Lynn Gonsior, Partner & COO of ChangeUp, gives Fashion retailers a customer service focused makeover for a thoughtful shopping experience adapting to new consumer expectations.
With broken supply chains, inventory issues, sustainability challenges, siloed business units, and ongoing promotional battles, fashion retail was already on high alert coming into 2020.
And then came the COVID-19 pandemic, when the forecast became dramatically bleaker. As we’ve seen as recently as today with JCPenney reportedly considering bankruptcy or the news last week from J.Crew and Neiman Marcus, major retailers will undoubtedly become victims of the pandemic’s economic fallout. When it hit, the burden was too much to bear (a scenario likely to repeat itself with other retailers before the crisis ends).
A Looming Question for Post-Coronavirus Retail
For those companies that entered the COVID-19 pandemic in a heavily indebted or otherwise weakened position, there’s a big question to ask:
Even if they survive through the immediate shutdown, will they be strong enough to withstand the hyper-critical consumer landscape on the other side?
As stores reopen, we know that wearing masks, cleaning surfaces, sanitizing our hands, and social distancing will be the norm. Still, there is a much larger opportunity for each retailer to consider what is right for their brand and business. For retailers, they need to eagerly and decisively adopt a “modify and adapt” mindset.
Retailers should seize this moment as an opportunity to assure the most positive experience for both their employees and their shoppers. Brands need to go back to basics to ensure a clear proposition and unwavering focus on customer engagement and service. Now is the time to think beyond the overall store layout for social distancing and fitting room cleanliness to create something much more impactful – a customer-centric experience aligned to shoppers’ new priorities, behaviors, and expectations.
3 Ideas for Innovating Fashion Retail
1. Facilitate seamless in-store, curbside, or drive-thru pick-up. If omnichannel hasn’t already been a priority, it’s the linchpin now. Customers will expect to be able to use their own devices to minimize contact and pick-up online orders with ease. Retailers will need to consider how to bring to life their unique brand experience within a significantly smaller footprint and time-spend of a quick pick-up moment.
2. Leverage the opportunity of one-on-one interactions for a more personalized experience. Consider appointment-only sessions, perhaps through an online reservation system similar to OpenTable. Or create Zoom video dates with sales associates to connect a customer’s closet with the latest collections, select items online to try on, and have them ready for me when I get to the store.
3. Create a meaningful brand world that consumers desire. Retailers must invest in building a compelling brand experience instead of just pushing sales in a transactional environment. The role of the store must be rethought not only in the wake of COVID but to drive lasting engagement with a demanding and discerning consumer.
Let Change Be Your Superpower
We are facing unparalleled challenges, and things are changing daily, if not hourly. In the short-term, retailers must successfully deliver the new table stakes, but long-term, significant change is paramount. The days of mediocre retail are over; the companies who have been hanging on by doing “okay” will not survive.
In this moment of high stress and constant flux, when we are all reordering priorities, questioning value systems, and rethinking our own choices, what a brand stands for is crucial to its relevance and survival. Attacking the post-pandemic physical retail challenge won’t be easy, but if undertaken with a renewed sense of focus and determination, fashion retail brands have a golden opportunity.