Fashion is the product of its times.
Each era in fashion industry has brought with it something new. The 1960s introduced geometric patterns. The next decade was about earth tones, greys, whites and blacks. The 1980s ushered in fashion influenced by MTV, as young viewers tuned in to the channel and fashion spread from there. The 1990s marked the beginning of fabric treats for consumers. As each era ended, it left something valuable for designers and fashion brands.
With the advent of the digital age and easy accessibility to mobile phones, social media and the Internet, fashion has a new meaning. Online apparel sales are as important as store sales. The world of fashion is artistically, culturally and commercially involved in the digital world. Fashion is not only changing faster, it is reaching people in every part of the world at a great pace because of the digital world.
Ubiquity of the digital
The fashion industry is still undergoing a transformation and there are both high-end as well as local brands that have adjusted well to digital innovations. As digital channels expand, they have lowered the entry barriers for the fashion industry, making it a truly global industry. There are certain intimidating factors for like rising competition, plagiarism and the increased need to connect not only with customers but also with suppliers, manufacturers and employees.
The digital world has unquestionably proved a boon for fast fashion, as online portals guarantee more visibility. However, there are certain high-end luxury brands that are yet to launch apparel and accessories via virtual retail. These brands fear losing brand exclusivity. They may also be daunted by rules and regulations that differ in various countries. This makes use of digital channels cumbersome. "Luxury is all about touch and feel. It is different from buying at the click of a button," said Sanjay Kapoor, MD at Genesis Luxury, which retails many luxury brands including Paul Smith, Canali, Armani and Bottega Veneta in the country.
Yet, fashion brands cannot completely ignore the perks of the digital age as a huge chunk of the population checks out fashion trends and brands on either social media sites or on popular online blogs. According to Harminder Sahni, founder of retail consultancy firm Wazir Advisors, "What most brands are doing now is to put out their catalogues and information on their websites for people to make better choices rather than selling directly." With rising income of the working class, luxury brands are finding more takers.
However, experts believe that selling a US$ 20,000 Chanel suit online is different from selling a US$ 500 suit. There is marked difference between affluent customers and mass shoppers. While affluent customers value quality and are extremely brand-aware, the other segment looks out for pocket-friendly products. Not all brands can retain the customer relationship or convince buyers to shell out money online. The digital world has made this a strictly competitive game and it is difficult to influence customers' decisions.
Influence on customer behaviour
The change in consumer behaviour is slow, but the digital age is gradually picking up particularly when it comes to collecting product information and finding the best deals. Online portals especially designed for price comparison, guide consumers to find the same product at different prices. With easy access to the Internet on smartphones, consumers no longer solely depend on stores for price and product guidance. Scanning barcodes, logging on to social networking sites, visiting e-retail shops etc have given more power to customers. Digital channels are everywhere now and young shoppers increasingly rely on digital tools to find details regarding competitive pricing, overall personal budget, sizes and colours available.
Thus price transparency is increasing as consumers compare the prices of products wherever they are and whenever they want. Power literally lies at their fingertips. Dependability on brands for pricing information, communication and brand values to make informed choices has changed. Consumers rely more on peers than on brands. According to a survey by Tripadvisor, 78 per cent of consumers trust peer recommendations while only 14 per cent believe advertisements. Advising each other through social media platforms and mobile chat applications is common among the customer base. Virtual shopping and seeking the approval of friends who live on the other side of globe is an effortless task.
What do these changes in consumer behaviour mean? These indicate that customers can either make or break a fashion brand. Online brand reviews attract or repel prospective customers. But, apparel brands consider it as an opportunity to engage consumers. Asking for customer feedback online and making it a two-way communication has helped fashion brands gain consumer loyalty.
According to Goldman Sachs, global ecommerce sales made via a mobile device is likely to mount to US$ 638 billion by 2018. Though this figure is promising, RetailWeek Reports believe that many buyers continue to use digital channels only to check and compare prices. Digital channels have ensured price transparency, but are losing on certain other factors in comparison to brick and mortar stores.
Some customers are abandoning digital channels for apparel purchase, as shipping costs adds to the original cost and many sites take too long to upload, making shopping cumbersome. Many elderly customers are also uncomfortable to share credit card details online, making digital concept a big no-no for them.
Challenge for brick and mortar stores
In spite of these snags, the digital world has influenced all the facets of fashion. Brands are also under constant pressure to launch something new each season, as there is more awareness regarding colours, fabrics, designs and prices.
With a surge in digital shoppers, fashion retailers are also using new fitting room technology. Virtual fitting rooms that have 3D model representation and body scanning facilities are also becoming common giving tough competition to the 'try before you buy' advantage that brick and mortar stores have.
At the recently-held Paris Fashion Week, Louis Vuitton launched a futuristic looking trunk to keep mobile phones, iPads etc. The brand's digital toolbox gives a glimpse of how the digital age influences designs and decisions. Designers also do not hesitate in posting their designs and collections on web portals. In June 2013, Vogue's editor in the United States of America edition selected Eva Chen, who is a social media celebrity, as editor of Lucky magazine.
Chen believes, the fashion industry's elitism no longer serves it. Chen says, "We're a show-and-tell generation. People want to see behind the scenes. The more involved and invited they are, the closer affinity they have to your brand. The new generation of designers like Prabal Gurung and Alexander Wang have hundreds of thousands following them on social media, who will probably never be able to afford their dresses, but still feel a loyalty to them."
Digital channels have changed not only the fashion industry, but have also led to a complete makeover of shopping for consumers. Creating transparency, evolving technology to match advantages offered by physical stores and connecting directly with customers have contributed in popularising digital channels in the fashion industry.