Fashion was hit hard by COVID-19. Mandatory stay-at-home orders, layoffs and a shift to remote work has decreased household budgets and changed consumer shopping behavior. In response, fashion retailers have had to rethink their 2020 marketing strategies, working to answer the following question: How do we stand out from the crowded online retail space to reach and resonate with the COVID-19 consumer?
Brands that historically relied on in-person interactions, poster advertisements and mailbox coupons to drive sales are now struggling with customer engagement. But not all hope is lost. While some shoppers will further tighten their belts, others are increasing their online spending, purchasing luxury “feel-good” items and stay-at-home essentials.
To prevent further revenue loss and appeal to this emerging consumer, savvy fashion retailers are embracing new mobile and online marketing strategies.
1. Emphasize empathy over in-store sales
Before the outbreak, fashion retail was navigating the rise of e-commerce, using mobile marketing to increase foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores. However, in-person shopping became a moot point when storefronts closed in March.
In the early days of the pandemic, brands shifted their language to focus on communicating empathy — relaying safety and employee support plans, as well as store closures and reopening forecasts. Macy’s, for example, moved messaging away from sales toward store updates and charitable actions (i.e., partnering with Meals on Wheels).
Going forward, empathy should remain at the core of your messaging. The pandemic is ongoing, and customers will remain concerned about safety protocols, store closures and corporate responsibility for some time.
2. Alter messaging to fit the current way of life
Prior to COVID-19, messaging was environment-agnostic and relatively neutral, focusing on Level 1.0 personalization (first name, last name, birthday) and generic phrasing, like “clothing you’ll love.” It's far more effective to contextualize messaging to specific situations, like personal holidays, work situations and burgeoning social trends.
During stay-at-home orders, fashion brands that dove into specific messaging to promote products to match new, more sedentary customer lifestyles and casual work settings had the best results. Rent the Runway, for instance, which previously focused on a wide range of formal event and professional clothing, pivoted 180 degrees to promote work-from-home fashion and outfits for digital events.
Other fashion brands chose this boom in workout-from-home classes to promote fitness apparel, or launch fitness-brand partnership campaigns (e.g., J. Crew and New Balance).
3. Promote lesser-known products and services
The pandemic significantly changed consumer spending habits, with the recession forcing many to question which purchases were truly essential. For some retailers, like grocers and pharmacies, product necessity was never questioned.
Fashion retailers faced a different narrative. To boost sales, some fashion retailers turned to market lesser-known items like home decor, fitness accessories and electronics that more closely aligned with customer needs rather than wants. As a result, home essentials have experienced a spike in demand during the pandemic as more consumers spend time cooking for themselves, redecorating and completing long-delayed home improvement projects.
Many aspects of the stay-at-home lifestyle will become the norm. Some consumers will prefer working out at home or working remotely after months in quarantine, and consumers will continue to purchase fashion items to meet these unique needs. It's ultimately up to marketers to understand the specific retail needs of their customers during a crisis, and adapt messaging and product offerings to meet those demands.
Empathy, message alteration and promotional shifts are core strategies to follow when reacting to unprecedented change, and their value is timeless, agnostic of global pandemania or cultural shifts.
Michael Huard is content marketing manager at Iterable.