The latest webinar produced by WWD, “COVID as Catalyst,” examined how companies, such as Wolverine Worldwide, are able to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger than ever by engaging in digital transformation and voice of customer analytics. The conversation, moderated by WWD executive editor Arthur Zaczkiewicz, featured Jim Shea, chief commercial officer at First Insight, and Lindsey Goodman, director of consumer insights at Wolverine Worldwide.
The presentation included data-driven consumer trends from First Insight and how Wolverine Worldwide is keying into the preferences of shoppers to cut sample costs and shorten lead times, among other benefits.
Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, First Insight has continued to survey consumers to maintain insights on the ever-changing consumer sentiment. While late February surveys found consumers deprioritizing purchasing products within the accessories, footwear, apparel, home decor and home improvement categories, surveys at the end of April found consumers will be prioritizing and expect to buy items in these categories. In fact, the company’s survey found when stores reopen 54 percent of consumers expect to shop for apparel and 36 percent of consumers expect to go to in-store to shop for footwear.
Even as consumers look forward to in-store shopping, a majority have lingering feelings of concern for safety and are not ready to return to stores just yet. And in particular, women told First Insight they feel less safe going into stores to try clothing on in dressing rooms. While 65 percent of women reported this unease, 54 percent of men also felt unsafe in these practices. Notably, the generation showing most concern was the Baby Boomer generation at 71 percent, followed by both Generation Z and Generation X at 57 percent, and Millennials at 49 percent.
Further, as companies continue to prepare to reopen physical stores, First Insight data notes price and discounts will drive behavior. In its recent survey, almost half of consumers said they will require a discount of at least 30 percent or more to make a purchase and 34 percent of consumers said they need discounts of at least 40 percent to make a purchase. Discounts, Shea said, will continue to be a reality as brands are reengaging the community. First Insight’s data found this to be especially true for footwear, which found consumers looking for deals across gender and generation.
“What we’re finding here is that the consumer demand value equation has changed what consumers value, the price that they’re willing to pay,” Shea said. “And looking at historical data from last season or last year to try to project what’s going to happen this summer or this fall is really not useful. New data is really required here and combine that with the fact that many retailers and brands are still not back in the office and are trying to make decisions without the benefit of physical samples, the traditional line review process, and in-store testing, which was traditionally a mainstay in the retail apparel footwear business.”
Instead, this process needs to be done digitally. Shea shared that many retailers have needed to accelerate digital transformation plans significantly given the disruption, some propelling plans two or three years.
Wolverine Worldwide, a portfolio company that includes a broad range of footwear and apparel brands including Keds, Sperry and Hush Puppies, among others, has moved to digital style testing working with First Insight. The partnership started when Wolverine Worldwide realized a need for faster insights, looking for a partner with the ability to “supercharge” consumer feedback with an elevated methodological rigor, and would provide day-to-day support and retail expertise. One of the goals, Goodman said, was to pivot style testing into a real advantage for its brands.
By partnering with First Insight, Wolverine Worldwide was able to use the software as a service cloud-based platform to collect data directly from consumers. This data comes from e-mail campaigns, a panel, third-party panels and social media channels. When the data comes into the platform, First Insight’s system applies predictive models to provide a forecast to better inform decisions on which products to bring to market, which to avoid, how to price these products, how much to buy and what offers should be made to convert consumers on new products.
According to Shea, this process can be even more vital for companies now who are dealing with disruption and crisis brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The pandemic has been, and it continues to be a huge challenge for our company,” Goodman said. “But it’s also accelerating much-needed innovation, digitization, streamlining of business propositions for consumers. And here at Wolverine, we’re really exploring and implementing all kinds of digital opportunities we may have otherwise waited to execute a little bit longer. And that’s anywhere from product creation, right down to consumer experience and back we just wrapped our first-ever virtual global sales conference and it was a huge success.”
Wolverine Worldwide is looking at opportunities including 3-D design and doubling down on digital style testing. “We’re facing some unprecedented stuff here and my role is to emphasize the need to stay super close to the consumer through digital touchpoints [because] we’re going to need to be as agile as possible to react to their rapidly changing consumer preferences and needs,” said Goodman. “In fact, the goal is really to make sure we’re not just reacting but then we’re actually able to anticipate what they’re going to want and need from us and partnering with First Insight is definitely a big part of that.”
An advantage of digital style testing is cutting costs for samples and inventory. According to Goodman, digital style testing has led the way to determine successful products more efficiently which allows the company to invest in products with more confidence.
“We know that with digital style testing we have the potential to shorten product development calendar by at least 40 percent and the potential to reduce physical samples by up to 70 percent,” Goodman said. “And those really amount to cost savings that we can reinvest back into our brands by way of things like product innovation, and really, in the end, it’s all about delivering the right products to our consumers and by reducing costs and streamlining our product offering through digital style testing endeavors.”
“This pandemic is accelerating the need to do more research than ever,” Goodman said. “Leaning really heavily into digital research solutions is just going to be a big way of how we just move forward and digital style testing is obviously a huge part of that. We’re in a budget-strapped environment so anywhere we can both costs, see ROI, and get incremental sales, we’re going to jump all over that.”
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