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London Fashion Week: Closing the gap between the dizzy heights of the catwalk and the shopping basket

Ed Bussey, CEO at online fashion content production specialists Quill and former Global Marketing Director at figleaves.com, explores the increasingly prominent role of technology at London Fashion Week, and how leading luxury brands are leveraging their digital channels to boost eCommerce sales.

London Fashion Week has long-standing links with the world of technology: in 2010, the fashion trade show was the first to live stream its catwalks over the internet. Since then, the event has become the perfect place for technology and fashion brands to test new collaborative innovations – with Topshop inviting shoppers at its flagship store to watch its catwalk shows from a life-like 360 degree vantage point using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets in 2014.

However, the presence of technology at London Fashion Week isn’t limited to VR headsets and interactive videos. Brands are also now making much greater use of social media and other digital tactics to neatly integrate engaging online shopping opportunities into the fabric of the event.

It’s a shift that has been an essential response to evolving consumer behaviour. Today, smartphones are omnipresent, and 73% of Gen Z consumers have bought a product via mobile in the last month.

Research from Mintel published earlier this year reinforced the growing dominance of eCommerce: 63% of female shoppers aged 16-24 agree that it’s more convenient to shop online for fashion than in-store. And despite the luxury experience having been, historically, all about bricks-and-mortar boutiques and in-person customer service, even high-end fashion brands are no longer immune to this trend – and many have now recognised the pressing need to invest heavily in eCommerce to remain relevant.  

The exposure granted by platforms such as London Fashion Week – particularly through social amplification via visual-led apps such as Instagram and Pinterest – has become a hugely effective tool for driving both online and physical sales.

The official London Fashion Week Instagram account received 871,648 Story views in total over LFW in February 2018; not including the auxiliary views and engagement enjoyed by influencers, who live-stream the catwalks to their thousands of followers.

Looking back to last year, Tommy Hilfiger streamed its entire TommyNow catwalk show live on Twitter, adopting a ‘See Now, Buy Now’ strategy to make its catwalk designs  available to buy immediately post-outing on the runway – fast-tracking the path to purchase and helping to close the perceptual gap between the dizzy heights of the catwalk and the online shopping basket.

Prior to that, Burberry adopted a similar strategy in September 2016: combining its menswear and womenswear designs on one runway under one collection, then making items available to buy online immediately. The label reported an overall 19% boost in retail revenue off the back of this strategy – and its subsequent February 2017 show, following the same pattern, generated ‘record online reach and engagement’, driving a 50% increase in footfall to its Makers House exhibition in London.

From an operational perspective, fashion brands also have much to gain in terms of efficiency from collaborating with eCommerce-tech leaders like Amazon. A perfect example is Nicopanda, the label founded by Diesel’s former creative director Nicola Formichetti, which partnered with Amazon last year to offer one-hour delivery on items shown in its fashion show to customers in London, and 24-hour delivery through Prime in the rest of Europe – an intelligent way to accelerate sales by leveraging Amazon’s unrivalled delivery capabilities.

Looking at the industry state of play now, it’s difficult to believe that, just a decade ago, expert commentators contended that the luxury shopping experience would never really need to translate to digital – perceiving eCommerce to be a mass distribution channel that would cheapen the exclusivity of high-end brands.

But as many of the most successful brands at London Fashion Week demonstrate, consumer appetite to shop for luxury fashion online is only growing, presenting an enormous revenue opportunity. The brands that are able to tap into this opportunity by connecting up their online and offline channels – and delivering a consistent, high-quality, convenient customer experience – will be the ones that continue to thrive for decades to come.

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