Flexibility on part of the retailer is required, if they are to ‘weather the storm’ of the crisis...
In this Face2Face with Fibre2Fashion Correspondent Cindrella Thawani, Betty van Arenthals talks about the situation for the European retail sector; difficult times could bring opportunities for retailers, she avers.
European Association of Fashion Retailers (AEDT) particularly deals with the fashion and footwear specific issues. Besides, it carries European and international projects.
Betty van Arenthals-Kramer Freher caters as the President of AEDT.
Her former titles include President of Mitex, the Dutch organisation of textile, shoe and sport retailers in the year 1991-2003. From 1995-2003, she served as the President of the Dutch Retail Council.
How do you see the European retail industry moving ahead with the current economic development?
As in every crisis, some retailers will fare better than others and those that are able to adapt to shifting consumer demands may even come out of the economic slowdown stronger than before it.
By listening carefully to what customers want and being innovative in terms of their business models along with the products they offer, retailers can still potentially grow considerably despite the unfavourable economic conditions.
However, much of this depends on what segment of the sector the retailer represents. Often, the more expensive shops do relatively well compared to the retailers. Equally, the low-budget retailers frequently do well during recession because people have less disposable income.
It is therefore the middle-of-the-range stores that tend to suffer the most. But it is very difficult to make generalisations as what might be true in one country, isn’t necessarily the case in another.
Indeed, the situation varies quite considerable among the EU Member States. Typically though, flexibility on the part of the retailer is required if they are to ‘weather the storm’ of the crisis and entice shoppers to spend their money. This is all the more necessary because, during the downturn, consumers increasingly adopt a ‘make do and mend’ mentality when it comes to their clothes.
What are the challenges in a retail sector of Europe in this current time of economic slowdown?
Many of the retailers that AEDT represents are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and for them it is particularly important that they have adequate and adapted access to finance. Unfortunately, the financial crisis has limited the SMEs finance supply.
As a result, many European smaller fashion retailers are encountering severe difficulties when it comes to gaining access to finance. This is of course a major obstacle to the creation of new companies and also threatens the existence of existing shops.
Retailers also need to be allowed to benefit from the opportunities offered by the globalised economy. Having access to foreign markets is always important for fashion and footwear retailers, and never more so than during periods of economic slowdown.
It is therefore imperative that barriers to trade and the establishment of European retail companies on foreign soil be dismantled through multilateral and bilateral agreements and AEDT actively calls for and supports initiatives along these lines.
Please detail us about the projects where AEDT is associated and working for the EU retail segment?
In collaboration with its members and other stakeholders, AEDT supports and participates in a number of EU projects, notably in the fields of education, training and ICT/innovation.
In particular, the eBIZ project which promotes a single e-language for the supply chains of the European textile, clothing and footwear industries. In recent years, AEDT has also submitted (together with other organisations) two projects under the EU’s Leonardo da Vinci programme to recognise and validate the skills of retail personnel in the fashion sector.
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