The Corona pandemic has hit the fashion industry hard. At all levels. But it has also led to a rethink among many in the industry and has accelerated digital processes in particular. What long-term consequences Covid-19 will have on the fashion industry cannot yet be predicted, but what has already changed for many brands as a result of the Corona crisis are the internal work processes, the increase in digital tools for product presentation and the expansion of creative digital solutions to maintain and expand customer contact. If you can even speak of a winner in the crisis, then it is clearly all about digitalization. But which digital tools do brands use to promote and sell their products? Which digital solutions are used to present the collection pieces to retailers? And what lessons do brands learn from the Corona crisis? We have asked the industry.
The importance of digital B2B platforms is increasing
While physical meetings with retailers were the norm for many brands before Corona, during the Corona period digital B2B platforms have developed as THE sales tool. Johan de Niel, vice president of brands at Kontoor EMEA, Antwerp, says: “At Wrangler we have started selling to customers through a new digital platform, which is used to present the latest season while also enabling video conferences for us to present the products similar to what we would have done in-person prior to Covid-19. The digital catalog can be shared and worked with in many ways, allowing all parties to work efficiently in a virtual environment and has a minimal eco-footprint because it allows us to eliminate the need for travel.”
Due to the Corona pandemic, fashion group Mango is also using its digital B2B platform. The company states: “We have a full B2B digital platform for our retailers. This has been developed internally with the aim of optimizing the buying activity and updating them on the collections.” Camel Active also wants to focus more on digital tools in the B2B sector in the future. Volker Weschenfelder, the brand’s managing director of marketing, e-commerce and retail, notes, “For a/w 2020-21, we will start to provide short video clips to inform and teach sales staff about new collections, highlights, product features etc. and to train them regarding selling techniques. In addition to face-to-face meetings with our sales agents, we are producing videos for the sales teams and retailers to show outfit combinations, color themes, key styles and matching accessories. In addition, we will conduct an e-conference to present our new s/s 2021 collection to our international distributors.”
All of the nearly 20 brands we surveyed agreed that social media tools have become one of the most important digital tools during the Corona crisis, not only to connect with customers, but also to promote and sell products. Antony Morato attaches great importance to the Facebook Shop: “As soon as Facebook Shop will also be available in Europe, we plan to use it to the maximum of its possibilities, also for product launches on Whatsapp. In the near future we believe that Facebook Shop will become an alternative to large e-commerce platforms such as Ebay or Alibaba–by activating direct payments also via chat”, says Lello Caldarelli, president and creative director, Antony Morato. The Chinese video portal TikTok is also on the radar of many brands. The mobile app is known for lip synchronization of music videos and other short video clips and also offers functions of a social network.
Brady Stewart, managing director of direct to consumer at Levi’s US, says: “We’ve been focusing on digital for years, investing in new solutions and tools that make the consumer experience better across every channel. In April, we announced our new partnership with TikTok’s ‘Shop Now’ program, allowing us to reach a younger audience and engage directly at the point of inspiration.”
Instagram also developed in the Covid-19 period as an important and helpful social media tool. David Segal, digital and creative content manager at London-based Raeburn, says: “Instagram is our biggest audience and most relevant channel. It lends itself well to real time streaming via Instagram Live, storytelling via video and strong visual content, as well as having the more recent shopping function. With both locations closed in these circumstances, we had to think very quickly of engaging ways to keep interacting with our community. Raeburn Connects is an Instagram Live series of accessible talks, focusing on connecting good people, great ideas and great visions. Social media plays a huge role. For us it’s much more than a platform to promote our products. It gives us instant access to our community, allowing us to be part of the conversation and providing the tools to host live talks. It also allows us to share raw behind the scenes and storytelling, aspects that are otherwise mostly reserved for studio visitors only. Without the tools that social media provides, it would be very difficult for us to sustain that level of community engagement.”
Johan Andrén, communication and development manager at KnowledgeCotton Apparel, says: “We collaborate with content makers and content platforms that promote our brand and our products, and we’re setting up affiliate and native app partnerships. Our advertisement on search engines such as Google and Ecosia is very successful since there is a global awakening around sustainable fashion. Still, a very successful tool for us is e-mail marketing. For us, this has always been a great tool to promote our journey, our values and products.”
And what about the attractiveness of global market platforms?
“Buyers tend to find us anyway, and we want to make sure that they come to us to build a lasting relationship, rather than seeing a product in a marketplace.” On the other hand, for Jürgen Wolf, founder of Homeboy, online marketplaces are animportant pillar in the sales model: “Also in this case we did not change our strategy. We do work with marketplaces. Marketplaces will be the new shop-in-shop. All of us will see if this works better than the shop-in-shoptrend 20 years ago. It is just a new game.” For many brands, especially the “bigger players” such as Mango, Wrangler, Camel Active and Levi’s, online marketplaces including Zalando, About You and TMall form important pillars for their sales activities. At least half of the brands surveyed stated that they are continuously looking for relevant online marketplaces.
Marciano of Guess USA also believes that these measures are essential to position yourself well as a brand in the future: “We have experienced amazing growth in online sales but now more than ever we realize how we need to enhance how our consumers interact with our brand online. By adding interactive features like Guess playlists, video tutorials and online styling, we are continuing to build and improve our online presence, creating a better brand experience and encourage brand loyalty.” “We’ve become more aware about our vulnerability–both as a company and as individuals. To be a digital native company is clearly a requirement for the future, but that would have been the case even if Covid-19 wouldn’t have hit us all,” says Andrén from KnowledgeCotton Apparel. “Perhaps we’ve just been forced to speed up the process. Just as the Covid-19 has put sustainability into sharp focus. That process was also inevitable for the future–but the crisis has made it a requirement for being relevant faster than anyone perhaps expected.”
Editor's note: This article runs in our current "The Issue at Hand", #293. Please also check out the e-paper version for more information.