M&S shoppers have been enjoying a new 31-piece fashion line that dropped into stores this month. Called Archive by Alexa, the collaboration between fashion model and TV presenter, Alexa Chung and the famous British high street institution was first unveiled back in February to kick off London Fashion Week.
Whilst M&S will be hoping the move will revive sales – its new boss branded the retailer’s latest clothing sales fall ‘unsatisfactory’ earlier this month – other clothing brands continue to wrestle with the ongoing challenges of responding effectively to so-called fast fashion. Indeed, a big part of the success story behind Primark, Topshop and H&M is their ability to keep pace with the latest looks at affordable prices – a vital balance for any aspirational young 20-something (or younger) shopper.
But it seems that for the fashion conscious, fast is no longer fast enough. Yes, 2016 promises to be the year of ‘Instant fashion’. As the rate at which we consume everything from information to fashion continues to speed up in the digital age, comes pressure to keep up. Some fashion commentators have suggested we are moving to fast, whilst others have claimed that this trend has, in effect, “broken the fashion industry” – it was cited as one reason for the walk out of Dior’s creative director last year. What is clear is that shoppers are always looking for the next newest thing. And this has some potentially interesting repercussions for retail marketers in the sector.
When it comes to discussions about in-store activations and retail display compliance, the fashion sector is often overlooked. Supermarkets, DIY and electrical is POS; Fashion is VM and window displays. It’s for this reason that the majority of conversations we hear in the industry tend to focus on FMCG brands. But today, fashion is arguably the fastest consumer good of all. So, isn’t about time that the conversation did like fashion trends do… and changed?
A great deal of focus in fashion retailing is placed on delivering exciting retail design, impactful window displays and visual merchandising. You only have to visit Oxford Street to see how remarkably good many of the shopping experiences now are, particularly given the price point of many items sold within retailers’ stores. And so, the in-store fashion formula goes a little something like this: show your latest collections in the window and make them easy to find in-store – often displaying them in prime front of store space. The store layout is precisely controlled and that, in turn, reduces the potential for lost sales. Or does it? With so much attention focused on visual merchandising and layout, the role that POS can play is often over-looked.
Studies by POPAI UK & Ireland have shown the positive impact that simply displaying the word ‘New’ can have on shopper engagement with displays, and therefore sales uplift. And with the frequency of new lines, as well as the number of multi-buy promotions in fashion stores continuing to increase, ensuring that key messages attract the attention of shoppers is vital.
Burberry announced during London Fashion Week back in February that it will make its new collections available to purchase in-store and online immediately after fashion shows in the future, as the brand looks to shorten the traditional gap between the runway show and retail availability. Of even greater interest to those with an interest in in-store implementation and compliance was the statement by Burberry chief creative and chief executive officer, Christopher Bailey, that all store windows and point of sale material will display the new collections immediately after the shows.
Fashion brands survive by being exciting and trend aware. In-store, many continue to invest in shopper technology – integrating live catwalk streaming, sales promotion tools such as iPads, digital mirrors and interactive displays. But in commercial terms, they also rely on strong sales of basics and secondary collections. And that’s the point we’re trying to get to – basics matter. Compliance matters. Ensuring that POS ‘collections’, whether basic displays or hi-tech solutions, are implemented how and when they were designed to be, matters. And, of course, they should absolutely always look their best.
Regardless of the sector, any retailer or brand with a high churn of promotional messaging demands high compliance. And it appears the level of churn within fashion retail is only set to increase. With trends and collections changing so frequently, keeping pace with POS display updates and guidelines requires a focus and level of expertise that store teams often simply do not possess. And it’s unfair to expect them to – with product presentation, price markdowns and, above all, customer service, rightly being their main focus.
Achieving success demands a consistent, structured approach and a relentless eye for detail. There is little point in positioning your stores as having a finger on the pulse of the latest and the new if that message, and the shopping experience, is devalued by outdated or poorly presented POS displays.
Our message is not a new one. Likewise, it should certainly not be viewed as a trend. We have been educating FMCG brands on the importance of best practice retail implementation and in-store compliance for years. In fashion terms, it’s a timeless must-have – like the little black dress. So, whilst the fashion world focuses on showcasing their seasonal newness with visibility and impact on the catwalks when London Fashion Week returns in September, hopefully more and more fashion retailers will be begin to look in the mirror to see what they can do to improve the way they also present themselves in-store.