Strategy

The Future-Proof Organization: Fashion Edition

Gabriela Porto
Gabriela Porto June 21, 2021
The Future-Proof Organization: Fashion Edition

Being future-proof means being prepared for all surprises and challenges that the future holds. That is what the Future-Proof Organization initiative is all about: democratizing digital commerce knowledge and enabling the leaders of tomorrow to welcome a diverse world of ecommerce specialists. It’s a journey towards learning with insights from the industry’s top of mind.

Organized by EICOM and the eCommerce Institute, and in a partnership with VTEX, Softbank and AWS, the Future-Proof Organization: Fashion Edition roundtable was an online event hosted by Mariano Gomide de Faria, co-founder and co-CEO at VTEX, with the participation of Mariah Chase, CEO at Eloquii; Dan Goldman, VP of Strategy & BD at Gap, Inc.; and Linda Li, Head of Ecommerce at H&M.

Read below a more in-depth report on the event and check our LinkedIn page for the whole roundtable. Here are some highlights from the talk:

  • What the fashion industry learned from the pandemic and all its consequences. Consumer-centricity, flexibility, agility and digitization were the main words mentioned by the panelists;
  • How brands can prepare internally for a digital shift, especially when competing for digital talents against other tech companies;
  • Brand role and social responsibility are also in the spotlight, as perspective towards social issues have been extremely relevant after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learnings from the pandemic

During 2020, the fashion industry posted record-low economic profits, with a 93% drop compared to 2019. The impact that this market has suffered due to COVID-19 restrictions to physical shopping and the share of sales lost left some wondering what changed and if anything can stay the same. 

McKinsey’s latest State of Fashion Report, written in partnership with Business of Fashion (BoF), deep dives into those effects and into the crisis in this market, but also brings some of the positive outcomes of the situation. It is safe to say that the pandemic has accelerated some industry trends, especially in the fashion business. Many fashion companies have overviewed their business operations, production costs, customer and sales strategies using technology as a big ally. Marketplaces, omnichannel strategies and local shopping are also actions to bet on, facing 2021 in style. 

What can these “new normal” opportunities teach the industry and what is the influence of it in marketing, sales and brand perception? Our panelists shared some of their biggest learnings from 2020 on these topics.

Customer service is the new marketing

“Customer service is the new marketing. My big learning from 2020 is that the companies that were doing well on establishing customer service are the companies that are creating more loyalty to the brand. You should treat customer service as a marketing thing, as a line below marketing, not as an operation.” 

Mariano Gomide de Faria, co-founder and co-CEO at VTEX

Find the best balance between human and technology assets in order to drive the customer experience to another level. Engaging with these consumers and learning from them is important in order to offer the best service possible. With VTEX’s store fulfillment options, for instance, you can offer convenience and a good customer service experience when it comes to delivery by integrating physical and digital stores, providing both online and face-to-face services that will impact on how the final customer perceives the brand. 

The trend is that more customer-focused and personalized offers will appear as an alternative to the all online operation, combining the best of human and automated services. Emotional connection, hybrid spaces and BYOD (bring your own device) stores are already becoming a trend. With increase in social media usage during the pandemic in the U.S. and phones being the main medium of communication, other strategies like conversational commerce and social selling have been successful as a way to bring brand and customer together. 

It is, simply put, the need to be where customers are and to offer as many options as they’re looking for. 

How to appeal to specific audiences

On the lack of traditional strategies due to pandemic circumstances, others have popped up. Mentioned at the roundtable was the declusterization of commerce as an escape for digital brands who are willing to cater to specific niche needs rather than trying to get a good slice of a big market. 

This is a result of a burst in customer behavior data and how brands and companies use those data to diversify portfolio and product offers depending on who is the end customer, their shopping habits and personal interests. 

“I think that, in some ways, this has been happening for a while as our data capabilities have gotten stronger and, therefore, the more specific and personalized you can make every single experience. If you look at the messaging across platforms, my shopping experience can and will look entirely different from your shopping experience.”

Mariah Chase, CEO at Eloquii

There have been many manifestations of this type of initiatives, such as websites targeted at professionals, like Colgate’s website for dentists, websites with limited access, much like clubs or VIP lists or exclusive drops. 

Flexibility and agility

“When you think about agility, a lot of retailers and fashion companies have a trade off between scale and agility. It’s hard to do both really well. I think what 2020 proved is that agility is going to be really critical for evolving, changing and innovating going forward.”

Dan Goldman, VP of Strategy & BD at Gap, Inc.

Scale and agility, in a fast-paced, trend-driven industry can prove to be hard to do in so little time. When it comes to agility, the fashion world has got it in the bag. Demand has become more insistent since social media exposure has brought new styles to light faster than it did before, decreasing a fashion trend life cycle, for instance.  

But beyond trends and achieving big numbers in product manufacturing, agility and flexibility can also help in digital and sustainable growth. When talking about being agile in pandemic times and in the aftershocks of the “new normal”, we are talking about a fast response to unforeseen demands – or being future-proof, if you’d like. 

To achieve that, technology has been helpful: having an integrated product and order management system, for example, can improve a product or a collection lifecycle and avoid any kind of waste production. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software is a great example, since it proves to be efficient and customizable for every business needs, while using technology to enhance operations and processes.

Digital talent attraction and retention

The digital shift has created new spots that deviate from traditional routes inside the fashion industry, not only on the runways but also backstage. Designers, producers and marketing specialists are still needed, but the digital commerce notion has to permeate an entire company for the shift to be seamless. This change has also called for more analytical spots and it can become hard to compete, as fashion brands, with big tech “dream” companies. 

Mariano has a tip on how to do that: it’s all in the way you announce it. Do you need a statistician or a digital commerce specialist focused on numbers and probability, someone who will lead the change of turning numbers into data and into product, impacting the entire sales process? There is a big difference between them. “Announce the end game, not the mid game,” he says.

“What’s so unique about the consumer industry and different from big companies like Google or Facebook is that the world gets to see it and, sometimes, the business is different. Friends, your neighbors, they’ll get to see the fruits of your labor.”

Linda Li, Head of Ecommerce at H&M

For the digitally-native generation, especially younger Millennials and Gen Z, the meaning of work is gradually changing. The selection criteria is no longer about money or company prestige, but about job satisfaction. And that goes beyond a weekly pizza party or “Casual Friday” dress codes.

Therefore, keeping talent is hard. Employee experience should be the main focus when retaining people, offering a journey of knowledge and growth, not only at the final role that they will end up in the company, but during the process. This can be of great value, especially for the targeted younger generation, with different dreams and purposes from those of the ones who came before. It is no longer about the final destination, but about the pathway and the learnings that are gathered on the way there.

Visit our LinkedIn page for the complete roundtable and follow VTEX’s page, so you don’t miss anything. There are more Future-Proof Organization editions to come on different markets and topics.

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