How fashion retailers can stay relevant in a post-Covid world

It’s little surprise that the fashion industry has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. With social interactions remaining severely curtailed in many places even as lockdown restrictions ease, the requirement for new clothing and fashion accessories has significantly lessened. This, alongside the difficult economic climate, which is likely to lead to many consumers cutting back on non-essential spend for the foreseeable future, paints a bleak picture for the sector.

But what should fashion retailers now do differently to ensure they are relevant to consumers in this Covid-dominated landscape?

In a recent webinar, entitled ‘Driving Customer Loyalty in a Pandemic’, three leading fashion retailers discussed how their brands have pivoted in face of the crisis.

Selling on established online marketplaces

The first is a very straightforward tip for those fashion brands which currently have little or no online presence: to sell on already established fashion eCommerce platforms, many of which have performed strongly in the pandemic. For instance, Zalando has made it far easier for other brands to sell on its site during the pandemic, and has recorded impressive sales figures in the first half of 2020.

Christophe Penne, senior vice president at Saudi Arabian-based retailer Rubaiyat Modern Luxury explains how partnering with Farfetch shortly before the pandemic afforded it the flexibility to successfully navigate the crisis. He says: “We’ve been able to manoeuvre during the crisis from continent to continent, so when China was completely blocked because they started with the crisis, we were still selling very well in the US and then when the pandemic spread and moved to the West, the Chinese market got released and we were able to manoeuvre again and bring in new customers in China. Overall it was a very good continuity plan.”

It was this approach that enabled Rubaiyat to rapidly shift from being a Saudi-based company into a global player. Penne adds: “Suddenly we opened our company to the world and became a global brand. So when customers shrank in our own country we actually did the opposite by going out and getting new customers.”

Communication with loyal customers

As well as acquiring new customers, staying engaged with existing ones is critical in the world of fashion, where brand loyalty has a huge impact. This is certainly the case with Rubaiyat in regard to its active database of 270,000 people. “13% of our active customers contributed to 56% of our sales,” outlines Penne. “These are very high spending people that you need to get back into the business as soon as possible, so we kept engaging with them; obviously the pandemic has challenged us to find other ways of making us communicate to them and get a product to them.”

He adds that the brand also quickly created e-catalogues and offered virtual personalised shopping experiences for the first time in the crisis.

Similarly, at global women’s fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff, a text message loyalty programme was launched during Covid-19, targeting its 20,000 subscribers. Rebecca Minkoff, co-founder and CEO of the company, comments: “Text message is the most intimate of mediums these days in connecting to customers, so we give her early access to sales, special discounts; certain things she only gets if she signs up for texts.”

Introducing virtual services

The rise of in-store experiences conducted remotely has been a major feature across the retail spectrum in recent months. With in-store footfall likely to remain low for the time being, these types of innovations will continue to be crucial to the performance of fashion retailers.

Showfields, a New York-based retail concept store that displays fashion, beauty, home, lifestyle and tech brands realised it had to pivot in this direction in the face of the closure of its large Manhattan premises.

Three weeks after the closure of the store it successfully introduced live video shopping, where brand curators from around the world showcased products from their homes. Katie Hunt, co-founder and CCO of Showfields reveals how the company expanded this service from five to seven shows per week and has also brought in yoga and cocktail classes too. She says: “Right now we’re seeing about 20% of our in-store customers coming into our live video shopping which is super exciting.”

Despite Showfields starting out as very much a bricks and mortar-focused operation, these virtual experiences are set to be an important feature of the brand going forward. Hunt adds: “I wouldn’t say it has fundamentally changed where we are going but it has become an addition to the platform that we’re thrilled to have, even in a post-Covid world.”

Launching new products

The launch of new products in fashion has clearly been more challenging during Covid-19, with customers unable to sample new items in person. Additionally, the lack of social events amid ongoing restrictions would appear, on the face of it, to reduce the need to people to stay up-to-date with the latest fashion items.

Innovative thinking is therefore required to bring in new products effectively in this area. Rebecca Minkoff discusses her brand’s launch of a new fragrance recently, which is still not available in stores at the moment. Instead, every order that is made on the Rebecca Minkoff website is delivered alongside a small sample of the new fragrance, providing a way of enabling the customer to decide whether they want it or not.

The womenswear brand has also taken steps to adapt its clothing range to be relevant to the new lives their customers are leading in the pandemic. This centres around them spending a lot more time indoors, including for work, so first and foremost the need is for comfort. But in addition to, Rebecca Minkoff realised there was a market for fashion that looks good on video conferencing, with this becoming a vital method of communication in the crisis. She outlines: “How do you make it Zoom friendly? How do you give her a shoulder pop even if it’s from a comfy fabric, and how do you give her jewellery that looks great on Zoom?”

Minkoff adds: “We’re focusing on what our customers are doing, and showcasing to her that she needs these things even though she may just be going from her bedroom to the couch.”

Localising physical stores

Despite the reopening of physical stores following lockdown restrictions across the world, footfall is not currently returning to pre-pandemic levels, likely partly due to fears over the virus as well as becoming more accustomed to online shopping. Physical fashion retailers need to adapt their approach to entice customers back in the post-Covid world. Hunt highlights the importance of providing personalised experiences in-store, tailored for specific local communities.

She explains: “We believe the future of retail is curation, there’s something incredible about walking into a space and feeling like everything was put there just for you.”  

Penne highlights how in Saudi Arabia where Rubaiyat is based, the population is very young, with 47% under 25 years old. Therefore, Rubaiyat stores are being designed with these demographics in mind. He comments: “We are developing a much more Gen Z focused approach and trying to recreate an experience inside those stores which is fun and interactive, and not only about products but also lifestyle.”

Future of fashion

With the fashion industry facing particular difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a daunting time for retailers in this area. Yet it has been shown that there remains a market for fashion products, although a very different approach needs to be taken to engage with, and sell to customers. A greater emphasis on digital services and experiences should be at the heart of the strategy taken by fashion brands going forward.