformation journeys. Now many are realising that they must accelerate those plans.
RC: Much has been reported about new in-store safety measures – how do retailers balance reassurance and safety without adding friction to shopping journeys?
JM: In-store safety can be incorporated into a seamless customer journey rather than adding friction, and in fact, even where some friction is inevitable, lightness of touch can balance hygiene and convenience.
- Leverage the pre-pick up opportunity to remove friction that emerges from kerbside collection for instance, where shoppers can’t try clothing and shoes on in-store.
- Identify opportunities for shopper engagement through digital channels, like replacing fitting rooms with personalised fit and style guidance.
- Retailers that have the right data, fit technology and appropriate integration between stores and online are well positioned as customer reticence to try clothes on increases.
- Fit technology both online and in-store will give the customer confidence that they are making perfect choices for their wardrobe, choices that can be supported by store staff making themselves available as virtual assistants.
RC: Returns was already a massive issue for fashion retailers before we’d even heard of coronavirus – looking ahead, how will fashion retailers address this challenge?
JM: Returns will not disappear, but they will no longer be the easy option for consumers that have gone to the trouble of trying to find the perfect purchase, particularly where their journey involved visiting a store.
Retailers can help here; returns will now require careful handling, with some retailers such as GAP quarantining returns for 72 hours before putting them back on the sales floor.
Jessica Murphy is Co-founder of True Fit, the world’s largest connected data set for footwear and apparel.