Shopping has changed drastically over the last year. Shop closures
– most temporary, but others permanent – have seen fashion customers
flock to e-commerce and online marketplaces. Brands and retailers have
followed consumers, establishing and expanding their presence on
channels such as Zalando.

With the most stringent lockdown restrictions beginning to lift and
bricks and mortar locations reopening, fashion retailers will be
hoping that the coming months will see shoppers return in droves back
to stores while online sales continue to surge. While there are
certainly reasons to celebrate, fashion also faces a series of hurdles
in the near future. How can retailers and brands best navigate the
post-Covid recovery period on the high street and across digital
channels?

Consumers are linking offline with online – retail should too

Regaining significant instore footfall may be more difficult than
many expect. Online channels have spent lockdown offering easy access
to a seemingly unlimited range of products. Consumers won’t simply
forget how easy it is to peruse a variation of lines and prices from
the comfort of their own home. Recent research found that two in five shoppers expect they will shop
online more frequently even after lockdown ends.

Retailers should treat physical stores as another channel in their
overall strategy, rather than an opponent to their digital plans.
While this could be seen as added complexity for the modern customer’s
path to purchase, forward-thinking retailers recognise that every
touch point needs to be an optimised opportunity for customers to make
a purchase – and it’s likely that post-lockdown shopping will bring
more cross-channel activity than before.

Recent ChannelAdvisor research conducted between UK lockdowns found
that 45 percent of consumers were researching online more frequently
before buying the product instore. Factors behind this could include a
hesitancy to spend too long in potentially busy or infectious shops,
but it’s also likely that consumers don’t necessarily want to take a
day comparing prices across different locations when they could just
look up the best deal online.

With this trend likely to continue at least in the short term, it
is vital for brands to keep information around where to buy,
availability and any other product information consistent across all
of their channels. Shops can still attract sales if online provides
accurate guidance.

A new age of retail diplomacy

Post-lockdown life could also see different dynamics in the
retailer / brand relationship.
Over the last year many fashion brands have grown more confident with
sales channels such as social selling, a broader range of marketplaces
and their own D2C sites. In many cases, a brand’s survival has hinged
on these digital shopfronts and new online customer bases have been
established. Some brands may now question how they should prioritise
retail partners in this wider ecosystem, whether they have more profit
margin negotiating power and whether they should really dedicate ad
spend to directing traffic to retailer sites when their own channels
have fared so well.

Now is the time for brands to improve their retailer relationships,
moving past being just a supplier and becoming true business partners.
This is a more advanced relationship that will prove beneficial for
both parties.

The reality is that it can be more beneficial long term for brands
to recalibrate their digital marketing efforts to funnel customers to
retailers again. This may appear damaging to a brand’s D2C sales but
in most cases will lead a higher volume of conversions. Many shoppers
have retained loyalty to certain retailers, so simplifying their path
to purchase is more likely to result in a completed transaction. By
providing these leads to retailer partners, brands can show their
worth beyond the basic supplier relationship.

Adopting a data-driven relationship approach works both ways.
Retailers should appreciate that brands have spent the last year
utilising online platforms that offer a bevvy of information that
brands can use to optimise their marketing, sales and even
products.

Keeping pace with consumers and platforms

The ecommerce boom has seen the spotlight intensify on online
shopping’s environmental sustainability. We’ve all heard how
important the issue is becoming to consumers, but it’s also
influencing marketplace and retailer requirements.

Take Zalando as an example – the fashion marketplace recently
committed to make sustainable products a quarter of their GMV by 2023.
Fashion brands looking to retain lockdown levels of business on
Zalando long term will be well-served to take sustainability to heart
– or they risk alienating both consumers and sales channel
partners.

Meanwhile it’s unlikely that brands will see a significant drop in
online sales once shops reopen and they should consider whether
they’ve adopted environmental policies suitable for this high-volume
delivery and return landscape. Sustainable packaging and paperless
return options were good ideas before COVID but when online sales have
reached this scale their impact can be huge.

This article was written for FashionUnited by Lauren
Herouard, Senior Manager Client Services and Marketplaces EMEA at
ChannelAdvisor, who specialises in the fashion industry.
ChannelAdvisor is a leading global e-commerce cloud platform whose
mission is to connect and optimise the world’s commerce.

Image: Pexels