Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
I could go on for hours about the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic: the number of people who have lost their lives, the economic turmoil, the businesses that have been forced to close their doors and the ones still struggling to stay afloat. But I won’t.
You’re already aware of the statistics, the ominousness. Every person who writes about the pandemic’s impacts speaks to this data. My industry — the retail industry — is one of the sectors that has been greatly affected by the pandemic, which cut off practically all cash flow from physical retail locations due to closures and restrictions. And as the pandemic continues, it’s impossible to anticipate when lockdowns and social distancing protocols will end so that stores can operate at full capacity again. But there has been one light at the end of this unrelenting tunnel, and it’s the one I want to focus on.
The coronavirus pandemic is being called “fashion’s biggest reset,” and for good reason. It’s proven that e-commerce isn’t just a privilege brands can choose whether to participate in. It’s an irrefutable business model that retailers and luxury labels should adopt not only to survive the pandemic, but to emerge better positioned for the future.
Fashion can’t and shouldn’t return to what it used to be. I believe it’s time that brands accept this new reality so they can begin taking steps toward a more digitized future. Below, I’ll highlight some of the ways brands have optimized their e-commerce efforts to do the unthinkable: thrive in the middle of a pandemic.
Provide a Superior Omnichannel Experience
Life-altering events — much like the one we’re currently experiencing — will always produce significant changes. One of the pandemic’s biggest impacts so far has been its influence on consumer buying behaviors. Many consumers have switched their preferences and now favor online shopping, with 53 percent of people reporting that their purchasing habits have permanently changed as a result of the pandemic.
The challenge for retailers and luxury brands is ensuring that their customers experience the same level of service online as they’ve come to expect from brick-and-mortar stores. Part of that means finding the right balance between brand experience and ease of shopping, which is where UX comes in. Net-a-Porter’s omnichannel success is a great example of this. Its mobile app keeps its customers engaged in its controlled ecosystem; its ability to track the entire customer journey from beginning to end helped increase the company’s profits. This trend could continue as the luxury goods market is estimated to grow 15 percent over the next five years.
Improving the customer experience also means making even the most complex steps as straightforward as possible. If one of your customers wants to purchase an item from a store and it’s out of stock, for example, they should be able to buy it online and pick it up at another store. This is also known as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store), which exploded in popularity alongside e-commerce efforts in the pandemic.
Personalized CRM Software
When retailers and luxury brands consider using e-commerce to their advantage, one of its most important attributes often gets swept under the rug: personalization.
You would be remiss not to make personalization a part of everything you do because it can lead to more engaged customers and help brands achieve a 20 percent increase in customer satisfaction. Do you use your CRM software to get a bird’s-eye view of your customers? Good customer service has become a primary differentiator in purchasing decisions, so how you communicate with and target your consumers could make or break your success in the industry.
Personalized marketing tactics drive more sales. Transparent, personalized contact builds trust with your brand. Personalized product recommendations and store coupons keep your customers coming back for more. This level of personalization is how brands breathe new life into their sales when a virus shuts down their storefronts.
Take jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth’s story, for example. Even though Covid-19 halted her jewelry production, it hasn’t impacted her profits. Having an e-commerce site helped the brand survive the pandemic, in part because Neuwirth found a way to engage with potential customers on social media and build new relationships online, which informed more personalized interactions.
Your CRM software allows you to make data-driven decisions that let customers know they are your top priority by showing them that you understand who they are and what they want.
Digitizing Product Development
Brands that were digitizing their product development before the pandemic were ahead of the curve, and those that followed in their footsteps within the last year have set themselves apart from the competition.
Digital showrooms, 3D product viewing capabilities and virtual sampling are just a few of the innovations that give retailers and luxury brands the ability to stay on top of market trends and cut costs. However, they are also changing the way customers prefer to interact with online products before making a purchase.
Herschel Supply Company and Zara are two great examples of companies that have figured out how to use 3D and augmented reality to revamp their brands. Herschel’s customers can explore and zoom in on 360-degree views of their products, but AR also makes it possible for them to place the product in their world to get a better sense of size, dimension and color. Zara also uses augmented reality to revolutionize the window shopping experience. When people walk by Zara’s physical stores, they can scan a code and watch Zara models walk a virtual runway in various clothing items, which they can then purchase online.
We can all agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has been life-changing, but that doesn’t mean that its impacts have all been terrible. The brands that refocused their efforts on e-commerce were able to not only survive in these unprecedented times but also stand at the forefront of transformation in the fashion industry. Thanks to e-commerce, the retail industry can come out on the other side of this pandemic, maybe brighter than ever.