Retail Industry Challenged To Adapt To A Digital World

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping consumer behavior and how the retail industry, which is notoriously slow to adopt new ideas, does business. Teams of buyers and executives traveling the globe to visit far flung accounts is now a relic of the pre-digital way to work. But this transformation is in its infancy with a long way to go.

For example, product selection is in dire need of an update. Even before the pandemic struck, fashion shows, showroom visits, trade shows, and line reviews were ripe for disruption. Although buyers, executives, and wholesalers had been muttering for a decade that, “There must be a better way to do business,” old habits die hard.

That’s what we discovered when the majority of the world’s fashion designers ignored a golden opportunity to reinvent the traditional fashion show. During the global shutdown, most of the fashion shows were simply traditional runway shows broadcast via Zoom without live guests. Nevertheless, digital fashion shows do appear to have some stickiness, with many designers moving forward with hybrid concepts for the upcoming Fall 2022 reveals. 

Showroom visits, requiring teams of people to be away from their desks for days, remain ripe for disruption. Virtual showroom platforms such as Joor, Nuorder, and Ordre have been around for several years, but now they are beginning to gain traction. The oldest of the three, Joor, saw virtual showroom visits increase 437 percent during the pandemic, according to The Business of Fashion

BoF Chief Correspondent Lauren Sherman, noted recently, “Digital showrooms are a long overdue upgrade to a largely analog process that has long relied on Excel sheets and, sometimes, pencil and paper. The platforms have allowed retailers to digitize their buying processes, creating efficiencies that save hours of time once devoted to busy work.” 

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Line reviews, like showroom visits, are another retail tradition that need a makeover. Not just for fashion brands, line reviews occur at every product manufacturer for each new collection. Zippo, the lighter manufacturer, transitioned to digital line reviews during the pandemic. Lucas Johnson, Senior Brand Manager for Global Marketing, said, “…our first-ever remote line review was the best, most productive line review meeting we had ever had. We are never going back to the old way of doing line reviews. 

“These meetings dragged on with discussions about individual opinions. Now we’re able to make fact-based decisions and do it more efficiently.” 

Digital line reviews offer the opportunity for applying predictive analytics, Voice of the Customer (consumer feedback), and other data points into the decision-making process. Anticipating outcomes through a combination of advanced analytics, mathematical models, and predictive analytics, the best platforms can also test customer preferences, ensuring that data, not dreams, will be the key to understanding which products will succeed and which ones will fail.

None of these new ways of working replaces our innate desire for human connection. Integrating technology should support better outcomes, easier ways to work, a greater degree of transparency, and positive effects on the bottom line. Brands and retailers relying on instinct, historical sales data, and, too often, hope will never be able to compete in driving their important product-based decisions.

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