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What does the future hold for brick and mortar?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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On Friday Conde Nast held the final in a series of Vogue Conversations, The Future of Brick and Mortar. FashionUnited joined the discussion, a topic that is on every brand’s list as the industry tackles its biggest crisis in decades. The coronavirus has disrupted economies and sees four out of five people’s jobs hit by the pandemic. Consumer behaviour post crisis will never be the same.

Leading the conversation were Peter Nordstrom, Executive Vice President of Nordstrom and a fourth generation family member of the department store group, Pierre Yves Roussel, CEO of Tory Burch and Vittorio Radice, CEO of La Rinascente. Vogue Italia’s Editor in Chief Emanuele Farneti moderated the discussion.

Retail-wise, “not much going on”

Analysing the physical retail landscape in Europe we see stagnation, says Radice. The only noise heard on the streets are ambulances, it is the same all over the world. Companies in various geographies and states of the pandemic will have different priorities, notes Radice, but one thing is certain: operations will not be the same going forward.

Roussel said Tory Burch operates 300 stores, all of which are shut with the exception of China. In the U.S. the crisis has economists on high alert, affecting major industries from aviation, tourism, manufacturing to retail but the impact on the fashion industry is hardly discussed.

How do you keep customers engaged when stores are closed? Nordstrom says retailers must find a way to be relevant with what is going on and to remain customer-focused is the priority. “We are selling items the customer wants, not needs,” Nordstrom said. A skeleton crew in stores is fulfilling and dispatching orders, in line to offer a seamless experience to its e-commerce customers.

Radice says the need for product is very little, and the role of the department store will be one of familiarity, about being a friendly and safe place once social distancing has eased. This will become prove to be vital in a post coronavirus world, where the function of a (department) store will be as much about taking refuge as it will be about purchasing.

The safety procedures that retailers need to implement with new governmental regulations, such as keeping distance and managing number of visitors in the store at any one time, are complicated logistical issues to solve.

Recalibrating the season

When stores reopen realigning with the season will be key to manage product flow so that there is less need for discounting. “This is a great opportunity for a reset,” says Roussel. “If you started from scratch today you would be doing things differently from legacy practices. More common sense is the way forward.”

‘When you commit to stock twelve months in advance you can’t always foresee problems,” said Radice. Going back to artisan ways where each piece is crafted with care and durability in mind will be key.

Tackling excess stock

Excess stock (and excess materials) was a problem before coronavirus and in most cases, it’s a result of the fashion calendar’s relentless pace and the need for constant new collections in stores. As Pierre-Yves Roussel and Pete Nordstrom mentioned in this panel, addressing the problem of waste will begin with changing the way collections are delivered, how long they “live” on the sales floor, and ultimately producing smaller collections.

Sustainability and going forward

Now more than ever, brands are taking a close look at their supply chains and making positive changes in terms of labour, waste, and materials. Going forward, transparency will also be increasingly important, particularly on their websites. One great benefit of the internet is that there is endless room to share information and ideas. That means brands can dedicate entire pages to transparency, should they choose. In fact, in our digital world—and in our post-pandemic world, when the industry’s attention will turn back to climate change—there’s no reason brands shouldn’t disclose information about their supply chain, their materials, their labour, et al. Customers are already asking for this.

Image via La Rinascente

Conde Nast
La Rinascente
Tory Burch