Like so many parts of life, COVID-19 has upended the ways people shop. As a result, brands, their stores and ecommerce channels are pivoting on a daily basis to stay relevant and reach their customers in meaningful ways.

We sat down with Anna Kaplan, Mindgruve’s VP of Account Management, to discuss the changes to expect in the retail and fashion industries in the near future and beyond. 

On a macro level, how can brands reorient themselves in the face of uncertainty?

From big box retailers to small, locally-owned stores, the key mantras for this time period are ”Remain flexible,” ”Put the consumer first and ”Balance short term needs while staying true to yours long term mission.” No one has all the answers and each day brings new developments. It’s important to keep an open mind and view this as more of a “next normal” versus “new normal.”

The idea of customer centricity is not new, but it’s taken on a new meaning during the pandemic. People have different expectations. They want to experience and shop brands differently than they did before. They’re learning what they can and cannot live without. We may see the effects of pent up demand in the US as safety rules shift–it’s been dubbed “revenge shopping” in China. Regardless, people will continue to gravitate toward brands that convey a clear mission and vision. 

It’s critical for brands to look at this experience in two ways and even have teams dedicated to addressing both independently. One team needs to be on the ground, reacting and pivoting to changes and challenges. The second should be focused on maintaining the long-term mission and vision of the brand.. Without both “brains,” a brand could easily slip into a rabbit hole and lose its way. Or, worse, it might not be able to weather the times at all.

What could this mean for the fashion industry, brands and retailers? 

Even before the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, many department stores were having trouble maintaining relevancy and profitability.Barneys, Sears and JCPenney are just a few examples. A lot of this can be attributed to more direct-to-consumer channels and social media. Fashion designers started to see other ways to reach customers outside of traditional channels. 

Additionally, the pandemic is most likely going to upend many of the “rules” that these fashion designers have been living by the past several years. One example of this is the proliferation of “seasons.” For decades, there were Spring, Fall, and Resort Collections. More recently, “seasons” like Cruise, Pre Spring and Pre Fall have been introduced. This has forced designers to turn around more and more collections at the request of their wholesale partners as opposed to waiting until inspiration strikes. It also resulted in  more clothing and collections than there were shoppers who could afford them. In turn, there were more sales, which “trained” customers to only shop for discounts. Needless to say, this has been a challenge for both designers and retailers. 

Now that the wholesale model is being upended, along with a backlog of 2020 spring and summer collections that customers haven’t been shopping for, it will be interesting to see if things return to a seasonal cadence. There may be positive effects such as designers being afforded more creative freedom, customers spending their money on a few pieces they love versus chasing the next micro trend and even less overstock. I’m also interested to see if there’s an increase in  sustainability and decrease in waste in production.

On the fashion show side, the future is uncertain. Designers are leveraging social and digital platforms from Zoom-hosted events to Instagram to Tik Tok. Recently, Instagram stepped out with a digital playbook for designers to host shows and presentations on their channels. Eva Chen’s longtime relationship with the fashion industry lends serious credibility to this aspiration. A side benefit to all of this is the democratization of these moments, as so many more people now have access to shows and designers. I’m hopeful this trend continues. 

With lock downs in various phases, what does this mean for brick and mortar stores? What post-pandemic retail trends are you seeing? 

Ecommerce has been on a steady upward trend, which isn’t a surprise. But the pandemic has caused traditionally brick and mortar brands, especially in the luxury space, to rethink their ecomm to in-store models. Historically, ecomm was often the adjunct to the in-store experience. Now, brands need to think about it the other way around. 

With more people coming out of their homes, stores are reemphasizing “window shopping”. by being more purposeful with this space. As an example, some boutiques are adding phone numbers to text or call if people have questions or see pieces they like. In many ways, this is like a real world Instagram post. 

As people are allowed back into stores, their managers are grappling with how to handle returns and fitting rooms. According to a survey by retail predictive analytics company First Insight, 65% of women said they will not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms due to the Covid-19 crisis. In response, some stores like Gap and Nordstrom are putting aside clothes that are being tried on or returned for a period of time before they go back onto shelves. 

While in-store shopping should focus on the experience itself, many brick and mortars are moving to a” grab and go” model in the wake of the pandemic. At least for the short term. Store layouts aren’t being optimized for browsing in the hopes of an impulse or emotional purchase. Instead, they’re making tweaks like varying the number of items on shelves and how those items are folded so more shopping is done visually. This is all likely okay with shoppers who’s mindsets are currently geared toward getting what is on their list and leaving. 

As ecommerce garners more attention and traffic, what retail trends and opportunities do brands have to maximize share of mind and wallet? 

Ecomm websites have the opportunity to be more than just a catalogue of items that people browse. While creating a true brand experience online has been the North Star for a while, it has become an imperative more recently. 

Many brands are reviving the old QVC or Home Shopping Network model by creating videos, webinars and live events where people can watch as employees show off and discuss products in detail. Video is a great medium to leverage across social channels, websites and Amazon brand pages. 

We’re also seeing more brands offer personal shopping sessions. This is something that the luxury space has been quietly offering their top customers for some time, but the model is now becoming more commonplace. 

With influencer programs at a stand still, more brands are leveraging some of their best assets–employees. More content is being created by their employees who talk about products and give recommendations. There’s a great authenticity to this model, and hopefully it’s here to stay. 

Finally, many ecomm brands are capitalizing on the significant uptick in  Zoom calls and FaceTime by curating  a new category of products called “Video Chat Accessories.” Think bold earrings and scarves that people can wear to help themselves impress  during video calls. There’s also mascara, eyeshadow and highlighters, which are seeing an increase in sales due to this phenomena. The Business of Fashion called it the “Zoom Boom,” 2020’s version of the “Lipstick Effect.”

Anything else?

I want to take a moment to thank frontline workers, especially in the retail space who have allowed many of us to shop for groceries and other essentials during this unprecedented time. Day in and day out, they’re keeping our stores safe, delivering products on time, sorting and packing our orders so that we can have some semblance of normalcy. Thank you for all that you are doing.

For more information about how your retail or fashion business can adapt during COVID-19, contact Mindgruve.