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The 5 Best Quotes from Fashion Connect 2019

By Will Gillingham

IMRG’s yearly dive into the fashion industry, the Fashion Connect Conference, has concluded once more. And what an event it was (if we do humbly say so ourselves).

Paul Hornby, eCommerce Director of Matalan, rallied in defence of the high street, discussing the data points which Matalan refer to whenever justifying their high street presence.

Victoria Betts, Global Omnichannel Director of Hotter Shoes, pinpointed how ‘data is empowering and frustrating’, the way the ‘customer journey is pre-tail, retail, and post-tail’, and the precise way Hotter Shoes have gone about reformatting for a digital audience.

Champagne was drunk, networking was rife, everyone was given a free pair of socks (courtesy of SAP), and reams of actionable data were delivered by our 21 expert panellists, hailing from leading retailers and proficient solution providers alike.

Writing a painstakingly detailed summary of all the insight presented on the day would result in a lengthy tome which would require a less-than-healthy number of scrolls on the scroll wheel, and nobody wants that. Fortunately, we’ve identified our 5 favourite quotes from Fashion Connect, to give you a snappy overview of our flagship conference.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

‘We’ve demystified the omnichannel customer’ – Paul Hornby, eCommerce Director, Matalan

The word ‘omnichannel’ has the singular privilege of being a word that everyone and no-one knows the meaning of. It’s the merging of the online store with the physical store, yes, but what about pricing? Colours of products? Returns? Are these exactly the same between brick-and-mortar and digital? And how on earth do you track the shopper who flits between the two (a little research here, a purchase there)?

Matalan have visibility on this. They’ve identified ‘loyalty as the main strategy’ and doubled down on retaining customers. Through this research, they’ve seen that the stream seems, in most cases, to flow from online to store; ‘customers who are browsing certain products online have been known to buy them in-store within a month’.

Owing to this, they’ve ‘created complete stock visibility, and ensured all stock is in the right place at the right time’. Matalan cherishes its loyal customers, and its loyal customers are either shopping in-store or collecting in-store. Indeed, Hornby states ‘there hasn’t been a week where 50% of orders haven’t been click and collect’, which coheres rather nicely with his next point: ‘18% of customers who collect in-store will make an additional purchase’.

For Matalan, the high street is alive and kicking. Perhaps its rejuvenation lies in Matalan’s omnichannel strategy.

Jeans and bags

‘The more efficiency you bring, the less they trust the brand’ – Lizzie Lee, Global Cheerleader, Mention Me

A sleek look and a streamlined performance are two features likely to draw a crowd, but retailers need to be careful not to become too robotic. Now, more than ever, people are looking to feel familiar with the brands they buy from; ‘you need to make someone feel like they’re connecting with the brand.’

The best way to do this is to generate a hive of activity around your brand which isn’t being enacted or replicated anywhere else. ‘It’s about giving unique experiences [customers] can only get from that retailer.’ Or, as Rachel Glynn, Head of eCommerce at Radley, puts it, ‘it’s about creating a dialogue and then bringing that dialogue back to us.

This year, customers are wanting to build personal attachments with the brands they buy from, and so, to stay ahead of the trend, retailers should look at refining their strategies to do just that: get personal and create experiences.

Pink lemon

‘Sustainability is a train coming over the horizon’ – Graham Best, CEO, ReBOUND

The customer this year is more engaged with environmental issues and the momentum shows little sign of abating. People are beginning to become aware of the plastic trail they’re leaving in their wake, and they’re wanting to do something about it. Hence the above quote: sustainability is about to be in vogue, and, as Best continues, ‘there’s a danger we’ll keep talking around stats and not take any practical steps towards it’.

Marks & Spencer are one company which don’t fall into the above category. They introduced the plastic-bag charge before it became law, and as Roger E Wright, Technical Packaging Lead, Clothing & Home at Marks & Spencer mentions, ‘it’s in our DNA to be sustainable’. They have a fully-structured sustainability strategy called Plan A, and they stick to it religiously.

And as for the above train? Wright says recycling is ‘further down the line’ than the place sustainability needs to begin. He says, ‘where we’re heading is reusable packaging. It’s about using less materials and getting smarter.

Deborah Luffman, Product Director, Finisterre, agrees, claiming plastic shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility: ‘we have to produce less plastic in the first place. Whether or not you encourage a customer to reseal and reuse a bag, at the end of the day it’s up to them to actually do that. If the plastic isn’t in the equation, it’s not a problem’.

Luffman also identifies the issues in pricing in the fashion industry. She says ‘[customers] have to pay a decent price. Clothes cost the same amount as they did ten years ago, which means the supply chain is being negatively affected. People need to be spending more on fashion. It’s about transparency in the message. It’s about clarity – showing the people the entire supply chain.

There are ways to prepare for the upcoming sustainability train, and there are those who have a great vision on how to bring those preparations to light. However, it’s going to take a great effort from all sides to steer the fashion industry in a sustainable direction, and it’s a turn we need to start making.

Windfarm

‘52% of households have abandoned a purchase owing to delivery’ – Bobbie Ttooulis, Group Marketing Manager, GFS

The third panel of Fashion Connect, revolving around customer demographics, saw Ttooulis deliver the above datapoint from the upcoming IMRG Consumer Home Delivery Report. But delivery wasn’t the only thing on the agenda here – in fact, the flow of the conversation led Lana Jackson, Head of Supply Chain and eCom Operations at New Look, to say ‘the customer informs all our decisions.

Customer demographics are a difficult thing to track online. Some people may only visit a retailer to buy gifts for other people, and in that sense, marketing those items to them won’t have any real ROI. Similarly, customers don’t rely on one form of delivery: as Jackson states, ‘they choose the one which works for them that week’.

What this all points towards is needing to provide the customer with as many options as your business can provide, in order to give them the sense of agency required for loyalty. And this is why, as Jackson again notes, ‘click and collect is absolutely a must now – people want the agency to collect their parcel whenever suits them’.

Open sign

‘You might think that the outreach you conduct in the UK will work outside its borders – it won’t.’ – Neil Ashworth, CCO of Yodel and CEO of CollectPlus

The final panel session of the day dealt with cross-border opportunities and contained a treasure trove of insight. While there were nuanced perspectives and specific titbits of advice delivered by all involved, if you were to bracket the entire conversation into one line, it would be Ashworth’s above: methods of commerce in the UK won’t work in other countries.

Paul Walker, Sales Director at Vivo Barefoot, went one step further by saying it’s not simply a case of constructing an alternate strategy for the country you’re looking to move into. If you’re looking cross-border, you need to be malleable; ‘you have to optimise your go-to-market strategy and be ready to adapt’.

From payment options, to delivery solutions, to the toughest countries to break into, to the way the checkout page can hinder a purchase in foreign territories, to push outside of the UK’s boundaries is an undertaking which requires a significant strategy and localised, on-the-ground informants.

And that’s our list.

To those who attended Fashion Connect 2019, thanks for coming – it was brilliant to have you with us for the day.

And for those who have read this with the gradual sinking feeling of possibly having missed out, don’t worry: we run four conferences every year, all of which will contain pertinent information as valuable as the stuff you’ve just read. The next two are our Delivery Summit, concerned with, you guessed it, delivery, and Customer Connect, which is entirely focussed on the customer in 2019.

We hope to see you there.

Will Gillingham, Content Executive, IMRG

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