How can we get through this? We must Adapt to Survive
This wasn't supposed to happen. When budgeting for our businesses in the upcoming year, none of us figured in the possibility of a global pandemic. This was most definitely not part of the plan. And yet here we are. Facing the reality of a world in lockdown. Having to close our doors, put our businesses and lives on hold. Production has halted, shipments are delayed, sales are dwindling, and right now there's no confirmed end in sight. How can our businesses survive this?
With any major crisis there will always be businesses that fold, those that will survive, and a few that will prosper. But what is it that makes the difference between these outcomes? Is it really as simple as luck, or being in the right place at the right time?
Of course, luck is always factor. Those businesses whose products are in high demand during this crisis will clearly have an advantage – retail sectors such as home sporting goods, garden equipment, games, and craft supplies have all experienced an unexpected boost. But for those of us in sectors which have been harder hit, like Fashion, it's vital that we rethink our response to the crisis. It's not about working out how our businesses can survive this. It's about thinking how we must adapt in order to survive and prosper. Cutting costs and seeking government support will only go so far. Perhaps, if we are able to rethink the way we do business and move quickly to adapt to the current situation ,we may be able to come out of this stronger than before.
Much as it's tempting to think that things will “get back to normal”, it's clear to see that there is no longer a “normal” to return to. Too many things have changed in too short a time for the effects to simply die down as soon as the quarantine ends. But by looking at which of these changes will likely be most pronounced, we can future-proof our businesses by moving with the times and catering to our customers' new priorities.
The World Online
The most obvious effect of isolation – consumers have, through necessity, moved online. When high-streets close and going out is limited to food shopping or exercise, we have no choice but to rely on e-commerce to access the goods and services that we would previously have purchased in brick and mortar stores. In 2019 online shoppers already made up 60% of the active EU population, but with necessity driving online sales this is likely to go up to at least 80% in 2020. Even as necessity ends and the high-streets can open again, consumers are likely to be wary of going straight back to crowded stores and will continue to rely on the commodity and ease of e-commerce that they've gotten used to.
Clearly, if your store isn't already online it needs to be - there can be no more excuses. E-commerce solutions exist in many shapes and forms, and there are options suitable for every budget, from online marketplaces to self-hosted domains (we created a step-by-step guide to getting online for retailers new to e-commerce in a previous post). But those businesses who already have online stores shouldn't become complacent. As the market expands so does the competition, and it's vital to set your brand apart. Many online stores are currently offering free shipping or extended returns in order to help boost flagging sales. Even prior to the crisis, unexpected shipping costs were the number one reason for cart-abandonment - now that buyers have seen that when under financial pressure, stores are able to offer free shipping, why would they go back to paying for shipping in the future? Perhaps now is the time to rethink logistics in general. Large retailers are already looking at how they can increase their store pickup options for online orders – not only does this save on shipping costs but could also be the most effective way of enticing buyers back into stores little by little, while still maintaining safe social distancing.
People are fed up. And people are frightened. Politicians and figures of authority seem, in many cases, to be unfit for the challenge. Our health services are under immense pressure and must often rely on charitable support to help provide necessary PPE for front-line staff. On top of this, large amounts of the population have been furloughed and financial futures are uncertain for all. Unsurprisingly, indignation at the way some companies are handling the situation is rising. Billion-dollar corporations requesting government bail-outs while at the same time avoiding taxes and laying off staff may think they are protecting their investments, but consumers are already black-listing brands. These companies seem to be betting on the fact that consumers have a short memory. But when millions of people band together to applaud from balconies, or to support Captain Tom Moore as he selflessly raises millions for the NHS, is it not more likely that this feeling of solidarity will go beyond our confinement?
Businesses and entrepreneurs who offer help will be remembered. How can your company support your community in this time of need? Some fashion brands are re-purposing their equipment to make medical overalls or face masks. Others have created original design t-shirts and are donating all profits to Covid-19 charities. This kind of response may not be possible for us all. Do what you can. And if nothing else, show support to your customers, remind them that you're still here to help and keep them positive – remind them that it's not all about the profit.
You can't visit social media at the moment without seeing a story about skies clearing, rivers flowing clean for the first time in decades, or animals returning to their natural habitats. The “Nature is Healing” narrative has struck a chord- what a difference a month makes when industry is no longer poisoning our planet for profit. Solidarity, particularly among younger generations, has extended to the planet itself. Sustainability and ethical fashion were already achieving increasing popularity before the virus, so if brands and retailers want to stay on top of trends moving forward it's vital they consider how to incorporate sustainable fabrics and ethical practices into their offering. Local production is also likely to be sought out by consumers wanting to support local industry and national job prospects. Some may argue that the higher prices involved in sustainable and ethical sourcing will put off customers in a likely economic downturn, and while this may be true in some cases, if brands don't start planning ahead to support this move in consumer consciousness they are likely to be left behind in the long run.
Thousands of office workers are currently working remotely. This, despite the fact that most employers had previously argued that it wasn't possible for them to do so. As this fallacy is revealed, many employees will demand more flexible working conditions, and businesses may also start to see the benefits and reduced costs that can be achieved from distance working. And so it seems, home working (at least to some extent) is here to stay. In the fashion sector, this will signal a change in the type of clothes that consumers want. Comfort will take precedence over formality and fashions will adapt to reflect the new “normal”. Retailers should consider expanding their product range – if before you didn't stock loungewear or athleisure, perhaps now is the time to branch out?
It's not particularly surprising that some commentators predict an economic crash equal to, or worse than, the crisis of 2008. Entire industries have been paralised, small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, & millions are filing for unemployment. Any retail sector not considered essential is likely to suffer as consumers tighten their purse strings – the fashion sector among them. And as people look for ways to spend the long hours indoors, many have taken to clearing out wardrobes – perhaps making them realise how many clothes they own, and how little they actually wear them. Will the fashion sector be able to recover from this? As usual, those that triumph may be those that think outside of the box. Circular fashion may be one solution, particularly for the occasion wear sector. Much as we all love to wear a new outfit at a Summer wedding, we may no longer want to commit to buying a piece that we only wear once or twice. Forward-thinking retailers are offering rental options, and in some cases buy-back and second hand ranges. “Pre-loved” is no longer a dirty word and those retailers that are able to incorporate circular fashion into their ranges may be the ones to lead the market moving forward.
Adaption is Survival
Whether we like it or not, now is the time to change. In business as in nature, the survival of the fittest requires adaptation in order to overcome. The excuse that “it's always been this way” has always been a barrier to progress, it could now signal the death knell for businesses that don't move with the times. Now is not the time for fear and despondency. It's time to look to the future and adapt – not just to survive, but to succeed.
TradeGala is offering free registration for fashion buyers and brands to help survive this crisis and expand their business. We're here to help.
Written by Amber Domenech Patey