Retail Recovery

When planning a sustainable fashion business, it’s imperative to take into account the current state of affairs. Retail has been severely disrupted by the pandemic, with many brands closing stores or going out of business. Fashion Talks: The Fashion Retail Revolution, organised by The London College of Fashion, provided reassurance about going in the right direction.

Mark Pilkington, an experienced retail chief executive and strategy consultant, led this webinar. He is author of ‘Retail Therapy. Why The Retail Industry Is Broken – And What Can Be Done To Fix It’, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2019.

Obviously, much has changed since then, and he is now writing a new book, due to be published in the summer (2021), also by Bloomsbury. ‘Retail Recovery’ will provide valuable insights into the profound changes occurring in retail and how to navigate them.

Pilkington presented just a snapshot of key findings on the webinar, the book will undoubtedly offer a much more comprehensive approach, but it was still possible to have a glimpse of ‘a New Generation retail model’. This is just a synopsis of Pilkington’s presentation:

  • From limited information to consumer knowledge driven by social media, user reviews, influencers and price-comparison engines;

  • From a producer-dominated push system to a consumer-dominated pull system;

  • From long supply chains to fewer intermediaries, direct-to-consumer and retailers going direct-to-factories;

  • From transitional to a relationship-based approach: creating a brand community and interactive relationship between brand and customers;

  • From mass brand marketing to personalised marketing driven by sophisticated algorithms, based on real-time tracking of individual consumer behaviour;

  • From just ‘selling stuff’ to having a higher purpose, which unites the brand, team and community;

  • From reliance on physical stores to a multichannel system, where online and retail channels complement one another - online for transactional efficiency and physical stores for brand theatre, education, community and intelligent human service;

  • From disintegrated customer data systems in retail and online, to integrated systems with a unified view of the individual customer and inventory;

  • From a retail property system based on long leases and permanent locations to one based on ‘plug and play’ spaces - available on short-term leases and pre-equipped with technology and staff;

  • From low-excitement high-streets filled with unchanging brand line-ups to shopping areas characterised by a high rate of new brand innovation and changeover, driving consumer excitement and engagement;

  • From low-level shop staff to high-level stylists focused on creating great customer experiences with basic tasks automated or eliminated.

When developing my idea for a sustainable fashion business, some of these elements came into play. It’s not all due to intuition, I keep learning about the fashion industry and have experience in luxury retail.

While living in Paris in 2019, one of the ways to support my living costs in one of the most expensive cities in the world, was to work for a renowned Italian luxury brand.

Much like other luxury brands, a huge segment of customers were Chinese, so our work included promoting and selling merchandise on WeChat, the main social media platform in China.

The pandemic has definitely moved online shopping into a whole new level, and if you are currently looking for a job in the fashion industry, most roles are related to digital marketing and data analysis.

Just check Farfetch for instance, most jobs are actually related to IT. It’s no longer the future but the present. My business plan combines a strong and integrated online presence with a retail space, aligned with what Pilkington identifies as ‘brand theatre, education, community and intelligent service’.

A few months ago, I added an ‘Event Planning’ webpage to start building a little black book with other entrepreneurs and brands sharing the same values around circular fashion and sustainability.

According to Pilkington, this is what “the perfect brand” will look like:

  • “Purpose-driven;

  • Curating a category on behalf of a passionate community;

  • Interactive relationship with community driving innovation;

  • Personalised performance marketing;

  • Correct channel balance: online for transactional efficiency and compact stores for brand theatre, education, community and intelligent service;

  • Unified stock and customer data systems across channels;

  • In-store tech for customer tracking and automation.”

This is quite exciting as my business plan ticks all the boxes. Hopefully, there will be more competition to businesses like Appear Here, to make physical retail thoroughly transform into what Pilkington called ‘plug and play’ spaces.