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COVID-19: How fashion retailers can respond to the lockdown

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The crisis is proving to be a test for businesses with the government announcing a complete nationwide lockdown. While it is hard to predict what the ultimate economic impact of this crisis will be, retail businesses will have to safeguard themselves on three key parameters – disrupted supply chain, delayed or unfulfilled customer orders and safeguarding internal stakeholders.

COVID-19: How fashion retailers can respond to the lockdown

On the supply side, with manufacturing coming to a standstill, not only are ancillary businesses like those supplying buttons, trimming etc., feeling the heat but also the large number of workers employed in this sector. Manufacturing units are struggling with unprocessed orders and this will further impact future deliveries. Most often, orders are dispatched through surface or sea which means that it may take months before they are fulfilled, and the real impact of this delay be ascertained. The financial fallout of this crisis will also have a far-reaching impact on livelihoods of daily wage earners who are employed in large numbers by the apparel industry. Often workers are paid on a per piece basis and with factories shut, these workers are rendered jobless with no source of income to make ends meet. In tough times like these, it is imperative for all business owners to be compassionate and empathetic towards their staff and employees. Timely salary pay-outs to staff members and an advance payment of wages to the workers in unorganised setups will go a long way in securing their livelihoods and ensuring their loyalty in the long run.

It is also very important to have an open dialogue with employees as rumours tend to spread like wildfire in turbulent times and cause false panic. Keeping the employee morale high and pumping up positivity and optimism is an important task for business owners in uncertain times as such. After all, one must realise that our teams are dependent on us for sense of security and stability.

With sales estimated to be zero during the lockdown period and rising order cancellations from consumers, retail brands will definitely experience a pile-up of inventory. For brands and retailers, the need of the hour is to ensure safety of their staff, manage cash flows, adjust sales forecasts, revise inventory projections, examine marketing strategies and introspect how operations will be carried out. Thinking smart and modifying the value proposition in line with the realities of the market, are the only ways to keep the momentum going once the state of normalcy returns. For instance, apparel brands need to figure whether it still makes sense to release a resort wear or holiday collection when leisure travel is not what people will have on their minds this summer. Business owners will have to think on their feet and make quick decisions basis the market sentiment and customer requirements. Customer experience should not be compromised on and businesses should be ready to spot gaps to fill. Moreover, just like employees, it is important to keep communication open with customers to ensure a long-term relationship with them.

In uncertain times like these, as consumers it becomes important to support small and local businesses who will bear the brunt of this the most. With survival becoming the immediate goal, with inventory pileups and negligible sales, these businesses will bleed unless loyal patrons render their support. With revenues slowing down, these businesses still have fixed overheads such as rent, employee salaries, etc. A few ways in which conscious and mindful consumers can do their bit is by prepaying for products which will be of use at a later date or buying gift cards for use at a later date.

When normal routines are restored, businesses should reflect on their learnings and strategies that worked during this crisis to further prepare for future adversities. For instance, this crisis may result in companies preferring to have multiple suppliers instead of depending on a handful of factories. There is also likely to be a changed consumer behaviour. Such shifts in trends should form a part of the company’s future plans. At the end of it, hope that the COVID-19 pandemic will only be a short-term upset for the economy.