After 2016 went down as the warmest year on record since 1880, which included above-average temperatures during the fourth quarter that hurt outerwear sales, this year is on track to be nearly as warm. Scientists at NASA noted that this past July, for example, was tied for the warmest month on record with July of last year.
As a result, retailers this year are expected to keep inventories tight on certain categories. And at men’s wear brand Bonobos, the company has decided to “invest in extending the summer” instead of launching a fall merchandise set. The fashion brand noted that last year at this time its summer assortment had 97 styles while this year there are 157. The new approach is expected to result in a threefold “increase in business versus last year,” the company told WWD.
The merchandise strategy of offering “weather-appropriate product” will also be considered for rollout at the brand’s guide shop store concept, the company said. The brand was recently acquired by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which installed its founder, Andy Dunn, into the role of senior vice president of digital brands.
Brad Andrews, chief merchandising officer at Bonobos, said shoppers are responding to short-sleeve Henleys and washed twill shirts as well as Riviera short-sleeve shirts, all in a more subdued color palette as well as “lighter-weight fabrics” aimed at making a transition to fall much easier.
Andrews said the impetus behind the strategy was based on last year’s exceptionally warm fall where the brand “saw a slower reaction by consumers in the traditional fall categories like sweaters and outwear.” But at the same time, there was demand continuing for summer products “whether it was summer weight fabrics or short sleeves through to late August and September,” Andrews said adding that “in hindsight, we thought there was a bit of missed opportunity left on the table by not delivering newness in those months.”
The voice of the consumer also played a key role in building a new merchandising strategy this year. “We were hearing from our customers that they were looking for newness,” Andrews explained. “They were asking: ‘Are you going to bring in anymore similar prints? Do you have new short-sleeve shirts? Do you have new shorts?'”
“So, the combination of really looking at the data and hearing from the customers lead us to rethink our approach,” he added.
When asked about how the Bonobos shopper was responding this year, Andrew said that even though “we’re only like a few weeks into August, the response has been great. We’re seeing outsized growth in categories like shorts, and our short sleeve Rivera shirts, which are up a few hundred percent in terms of sales from last year.”
Andrews also said “even in categories like outerwear and sweaters we’re seeing a good response.” That included cotton and cotton-blend sweaters, and lightweight outerwear as well. But are gross margins bolstered as a result?
“What it means is really healthy growth because it’s driven by newness and therefore driven by full-price selling,” Andrews explained. “So yes there’s a bit of margin back there as well because we’re able to capitalize on higher sell-through at full price in these early months by continuing to offer newness into these categories.”
The chief merchant also said the change this year required a “little bit of recalibration on expectations of certain categories, but the results so far are exciting.” When asked if this “recalibration” was about changing his own mind-set, Andrews agreed. “Yes, it is about changing our own mind-set, but it’s also just changing how we think about expectations for categories like sweaters or outerwear. These are [categories] where, typically, you’ll want to see a certain seasonality curve as you got into August and September. So we’ve shifted our thinking here. We see the ramp up happening later, and therefore we’re trying to coordinate how we build our products to realign with that new seasonal curve.”
Andrews acknowledged that this shift and realignment might pose a challenge to other brands. “I’ve been at bigger companies and it’s hard to change the development cycle,” Andrews noted. “The reason, I think, is that the retail calendar has kind of netted out this way and they’ve been operating this way for a long time. You think about fall and starting in August to capitalize on the back-to-school traffic and that is not as pertinent for us, necessarily.”
Secondly, Andrews said consumer behavior has shifted away from that sort of “stocking up for later.” He said Bonobos’ approach is “much more in the moment, and it’s also the beauty of being a digital native vertical brand” where the focus is not on stocking stores full of inventory early in the season.
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