What to watch?
It’s a tougher question than usual as fashion moves into 2021, eager to leave the mess of 2020 behind.
There are always big trends to keep tabs on — from hot categories to economic trends to promising technologies — but so much has changed and is changing.
And even if it’s become handy shorthand to say the coronavirus pandemic simply accelerated trends that already existed, it’s more than just more casual dressing, more activewear and more e-commerce.
Everything is moving. And just what it all means — for consumers, retailers, work life, restaurants, city living, entertainment, class, politics and all the rest — remains to be seen.
Life has been reordered in so many ways that finding a filter has become more difficult than ever. If, as the web has taught us, a moment of attention is a valuable commodity, deciding where to focus is the name of the game.
Jonathan Low, a partner at the Predictiv consultancy who specializes in helping businesses gauge the financial impact of intangibles like brand, strategy execution and innovation, said executives need to stick with what’s working for them.
“You have to proceed on the assumption that there is no such thing as going back,” Low said. “Not all of your employees are going back to the office. Not all of your clients are going to accept the same level of service and the same products, the same level of activity from you. The top priority is: What has changed for the better? What has changed for the worse? What has worked and how do I focus on the things that have changed for the better?”
One thing that 2020 had going for it was that, in spite of the furloughs and layoffs and all the turmoil, the workforce showed up — whether by logging on at home or donning masks and bravely staffing store check outs and warehouses in an utterly changed world.
While the fear of layoffs or outright corporate failures was certainly a motivator, many people clearly stepped up when needed.
At Tiffany & Co., which had the added stress of an on-off-and-on again acquisition by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, chief executive officer Alessandro Bogliolo said the workforce shined, and surprised him.
“The stamina, the creativity of the people has been amazing,” Bogliolo told WWD in a recent interview. “This really was above my expectation. Don’t underestimate the potential of your team, their endurance and their stamina. We were all in the same situation and that stress test really enhanced the agility of the teams.”
For corporate titans looking for something to focus on, starting with the people who do the hands-on work, the middle managing and the rest might well be a good place to begin and return to often — especially given the still-shifting landscape and the stresses ahead with stores and malls closing and consumers changing even more.
“The challenge for these ceo’s is how to get thousands of employees to commit to something that is inherently hard,” said consultant Greg Portell, lead partner in Kearney’s global consumer practice of Kearney. “If I’m working with a ceo, I’m helping them understand the subtleties of employees and how that really does become a little bit of the organization magic.
“If I’m a ceo, my success has never been more dependent than it is now on low-wage individuals who have a lot of pressure and a lot of unexpected challenges,” Portell continued. “A ceo is watching — more like a school of fish and how do all the fish move together to make that school of fish faster. [The goal] is making employees feel like they are part of a brand. That inclusiveness, that environment where the team feels like they’re part of the solution, those companies are going to do better than those companies who just have employees. You’re trying to create connectivity and create a sense of ownership.”
After a year of blunt-force changes and decisive, often painful and dramatic moves to save even strong companies from the abyss, shaping a corporate culture and reading the tea leaves is going to require more nuance.
“If you’re watching an auto race, the casual fan is watching people go around in circles,” Portell said. “An astute observer is watching how the cars go into the turn. You want to watch the subtleties of the curve.”
That includes understanding how data is being collected and used, how the flow of goods back to the company in the form of customer returns is shaping the business and more.
Focusing in on what is most important to the consumer and in retail is all the more difficult given everything else that’s moving.
Futurist Edie Weiner, president and ceo of The Future Hunters, looked into her crystal ball and found plenty of other trends shaping what comes next. Her suggestions included:
• “Keep an eye on how to access medical care and health care with the doctor being the last resort as opposed to the first.”
• “Post COVID-19, we expect mental health, as a result of increased loneliness, helplessness, PTSD of first-line responders, dislocations and unemployment, will become even more of a factor in the health/medical arena.”
• “Many have left their apartments and commercial spaces in shuttered and underfunded cities/neighborhoods, going virtual or moving elsewhere. That has the potential of lowering rents, which could signal a potential for RE-regentrification.”
• “We may finally recognize that ‘cybersecurity’ is unachievable. We should have called it cyberINsecurity from the beginning, which would have made us construct, use and monitor all of our connectivity, personally, professionally and governmentally, with different processes and vigilance. Look for analogue products and services (from vintage disconnected cars, to demanding in-person appearances in lieu of virtual, to military back-up technology) to gain in popularity.”
• “Look to education, especially higher education, to transform into multiple, targeted and differentiated pricing and delivery models.”
• “Homelessness as a result of conflicts, poverty, mental health issues, climate change, de-incarceration and unemployment, will continue to plague much of the world, made much worse by COVID-19. Look for greatly heightened calls for rethinking and tackling the homelessness crisis.”
Multiply that by a thousand or a million and those are the issues competing for attention, in the C-suite and elsewhere.
Maybe the best anyone can do is to stay alert, pick a few and charge on.
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