The coronavirus pandemic has put the entire fashion industry on the back foot in barely two months. Wuhan in China announced the lockdown on 23 January, and that time, nobody in the rest of the world predicted the outspread of this virus will be such massively devastating. The fashion retailers are forced to shut their stores, halt the production, furlough employees and even file for bankruptcy in the extreme case. Now when the stakeholders are focusing on crisis management and contingency planning, the biggest debate is on restructuring and re-imagining the foundation of fashion industry through collaborative approach. What worked well till January 2020 will not at all be feasible during the rest of the year now, and the biggest shift will be seen in the consumer shopping behavior, especially in Europe which is facing the hardest hit of this pandemic.
Heuritech, a cutting-edge fashion technology company that offers brands predictive analytics on trends, has come out with its new report ‘Trends during and post COVID-19’ which sheds light on the upcoming paradigm shift in the fashion industry. The report is based on Instagram analysis done by Heuritech. Why only Instagram? While talking to Apparel Resources, Célia Poncelin, Chief Marketing Officer, Heuritech, reasoned, “#fashion is the fourth top hashtag on Instagram, which makes it a central platform when it comes to fashion. But of course, there is not only Instagram, especially in China, where a lot is happening on platforms such as Weibo which we analyse, and TikTok. This report was focused on Instagram, but we will also cover other platforms.”
The major findings in the report are consumer behavior during COVID-19, strategies that retailers can opt for post COVID-19, and trends which will gain big in the coming months.
Consumer behavior takes a sharp turn on Instagram
As far as consumer behavior is concerned, it has already become clear that business-as-usual won’t cut it right now. The COVID-19 impact on fashion industry is the topic on everyone’s minds, so marketing traditionally, as if the industry weren’t in the midst of an unprecedented situation, could come across as insensitive. Consumer behavior has changed, and with it, so has brand behavior.
Heuritech reports that there is 61 per cent more engagement of fashion consumers on social media and they spend 70 per cent more time on Instagram, while Instagram lives has doubled.
The data clearly indicates that in order to ensure success now and post COVID-19, brands need to get comfortable communicating with their customers via this social media platform more than ever before.
Building connections is a must
The report further emphasises on connection building between brands and consumers. The ongoing time can be a great opportunity for fashion brands to build a solid foundation with their customers by being a support system, rather than trying to sell traditionally, a move that could be seen as exploitative.
According to the report, around 77 per cent of consumers feel that the fashion brands should communicate how they can be useful in people’s new daily lives in confinement. While 70 per cent of consumers desire reassurance from brands in these challenging times.
Marketing strategies need to be restructured
According to Heuritech, brands must work onto three main strategies – altering campaigns, producing useful products, and creating content.
On 15 March, Nike announced that it would close all stores in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand for at least the next two weeks. They mandated their employees to stay home, with full compensation throughout the quarantine. On Instagram, Nike steered clear of traditional marketing; instead of advertising their newest shoe, the brand encouraged people to stay home and to stay healthy.
In many cases, the comparatively smaller and lesser-known brands have been ahead of the curve in terms of bettering the status quo of customer relations, supply chain management, and sustainable practices. French brand Réuni produces its garments using 100 per cent recycled textiles, and only produces clothing on-demand, which means that there is never an overstock or consumer preference misjudgment. French womenswear brand Balzac Paris has kept in place the possibility of online purchases while suspending shipping until the end of confinement, in order to protect its employees and delay inventory roadblocks.
When the industry drowns, it is seen big players take social responsibilities quite seriously to safeguard the people and that’s what big clothing brands did amid the coronavirus pandemic. HUGO BOSS recently switched its clothing production into face mask manufacturing, and in fact, not just face masks, the recent announcement from the brand says it will also produce and donate protective clothing.
Recently, LVMH, Prada, Zara, Balenciaga, Mango along with a few more brands announced to produce masks and donate amid worldwide deficiency of face masks. This is needed. In this challenging time, a collaborative approach is necessary to first correct the shortfalls by supplying the required material to front liners in order to fight against coronavirus and then take preventive actions to stimulate the industry collectively once COVID-19 subsides. Some industry stakeholders are contributing their bit, while others need to step up to take things forward.
Well, not just big brands, Heuritech informs that a smaller brand Coco & Rico, an atelier for the creation of responsible textiles, has allocated its sewing machines to the production of masks and medical outfits for health workers. To see smaller brands coming together to aid in the pandemic signals a business mentality built on empathy, a move that is likely to pay in the long-run as well as to slowly but surely change the status quo of fashion industry practices by bigger brands.
E-commerce: To be or not to be?
It’s true that the challenge is intense and many fashion brands might not cope with the situation due to people going into home quarantine, and supplies of items, other than essential products, are stopped in most of the countries, especially in Europe where COVID-19 is wreaking havoc. While some brands have closed down e-commerce temporarily, this is not the majority. The French E-Commerce Federation indicated consumers may have less disposable income, may feel discouraged from purchasing for fear of deliveries not being on time, or simply have their attention turned elsewhere right now.
In its analysis, Heuritech found that online fashion retail sales across Europe were down by 30 per cent in February and March, whereas 70 per cent of consumers are more likely to shop digital right now and 94 per cent of e-commerce sites have maintained their activities.
“This suggests two things – the online fashion brands and retailers are adapting to the crisis, and/or consumer behavior is leveling out and adjusting to the situation,” said Célia.
So, what can be the solution to this whole mysterious equation? Cutting out the middleman’s relay points, reduction in shipping costs or even making it free and modifying return periods are the best possible solutions for e-commerce brands right now. “L’Exception, a French concept store, has also put in place a promise with its customers – “buy now, return whenever”. H&M has equally extended its return period from 30 to 100 days,” stated Heuritech’s report.
This whole modification in merchandising strategies can make consumers delighted who want to see brands being so accommodating. Besides, these small adjustments in online shopping are showing customers that they can rely on their favorite brands to be there for them in times such as these.
How Heuritech comes to assist the industry
As Heuritech has technical expertise in computer vision concept and machine learning technology, the tech firm can help fashion brands and retailers with data-driven decisions for today’s and tomorrow’s collections. This way, the retailers can know the upcoming trends which should be highlighted on e-commerce as well as trends which will remain in high demand post COVID-19 crisis.
“We focused on Europe in our report, but we will do further trends reports on the US and Asia. At the moment, the market in Asia is recovering, while the US is in the midst of the crisis. I believe COVID-19 is an opportunity to rethink our value chain, for example, where clothes are produced, and may be the start of more localised production,” concluded Célia.