It’s been a challenging few years for the retail industry, and apparel retailers have been among those hit the hardest. And while there may not be a single explanation for why this is, there are a few key drivers. For one, it’s no longer fashion brands that set the trends, rather customer expectations are now driven by influencers on Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms. Compound that with competition from emerging, more nimble retailers and e-commerce giants such as Amazon making a play in the space, and you have the perfect combination for friction and challenges.
So, how do fashion and apparel retailers evolve and stay relevant in today’s highly competitive, social media-driven landscape?
You must build a “lifestyle” brand — plain and simple.
This is a risky endeavor that requires a very clear vision and a deep knowledge of your core customers and, as such, there are many opportunities for missteps. The benefits, however, can be substantial and lucrative if a brand establishes itself as a truly unique business capable of being an integral part of customers’ lives.
So, how can a retailer or brand take the leap and successfully craft itself into a lifestyle brand? There may not be a simple answer, but getting to know your customers, building a well-crafted image and a carefully curated online assortment can certainly catalyze this transformation.
Get to know your customers
Your brand may want to add new pieces to your collection, but how do you know what your customers want? As a lifestyle brand, simple product missteps can ruin your customers’ trust. But, as is usually the case in today’s e-commerce landscape, data is the key to avoiding those missteps. Through a multitude of data collected both in-stores and online, you have access to your customers’ preferences, shopping habits, page visits, etc. — all extremely valuable in building and evolving your customer experience and overall offering.
Amazon has proven again and again that data is key. Instead of selling your customers’ favorite products on Amazon, where you lose access to their habits, maintain autonomy over your apparel and preserve the power to evaluate your own data.
Craft and share your vision
Most fashion brands and retailers have a vision and dedication to serving customers — that’s nothing new. Lifestyle brands, however, take this to an entirely new level. Not only do they serve the customer, they align their brands with customers’ interests, beliefs and attitudes to build a unique connection. Take advantage of the information gathered about your customers, establish a clear-cut vision and identity, and build a community around that to create a true lifestyle brand.
A great way to build a community for your loyal customers is to create an online presence that truly represents the lifestyle your brand represents. The store is a great place for customers to convene, share common interests and experience the essence of your brand. However, an expansive online presence and community can also enhance the in-store experience by offering easy access to not only your product offerings, but a way connect with like-minded individuals and consume relevant content.
Carefully curate products
Now that you’ve collected customer data and established a clear vision, it’s time to use that information to carefully curate your product selection. In order to do so, without carrying additional overhead and inventory, retailers should develop well-vetted brand partnerships that complement the particular lifestyle they’ve chosen to cultivate.
As a best practice, brands should resist the urge to be an “everything store” and focus on creating a curated offering that makes their online experience unique from other apparel brands. When expanding their assortment, a lifestyle brand should only invite select, quality brands and third-party sellers into its platform. When considering inviting a new brand into your online experience, ask the following:
· Do we trust them?
· Would our customers trust them?
· Do they share the same values as our customers?
· Will they represent our brand well?
It’s essential to only offer products that your customer base will embrace as an extension of the brand they love. By expanding your product offering, you will create an opportunity to collect additional data about customers and build an even better understanding of loyal customer groups. These data sets will make you far more in-tune with your customer and as such, help you grow into a sprawling and focused lifestyle brand.
While it’s a bold venture to grow your business into a lifestyle brand, it can have tremendous payoffs. By getting to know your customers, crafting your vision, and investing in a carefully curated online assortment, you can create a better overall customer experience, and, in turn, drive loyalty.
Adrien Nussenbaum is U.S. CEO and co-founder of Mirakl.