The future of the fashion industry is uncertain. The COVID-19 crisis has affected every type of retailer, but bricks-and-mortar retailers have been badly hit, having to close high street stores for weeks. As they prepare to open from the 15th June 2020, it is not yet clear how many shops will open, which ones will remain open and how can customers get back to the ‘new normal’.

While we hear that many fashion brands in the United Kingdom have fallen into administration or are on the verge of doing so, other big names are negotiating with landlords and coming up with new ideas to boost sales. Big sales are expected through June and the whole summer, but discounts are not the only solution for fashion retailers to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Discount vouchers and flash sales cannot be the only solution. Managers and creatives must come together to transform how they operate in these challenging times.

The solution must come through leadership

Every big challenge brings a new opportunity to thrive. A downturn can create opportunity. Take the example of the last big recession in 2009. Despite the negative impact on sales, new opportunities arose:

  • Some luxury names took the opportunity to expand from Europe and the US to the Asian market.
  • New ideas of business, such as the discount shops (e.g. TKMaxx) became popular.
  • E-commerce kept growing despite the recession.

There is no magic recipe to succeed in business. For instance, brick-and-mortar retailers, fashion designers and manufacturers cannot simply turn all their attention to selling online. It is a misconception that every brand needs to have a website and to be selling online, but the truth is, setting up an E-Commerce business is far more complicated than that. It involves building whole new departments, hiring the right professionals, managing stock, returns… and this in a time when budgets are incredibly tight. You cannot gamble on digital innovation, it must be done strategically.

Shopping fashion high streetOne of the fashion retailers that have avoided the pressure from customers to sell online is Primark. While it has signed a partnership to sell through Amazon, innovation and transformation for Primark has focused on building an interactive in-store experience. The idea is selling an experience, a full shopping experience, to sell more low costs clothes. This business model right now and with the current technology cannot be easily, cheaply or quickly achieved through online shopping.

Owning your story: How Social Media can lead the change

Social Media has been a vital tool for fashion retailers to stay in touch with their customers, engage with them and send their message. How do brands work on their brand awareness when everything stops?

People may have stopped going to cafes and theatres, but it does not mean that they want to disconnect from the brands they follow. Thousands of people have followed online events through Facebook Live, Instagram Live and YouTube, from live music concerts to yoga sessions. Many more have mastered their TikTok challenges. With half the country cooking banana bread, following Joe Wicks workouts on YouTube and doing video-calls, Social Media are a fantastic tool to stay in touch with what’s going on out there, even if a business’ doors are closed.

Looking for authenticity is the key. A good Social Media strategy should be more than following the viral trends of the moment. Don’t just tweet about ‘Black Lives Matter’ because everyone’s doing so. Instead, take the opportunity to reflect the diversity of your brand, to give voice to those who should be heard or help out with the fundraising.

Another example: If a fashion brand is not sustainable, it should not present itself on social media as an eco friendly or ‘green’ brand. It will not work on the long term and it will not make it stand out from other competitors. Being honest on Social Media is especially important for fashion brands or your risk being publicly called out and damaging your brand reputation.

Social Media as part of a digital strategy

A company’s Social Media strategy is a piece in the digital strategy of a company, which often involves a dedicated Digital Marketing team. A company should tell their own story through Social Media, but it will only work if the whole business pulls in the same direction. In this model, the company’s website, any newsletters and campaigns and other aspects of the business should follow this message of authenticity.

Smaller local retailers can use social media to work with other local businesses in the generation of synergies. In difficult times, smaller brands can take advantage of Electronic Word of Mouth and grow their local support or expand their message online (e.g. using Instagram’s ‘Support small businesses’ feature).

For larger companies, this message should focus on what makes a company different from other competitors (online and offline). It could be an innovative product, but also an efficient service that you provide. A company’s success can be due to having great customer service, who answers queries through phone, an online chat or social media. Finding out what a company does the best will be the bottom of every customer retention campaign.

You can follow Marta on social media: LinkedIn, Twitter or follow her blog.

You can also learn more about digital transformation in different sectors in our new book.