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Fashion e-commerce in 2021 and beyond

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The pandemic brought with itself a range of concerns for all of us across the globe. A humanitarian crisis and economic slump struck the world and threw all of us in a state of destitution and uncertainty. As countries prepare themselves to keep in check the havoc caused by the new strains of the virus, economies around the globe have started to open up. There has been enormous pressure on the fashion industry to get the businesses running amid the various challenges posed by the pandemic and subsequent actions taken by the government to have things under control. Shifting consumer behavior, increasing demand for digital, and aligning and re-aligning business strategies to cope with the capricious dimensions of the times, kept the fashion industry on its toes throughout 2020.

As we inch towards recovery after a year in which the fashion industry recorded nethermost economic profits – an estimated dip of 90% compared to the profits made in the year 2019, there is an imperative for players in the fashion industry to make swift decisions and to go after the silver lining appearing through the dark clouds of 2020. That being said, the scenario didn’t seem as bleak for some fashion categories as it seemed for others. For example, kids wear and maternity wear saw a good scale-up across digital channels because there, the consumer makes a need-based purchase. With offline stores shut, the purchase was forced to be an online one in the lockdown period spanning a couple of months.

The forecasts seem positive for the global fashion industry, there’s a prediction of seeing an increase in profits in 2021, let’s find out how the landscape will look like in the new normal of age and the adaptations brands would need to thrive in the apparel segment. Indeed, the crisis pushed fashion brands to reshape their business models, refine the customer value proposition, and to streamline operations.

Digital as the Biggest Opportunity

Digital is being pegged as the biggest opportunity for 2021 with more than 20 percent business growth expected through e-commerce channels. Over a period of just a few months, the digital has moved rapidly forward doubling up fashion online sales. The growth trajectory of using a digital medium to make purchases has been fairly steep which perhaps might have spanned over years to reach that level under pre-covid times. This trend is going to accelerate in 2021 and beyond as digital has emerged as one of the key drivers of the growth momentum. As more and more fashion brands pivot towards online channels, we are likely to see the shutting down of brick and mortar stores in a continuum.

However, managing brands online is anything but child’s play. It requires a synergy between technology, innovation, customer experience and a robust supply chain. We already have a few examples of brands merging the gap between physical and online shopping through offering live streams to the customers, thereby amplifying the overall shopping experience for the customer whilst keeping intact the personal touch. Such creative solutions are paving the way to enhance and engage better with the consumer, thus, directly resulting in increased revenue.

Tech Enabled Omnichannel Approach

To boost the online shopping journey, brands are venturing into an Omnichannel approach. Personalisation, gamification, reviews are some of the many tools that brands are going to leverage to stay connected with the consumer. In all of this, technology plays an important role. Without smooth tech support, the entire process of online shopping remains tasteless.

“In the content that we see around us, buyers, today, are automatically attracted towards the content that has a personality because that reflects on the relatability aspect. There’s a much higher impression and consumption rate where the content is personable. Having said that, the overall discounting will be much lower post covid and that’s a welcome change. Brands will be playing more around the content driven business rather than opting for tactics like offering discounts to lure in the customer,” , Head of Enterprise Strategy & Brand Marketing, Green Honchos.

The point from which a customer visits the website to the point the purchase is made makes up 50% of the entire online shopping journey. So the amount of AI capabilities available on performance based platforms, how fashion players want to showcase their catalog that is akin to their offline visual merchandising and CRM play around that platform. All these problems need to be better solved for. Many full stack agencies have a platform that offers solutions to this and enables e-commerce in this space.

Another point for consideration that a lot of brands face before venturing into the digital space is whether they must tag along a known marketplace or should they build a retail website of their own or should it be a combination of both. Indeed, there is resonant traffic in marketplaces that will fit well with the brands, so that goes as a no-brainer if fashion brands want quick ROI. Having said that, each brand must have their own D2C portal as well if not already in place. In addition to that, to push digital growth, behavioral insights deduced from the analytics are going to be the currency in 2021 and beyond. Brands will have to focus on how to make the customer’s digital experience richer in order to make the customer stay in the journey and make it to the end.

Shifting Consumer Behaviour

Over the last few months we have seen consumers getting at ease with using digital mechanisms for shopping and have well received different mediums to engage with the brand.  As the uncertainty still looms over the head with respect to mankind falling into yet another highly probable pandemic sort of situation, brands need to emphasize on sustainability and ethics of running their business. The consumers are seeking mindful ways of indulging in any kind of shopping. This kind of rise in the collective consciousness of the consumer is an outcome of various discourses towards a sustainable lifestyle, shaping and influencing the minds of the masses simultaneously. It was a growing tide even before the pandemic hit, however, it has only accelerated and magnified the wave of what has been termed as conscious consumerism.

In the years ahead, this activism is only going to gain more traction as the Gen-Z will form roundabout 40% of the global consumer population. Additionally, it also happens to be the most vocal demographic on social media about issues concerning the socio-political sphere.

The aware consumer segment is willing to pay a premium for products that have been sourced and manufactured ethically. Today, they demand accountability and transparency from the brands and are not going to shy away from calling out unethical practices run by their favourite brands. With people still being reluctant to step out in public places, the brands will have to cut to the chase by bringing the physical experience via online. Conversational commerce will get into the mainstream as more and more brands are beginning to realise that it is one of the things that a customer misses about offline shopping. Companies leveraging conversational commerce will fare well comparatively to their peers as quite evidently, conversion rate is much higher in conversational commerce.

Profitability

In the wake of the pandemic and shifting consumer focus on sustainability and conservationist behaviour, one trend that is going to stay with the consumers is mindful purchasing. Now this does not come as good news especially for fast fashion apparel brands whose entire business strategy revolves around their consumer making quick repurchases at regular intervals. Thus, fast fashion apparel brands need a revamping of their business approach that calls for sustainable business practices that are profitable in the times of shifting consumer attitudes.

With consumers realising the importance of ‘less is more’ in apparel consumption thereby leading to slower fashion cycles, the model will be based on demand generated from the consumers’ end as opposed to the existing model. Many brands have already made the necessary changes in accord with the changing behaviours. Partnerships will deepen between brands and supplier chains as the pandemic brought to the surface the broken system existing in the industry. This will result in reduced transactional supplier relationships, leading to supplier consolidation.

Speaking of building a sustainable business and how businesses can ensure a complete purchase loop, we have inputs from , Co-Founder, Green Honchos. “There are three key pointers that any business must bear in mind when making an e-commerce debut in the online world- first, getting the marketing strategy sharp! There is no point in pumping in lakhs and sometimes crores of money into the funnel and not getting enough revenue out of it. Second, to take preventive and corrective measures to reduce the percent of RTO. There is a lot of good tech support that one can have in order to minimize the return percentage. The crackdown of RTO must be quick and precise. Lastly, figuring out how to make the Payment on Delivery option more efficient. The awareness that COD is one of the many options under the umbrella of POD needs to be there. That will be a value addition for customers as well as businesses alike.”

Way Forward

In 2021, we will see a surge in new store formats as brands are going to make amendments to existing formats and make the shopping experience for their customers as convenient as possible, offering them omnichannel services to choose from.

All in all, the landscape for fashion brands in the post covid recovery era looks bright as long as brands are quick and flexible in bringing about some major transformations in their working. The customer experience is going to be the trump card in the fashion business and every strategy will be an attempt in how to innovatively optimise the customer’s experience.

Digitalisation is being increasingly accepted and being channelised in all ways possible. We have seen some brands do exemplary work in the face of the crisis and this is going to gradually become the norm. We will perhaps see the rise of a new hybrid work model contingent to how the overall scenario unfolds in the latter half of the year. We are expecting to see a radical transformation in the business operations in the year ahead, typically governed by the introduction of more and more digital tools. This will also require an up-skilling of the workforce as businesses will be using tools that are largely unheard of in the fashion industry. This entire reshaping of the work system is definitely going to revolutionize the driving force for decades to come.