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As apparel and footwear brands continue to undergo transformation, retailers are tasked with devising new tactics to entice shoppers into brick-and-mortar spaces. Prioritizing Millennial and Generation Z audiences, retailers are crafting memorable in-store experiences for its “hyper-connected and demanding” consumer bases.

These and other notable trends were discussed in the webinar, “New Concepts in Fashion Retailing: Digital Developments.” The session was led by Euromonitor International’s Bernadette Kissane, an apparel and footwear research analyst, and done in collaboration with WWD.

Amid numerous store closings, it may appear that e-commerce retailing has outplayed the brick-and-mortar model. But according to Kissane, failures in the brick-and-mortar space are merely fissures that will be repaired by prioritizing consumer convenience and experiences.

“It is important to note that, despite the dramatic growth of e-commerce, stores continue to retain their importance, accounting for 85 percent of apparel and footwear sales in 2016,” Kissane said. “This is not to say that the physical selling space has remained static, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Stores are constantly being redefined or reinvented as online retailing increasingly claims the role of transactional shopping.”

For younger generational cohorts, the mall matters. “You can clearly see the rapid rise and massive disruption this channel [e-commerce] has caused over the past few years,” she said. Ultimately, though, “stores will continue to account for the majority of footwear/apparel revenue. Millennials and Generation Z, for all their tech savvy tendencies, still prefer to touch and try on products. Shopping for fashion has always been a social activity and it’s likely to remain so.”

Consumers are increasingly viewing the shopping process as one single journey, but they also heavily rely on mobile commerce and communications from retailers. “Mobile is picking up pace as it bridges the gap between online and off-line,” Kissane noted.

Stores are no longer seen as the place to complete a purchase, Kissane observed, as they have evolved into spaces for brand building, consumer engagement and experiences. Current trends include: experiential spaces, which allow consumers to test products; the re-introduction of home interiors, to give consumers the comfort of home in-store; the role of digital to curate a more streamlined experience; and the showroom model (brick-and-mortar stores with no actual stock).

Stores are re-creating environments to make shoppers feel at home.  REX/Shutterstock

For retailers to remain relevant and continue seeing business growth, they must align with how consumers are shopping, Kissane said. As a result of observing consumer behavior, for example, guide shops have emerged, which offer the stand-out components of online and off-line experiences into streamlined consumer journey. “Experience has become the new social currency,” Kissane said.

A prominent emerging trend in apparel and footwear is sportswear, which is the fastest-growing category in the sector. Sportswear stores are translating core brand values into memorable brick-and-mortar experiences. Nike, for example, offers a Kinect-powered basketball court while Under Armour offers fitness tests in-store, enabling consumers to keep track of their fitness progress and meaningfully engage them.

Adidas, which has an in-store restaurant, Lab Kitchen, entices customers with elixirs, drinks and healthy snacks. These services aim to enhance the buying process — making it less transactional — while also generating brand loyalty.

Brick-and-mortar stores have also begun to experiment with virtual reality, or VR, to engage consumers. Among these are Tommy Hilfiger, Topshop, Rebecca Minkoff, The North Face and Coach, Kissane noted.

Convergence of online and in-store is the goal. Reformation, a women’s fashion brand based in Los Angeles, allows consumers to browse complete collections through in-store tablets, but the in-store selection only features 20 percent of its stock that accounts for 80 percent of its sales. Shoppers can adjust the lighting in fitting rooms and use tablets to communicate with store employees. The idea is to unify online and off-line experiences.

“Pain points like waiting in line to pay or try on items, not being able to buy a specific item in store, should be addressed,” Kissane said. “Convenience and experience are the name of the game.”

The webinar followed WWD’s Retail 20/20 event, held in New York last week, which also touched on many of the issues presented by Kissane. Navigating retail’s transformation will also be addressed at the WWD Retail 20/20 Forum: London and the New Store Experience, which is set for April 25. Industry thought-leaders will discuss omnichannel strategies for attracting and engaging consumers, and share innovations tailored to amplify consumer experiences across the industry.

Speakers include: Tom Chapman of Matchesfashion.com; Charlie Cole of Tumi; Apu Gupta of Curalate; Lana Hopkins of Mon Purse; Richard Hurren of Levi Strauss & Co.; Deborah Nicodemus of Moda Operandi; Nicolaj Reffstrup of Ganni; Chris Sanderson of The Future Laboratory; Paul Wheatley of Lush; and Bink Zengel of Luxottica.

For More Retail Business Trends from WWD, See:

Anticipating a ‘Dramatically Different’ Retail Experience by 2030

Global Arts Community Printed Village Fosters Textile Design Talent

Shopgate Partners With Salesforce Commerce Cloud to Streamline In-App Experiences

Industry Insider Forecasts Upcoming Retail Trends in Euromonitor International Podcast

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