Masked shopper walks past a sign taped to the front door of a CVS Pharmacy, requesting patrons wear masks if they intend on shopping inside due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, in Chelsea, MassVirus Outbreak Masssachusetts, Chelsea, United States - 28 Apr 2020

Over a month ago, I, like many others around the world, began to shelter in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Forced to stay home, I adjusted my life accordingly with Zoom conferences, grocery deliveries or curbside pick-up, doing a few projects and a mix of anxiety for good measure. While all of this has been an adjustment, nothing prepared me for the fitness obsession that would take hold via Instagram and TikTok challenges.

Suddenly, it was no longer about just staying home and surviving this pandemic, it was an all-out battle of who would emerge the best when this was over. This scenario was not only playing out in the confines of my home and mind, but also in the industry I had navigated for the better part of 20 years. Fashion retail is facing its greatest crisis yet and only the fittest will prevail.

Strength, endurance, flexibility and agility all determine a person’s fitness level. In fashion retail, fitness is measured by brand strength, financial endurance, creative flexibility and operational agility. As brands are in the midst of change they have to assess their current performance level and implement an organizational workout plan that leaves old fashion systems behind.

Brand strength building

COVID-19 has caused many consumers to rethink how they spend and with who. Brand strength in these times does not come from sending gimmicky e-mails to your entire CRM database. It also does not come from highlighting the current situation. True brand strength at this time is using your existing muscle to be of service and of value to the community. The methodology of “economies of scale” will not be of use during this time. Instead, brands will need to begin looking at how to build “communities of scale.”

This global pandemic has impacted weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, proms and graduations. How can you create a dialogue that bridges communities and eases anxieties, and continues to do that in the future?

Financial endurance

In a recent report published by Boston Consulting Group, they determined that only a “fraction of all available capital has been invested in fashion and textile technology, leaving many innovators stuck in a financing gap.” Retail fashion has often been criticized for its outdated fashion systems and supply chain management. Most financing capital has been used for store expansions, remodels or subpar clientele management systems.

Investing in sustainable business models is not only about protecting the environment but also about supporting an organization’s business continuity plan (BCP), which helps ensure the business can sustain itself and its employees in times of crisis. As younger consumers reemerge they will not expect businesses to go back to the way it was but rather,  that organizations are investing in new futures that benefit the environment and positively impact socioeconomic concerns.

Creative flexibility

If there is one positive to COVID-19, it would be that it has forced us all to be more creative and certainly more flexible in how we approach our daily process. Immersive start-ups of the last few years like BYONDXR Immersive Commerce Platform and Obsess Augmented and Virtual Reality both allow for brands to take CX to the next level. Augmented reality is not the future, but the present reality of how fashion can truly engage with consumers in a new way. Immersive commerce allows consumers to experience a retailer’s space from their home or mobile device.

Basic e-commerce will no longer suffice in a post-pandemic world. Augmented technology provides users to see the brand’s space in 3-D, but also allows them to experience clothing in 3-D. The possibilities are endless if you have the creative flexibility to leverage the technology.

Operational agility

The importance of agility in fitness can only be compared to the importance of operations in retail. Without the ability to move effectively and quickly, your business will be slow and cumbersome. While there is little most organizations can do about their operations right now, as supply chains have been impacted in every area, and even if associates can process transactions through VPN, there is still the challenge of getting items packed and shipped.

Once we emerge from our isolation and begin to engage in physical retail spaces, what will the experience be like for concerned customers and their health? While customers will visit your store, how much interaction will they want with their associate and the space relative to other shoppers? New payment solutions will be a major concern as this progresses. How can a shopper pay for a product without having to use a payment terminal? Can this be leveraged through the retailer’s app, can QR codes be leveraged to allow shoppers to scan an item themselves and then leave? Fashion retailers should begin revisiting conversations with Samsung and Apple to see how to better integrate mobile payment solutions.

A new fitness plan is never easy and often intimidating but once you start, you notice the changes and everyday gets easier and easier.  Some results you see right away and others take time but one thing you know for sure, change occurred and you are better than yesterday. This is no doubt the most challenging time for many industries and many people around the world. The commitment and dedication you put into an action plan now will ensure that your brand emerges as one of the fittest in the pack.

Christopher Lacy is an assistant professor of fashion management at The New School’s Parsons School of Design.

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