There have been many reports circulating about the demise of the retail industry. In fact, if you search ‘is retail dying’ in Google, you’ll bear witness to a plethora of articles about the decline of traditional retail or videos from popular mainstream media outlets discussing, in brief, why retail is at peak distress.
With eCommerce giants such as Amazon and ASOS trailing a blaze online with record sales, the above statement could be perceived as true for traditional retailers. But it’s safe to say that traditional retail isn’t dying, but merely going through a period of adjustment.
Adapting to changes in consumer behaviour, such as cross-border eCommerce, is no easy feat; especially in today’s unpredictable and competitive retail market where the pressure to enhance the in-store experience is at an all-time high.
One way retailers are engaging with new customers and fostering loyalty is through strategic brand partnerships. The idea of dabbling in the waters of collaboration culture is not lost on retailers in the fashion industry.
It’s quite common for high street retailers to collaborate with fashion designers or high-end labels to partner with artists to create unique, limited edition collections in order to bolster the brand’s reputation and connect to a wider audience.
When H&M launched its first major collaboration with the iconic German designer, Karl Lagerfeld, in 2004, demand for the collection was so high it sold out within minutes in some markets. This set a precedent for future collaborations with brands including Stella Mccartney, Comme des Garçons, Jimmy Choo, Versace and Alexander Wang.
As a result, we’ve now seen a rise in fashion brands partnering with high-profile celebrities in order to engage with young consumers; Beyoncé’s Ivy Park for Topshop, Gigi Hadid for Tommy Hilfiger and Rhianna for River Island are just a handful of examples.
When it comes to in-house strategies, retailers have begun to realise that maintaining longevity in the industry can’t be done alone and are taking proactive measures to secure future success by acquiring or partnering with startups.
Initiatives such as John Lewis’ JLab and Tesco Labs, which invites creators, developers and start-ups to collaborate and help shape the bricks-and-mortar retail experience are just a few, well-established, examples of retailers outsourcing new talent to secure their future in the industry.
For legacy retailers that once dominated the high street, it’s a strategy that’s proved vital in maintaining a competitive edge in an industry that’s constantly evolving to meet the demands of both young shoppers and supply chain.
Using your own resources
Traditional retailers are under pressure to provide customers with something different when it comes to the in-store experience. Young consumers, in particular, are growing frustrated with busy crowds and are unhappy with travelling to a store only to find out their size is out of stock.
In fact, nearly 43% of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers said they were quite likely to cut out in-store shopping altogether if issues with online shopping (such as the speed of deliveries and frictionless returns) could be resolved.
For larger businesses that wield multiple brands in their arsenal, curating multi-brand flagship stores serves as an opportunity for retail businesses to enhance the in-store experience and offer their customers something that their pureplay competitors are unable to provide.
In 2018, Sports Direct unveiled its newest, multi-million-pound flagship store in Thurrock, in a bid to become a retail destination that goes ‘beyond sport’ to elevate the customer experience.
Dubbed as the ‘Selfridges of sport’, the UK-based sports company, which owns multiple fashion brands, combines products from its infamous Sports Direct brand, as well as casual wear from its USC brand and premium fashion from Flannel.
The 100,000-plus sq ft store also boasts an Everlast branded gym (another brand Sports Direct has under its belt), a ‘kid’s zone’, improved in-store communication and navigation, easy to shop product displays and large-scale changing rooms; there are even plans to add an eSports arena.
It’s a strategy that not only meets consumers appetite for an improved in-store experience but also gives customers a diverse opportunity to shop for products, from gym gear and football boots to luxury fashion and accessories.
Some department stores followed suit the same year, with Debenhams, in particular, opening a new 86,000 sq ft three-story outlet providing a more curated product offering with additions including a Pinkster gin bar and its concept of the ‘Beauty Hall of the Future’.
Unfortunately, House of Fraser and Debenhams were both rescued from the murky waters of Administration in August 2018 and April 2019 respectively, serving retailers a cautionary tale of the consequences of failing to adapt in time to technological advances and changes in consumer behaviour.
If you want to get customers to navigate huge retail spaces you really have to make it worth their while; sooner rather than later!
Holding hands with competitors
If you can’t beat them, join them; an old political adage once synonymous with imperialist battles is now shaping how some of the world’s biggest retail brands develop strategic partnerships in order to accelerate growth and increase market share.
Once considered a major competitor with traditional retailers, Amazon has become prime real estate for brands in order to connect with new customers. Calvin Klein expanded its distribution model on Amazon in 2017 by launching new lines of underwear exclusively on the site during the Christmas shopping season.
Its success has led to the PVH-owned retailer to continue to sell underwear, loungewear and separates on the site, and brands such as Nike, Kate Spade and Levi Strauss & Co have subsequently followed in Calvin Klein’s footsteps.
Even Apple, whose stores are often described as ‘a template for retailers’, has made the jump to Amazon – to a certain degree. In late 2018, Amazon reached an agreement with Apple to sell more of its products on the marketplace, including the latest iPads, MacBooks, iMac, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, and Mac mini models.
Where cheaper, more nimble online brands are more likely to gain a cult following or launch products on more well-known online marketplaces, making product categories overcrowded, larger legacy retailers are increasingly finding it harder to increase profits without resorting to selling off real estate or, like Banana Republic, solely trading online.
But investing in partnerships, for the moment, seems to be the winning formula. Harrods recently chose the online luxury fashion platform, Farfetch, as its exclusive global eCommerce partner, leveraging the power of Farfetch’s enterprise white-label offering, Farfetch Black & White Solutions. And ASOS will soon have both Topshop and Topman brands on their ledger thanks to Arcadia’s £60 million investment into online operations improvements.
If retailers want to keep a foothold in the market, developing diversified strategies that include third-party partnerships will play a key role in staying afloat in an unpredictable era for retail businesses.