Staying In The Apparel Retail Game: Right Item, Right Time, Right Place, And Right Experience
Consumers are spending less on the things sold at brick and mortar stores and more on experiences
As a result, sales at many department stores and retailers are flat-lining or worse. Recent data published by the United States Commerce Department suggests that while consumers are not buying more apparel, they are spending 5-10% more at restaurants and bars, or on sports equipment, travel, home improvements, or automobiles. They appear to be wearing their old clothes longer, but are more often going on weekend trips, the movies and dinner, hanging out with friends and having beers at the local pub.
Additionally, Census data and department store results for 2015 indicate that when consumers are buying apparel, 20% or more of their purchases are being made online. In response to this and other factors, Macy’s has recently announced plans to close physical stores while focusing more resources into e-commerce. In seeming irony, Amazon has recently done the contrary, by announcing its plans to open hundreds of new brick and mortar stores. Apple and FedEx each have many tangible locations that are always bustling. Every time a new iPhone is released, I see long lines out the doors. So, brick and mortar isn’t dead yet, and it probably never will be. It still has its place. All the while, e-commerce, or web retail, is growing.
Bottom line, to stay in the retail apparel game you have to appeal to the customer of our new age. I don’t know if she is a “Millennial” or what, but the evidence is that she is still buying apparel through both the Internet and via tangible retail locations. If you want her shopping at your brick and mortar store, you have to realize she is more into the experience than the objects for sale. She doesn’t want to spend an hour going through racks and racks of inventory like her mother always has. She probably wants the option to do her purchasing online via her mobile phone or iPad. Today’s consumer will visit your brick and mortar apparel store, but there is a catch. She wants to spend her time well, and she wants easy access to the right items, at the right time, and in the right place. She wants to be able to say to herself, “now that was a perfect shopping experience!” This sounds like a tall order, but I believe appealing to this new experiential consumer will be to the apparel retailer’s benefit.
The Right Item at the Right Time, and in the Right Place
When your customer walks in the front door of your retail store, she will likely be texting on her iPhone. She knows exactly what she wants, so your merchandise needs to catch her eye immediately. If she doesn’t spot it, or can’t find her size immediately, you are likely to lose a sale, or even worse, a customer. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. A Microsoft research study strongly suggests that due to the influence of the digital age, average human attention spans have shortened from 12 to 8 seconds. I believe this is directly tied to how much time a shopper is going to spend in your apparel retail brick and mortar store. In short, the apparel your customers want has to be immediately available to them. If it is close to Valentine’s Day, they will want red and heart shapes. If it is summer time, they will want swimsuits. If it is winter time, they will be after coats scarves and mittens. As we have seen, we are now in an instant gratification culture with shortened attention spans. There is no longer a lot of planning ahead. Remember how before we had mobile phones we’d plan meetings weeks in advance, and everyone showed up at the right time and place without changing details? Now meeting details are constantly changing, by the second, through our mobile phones. I can’t remember the last time I had a meeting without having last minute details changed by a slew of text messages. Shopping likewise once involved a lot of planning ahead and that has changed too.
This challenge begs the obvious question: how do I turn my inventory faster? If as a retailer, I’m going to have to be more responsive to immediate consumer demands, I have to move my inventory more often. I need shorter inventory cycles. There are several answers. One is to work with your suppliers on ways to shorten procurement cycles and to better forecast consumer demand. Another way is to start buying online. When you use Internet purchasing resources instead of waiting for the next trade show, you are able to speed up a lot of your purchasing activities by weeks or months. Additionally, you’ll often have more vendors, styles, inventories, and competitive prices available because you’ll be exposed to a broader marketplace. In short, like your customer, you need to leverage technology to get the right item, at the right time, and at the right place.
The Right Experience at the Apparel Brick and Mortar Store
What is the right experience for your apparel customer? What do you have to do to retain them so they keep coming back and buying at your store? To answer this question, I have to share a little bit of what I gleaned from an article in Forbes, written by Micah Solomon. The main point I took out of this article is that the last thing the consumer wants these days is to have to “queue up at your register.” It isn’t as much about whether the transaction takes place on an old fashioned cash register or an iPad. What matters most is how easy is it for your customers to walk in your door, pick up what they want, to do it quickly, and to make payment and leave without having to endure any substantial waiting time. In short, consumers these days want visiting your store to be like visiting a store online. They can quickly find what they want, make payment with a few clicks, and move on to their next task or text. They probably would rather be having a beer with friends at the pub, planning their weekend trip, or browsing which new movies are playing down the street.
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Content provided courtesy of Simparel