Digitalisation in the Retail is nothing new. Way before the pandemic, the fashion industry has been investing heavily in digital channels. As consumers became more demanding and new technologies emerged, the only way to survive was to meet expectations by offering a convergence of online and offline channels to make the customer journey as seamless possible and to boost the bottom line. What is significant, however, is the unprecedented speed at which digitalisation within the fashion industry has been growing. For most brands, their digital technologies are no longer handy tools, but a key part of the growth strategy.
Brands that don’t adopt digitalisation fast, stand to lose, while their competitors race ahead.
Sharon White, Chair of the John Lewis Partnership said, ‘the pandemic has brought forward changes in consumer shopping habits – what might have taken five years has happened in five months.’ This puts an immense pressure on retailers to think ‘digital first.’ Companies such as ASOS, John Lewis and Boohoo were at an obvious advantage as they already had a strong online presence. The likes of Debenhams, Aldo, Primark and Brooks Brothers, however, faced enormous challenges and struggled to weather the storm.
Non-essential stores closed down all over the world, causing footfall to plummet and consumers to take their shopping online. Over 160k redundancies were made across the retail industry, and we can expect more to follow once furlough ends. That’s not to say that physical stores are a thing of the past. Many consumers prefer going to stores to try on products, and Drew Green, CEO of INDOCHINO, confirms that their online sales grow twice as fast when they have a showroom.
Another point to note is that digitalisation transformation isn’t all about e-commerce, as fast fashion retailer Boohoo results have proven. Boohoo saw a whopping 40% increase in sales during the pandemic, thanks to their investment in digital marketing. Their uplifting content, witty hashtags and strong brand image allowed the company to thrive during a crisis. Clearly, social media is not a side show and consumer experience goes way beyond just shopping. Many companies followed suit, launching relevant social media campaigns in order to reach out to consumers and stay relevant. French Connection were quick to adapt, launching their ‘TreatTuesday’ series which allowed their followers to nominate a ‘hero’ to be featured in their content, and River Island joined the #StandingByTheHighStreet campaign, sharing a picture of a yellow heart to show their alliance with other high street brands.
Data-driven advertising campaigns and partnerships played a huge part in helping brands to survive the pandemic. Companies that utilise analytical reports to measure engagement and predict trends, stand a better chance of success. Therefore, it is important that companies retrain their employees, enabling them to make important data-informed decisions.
For better or for worse, there is no getting away from the fact that digitalisation is taking over the retail industry and brands must invest in quality online shopping interfaces, create innovative social media to build community engagement, and take a data driven approach to make operational decisions. Brands who have spent many years mapping out their virtual journey and investing in digital technologies will be at an advantage, whilst others will have to radically rethink their business model in order to ride the digital wave and avoid going under.