Art director checking photos on a monitor

Long before the global pandemic forced the fashion apparel and retail industry to transform itself, the idea of a “seasonless” merchandising strategy was already, quietly underway. Shifting consumer behavior and an increasingly less-relevant fashion calendar demanded that brands and retailers create more agile and flexible go-to-market plans. Given that many retailers were forced to hold back entire spring/summer collections due to store closures, many asked themselves if — going forward — seasons were the right way to think about their business.

COVID-19 accelerated the existing consumer imperative for a more agile product development process. For retailers and brands that were able to quickly pivot to a seasonless strategy (i.e. they had inventory available to put into the market to meet demand), the result was an increase in conversion, a more fortified, loyal consumer base, and higher margins.

Many of those retailers were more lucky than prescient, so it still begs the question:  what exactly is “seasonless?”

What is it?

What seasonless is NOT is “fast fashion 2.0.” The seasonless strategy is not about collections being released every week or biweekly, which is essentially just smaller drops and subsets of larger seasons driven by runway calendars.

At its heart, seasonless centers on defining a dynamic, rotating core product line that aligns with your brand and what consumers will want, evolving it, but keeping it always “on.” As a merchant or brand, you’re known for certain products, looks, reasons, and feelings to your consumers. You have a clear brand position with a mission, values, and point of view — whether it’s a timeless trench coat, a classic shoe, a fitted dress, a special hue, or a go-to workout outfit.

Brands have always remained relevant by being mindful of new and emerging trends, and staying on top of shifts in consumer preferences. Defining a product core and then augmenting that assortment with strategic incremental drops allows merchants to produce and sell foundational product while also delighting consumers with drops of newness at the right time, time, place and price.

Karla Martin.  Courtesy Image.

The notion of seasonless may sound easy, but the devil is in the details. A successful seasonless strategy requires transforming your internal mindset from one where shoppers expect certain items at certain times of the year to one that presents shoppers with an ever running and evolving product assortment.

This could mean product assortments rotating at different cadences; for example, some core categories such as basics (think men’s underwear) may never change, while some product segments within the core (think women’s tees) could run 3 to 4 months. Other, more fashion-forward items drop every 2 to 3 weeks. There may even be day-specific releases, which gives brands the option to choose items that fit financial objectives while enticing consumers. Merchants can more actively manage their P&Ls while weaning themselves off an overreliance on the discount lever.

To make it work, a seasonless cadence must be coupled with robust data analytics and forecasting capabilities along with a design and product development process reimagined to deliver the right products to market consistently and continuously.

This is not to say that the current seasonal strategies are so rigid that they halt the rotation of new products and/or brands. Rather, seasonless simply presents an opportunity to meet demand at any given point, rather than being reliant on traditional planning horizons. Once ways of working shift to teams working collaboratively on various product lines and collections, they can generate multiple seasonless options, and be ready to release them at the right moment.

Scott LaBoda.  Courtesy Image.

What it takes

Seasonless hinges on the release of targeted drops throughout the year. Designers, merchandisers, sales teams, consumer insights and analytics are all leveraged for informing and curating product, design, and launch.  It’s about meeting the market need by generating product excitement and discovery, instead of relying on a Gregorian calendar-led planning and execution cadence. By shifting away from a calendar-based cycle, retailers and brands can avoid arbitrary cut off dates, order quantities, and markdown cycles when there’s unseasonably warm or cold weather.

By loosening constraints, the seasonless model allows for the generation of other options, and thereby, better decisions and outcomes for business and consumers alike. In addition, as brands and retailers build their seasonless model, they’ll have a more intimate understanding of market demand, and can therefore adopt leaner processes with fewer points of friction. Demand distortions and inefficiencies are the number one driver of waste and excess in supply chains. Referred to as the “bullwhip effect,” inaccurate demand signals can reverberate up the value chain, and by the time that signal is translated into a product for the market, it can create huge misses in accuracy, resulting in either shortages (due to missed sales of a high-demand product) or overages (and subsequent markdowns as each actor hedges the production schedule to reach greater and greater quantities).

Kara Santner.  Courtesy Image.

If you are considering a seasonless approach; the current moment is ripe with opportunity.  COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization and direct-to-consumer nature of the industry — requiring operational efficiencies and innovation. More importantly, current online market conditions (we’re looking at you, quarantine) present brands and merchants with a less-captive audience; consumers have more options and are more likely to try new brands and drift away from old favorites.

The role of technology

Seasonless and a core assortment can act as a counter-balance. A dynamic core helps build a more loyal consumer with reliable habits. With a curated core, better engagements can be driven across channels; driving site traffic and store visits alike. Seasonless allows for the best of both worlds.

Technology capabilities have never been more primed to support a shift to seasonless. From consumer data, predictive analytics, and purchase data to improved CRM, personalization, and cloud capabilities, the opportunity to unlock your consumers’ mindsets and deliver a more personalized assortment has never been better.

In addition, when done correctly seasonless is more sustainable as it drives down volatility, redundancies, and product waste. Similarly, there are positive impacts on the P&L statement. Sales and markdowns are addictive — if you have core products that do not go on markdown you instead train consumers to purchase your products at higher price points, and not wait for promotions, helping to drive inventory turns and greater profits.

Rebecca Dauer.  Courtesy Image.

To successfully deploy a seasonless strategy, brands and retailers need to align and coordinate data analysis, product development and distribution, and creative functions. Seasonless does not mean delivering uninspired fashion apparel and accessories. In fact, having a core assortment with more frequent drops of fashion items informed by what consumers want demands a creative team that can push itself to deliver relevant products more frequently.

Brands and merchants still need to have a deep understanding of fabric, colors, trends and silhouettes. In a seasonless model, teams will be working in parallel across many different product releases simultaneously. Borrowing terms from technology, the transition from a “waterfall” or chronological planning process to a more “agile” or blended planning and release horizon means that teams will need strong cross-functional communication and prioritization of which products need to drop and when.

In a seasonless model, design and production teams work on lines throughout the year to create sufficient design options to facilitate a responsive assortment — which means higher sell-through, less product waste, better margins, higher sales, and—most importantly- happier shoppers.

As we live through a time when a week is the new month and “holiday” is any day you can safely meet friends outside at a distance; seasonless is the new black.

This report was researched and written by Deloitte’s Karla Martin, Scott LaBoda, Kara Santner, and Rebecca Dauer.

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