With all of fashion retail essentially existing online during the COVID-19 crisis, brick-and-mortar is among the hardest hit industries.
While stores are closed, retailers are working determinedly in the background to set up a foundation for success when isolation orders lift. In China, this has already happened, and the outlook is hopeful: consumers in the country are flocking to stores and “revenge buying” to make up for lost time. But retail experts are less confident that the same outlook will be shared throughout the world.
In a Vogue Global Conversation webinar last week, Tory Burch CEO Pierre-Yves Roussel, Nordstrom president and chief brand officer Pete Nordstrom and La Rinascente vice chairman Vittorio Radice shared predictions on the future of retail. Though they stated that European stores would likely open up by the end of May, they do not expect consumers in Europe and the U.S. to bounce back to their old habits as quickly as their counterparts in China.
“We’re going to open up, and that is going to probably be a gradual situation where you can regain customers’ confidence around safety,” said Nordstrom. “We need to ease into whatever that new normal is going to be and then we’ve got to be prepared and flexible to have our stores be responsive to what’s in the best interest of customers.”
Rather than force an old way of thinking, retailers should use this time to strategize completely, he added.
“If you started this business from scratch today, you would probably do it differently than some of these legacy practices,” he said. “What’s been inspiring to me and I’m sure for the others is that we all find ourselves in a situation where we have mutual problems to solve.”
Coming together to solve these problems was a top priority for Tory Burch, as the label was a driving force in getting the CFDA and other retail industry trade groups to request government support for things like employee payroll, rent and financing.
And retailers aren’t just working with one another to keep their industry afloat. They’re also working diligently with their supply chain, be it stores or distribution centers.
“To serve customers, you need a great supply chain network. They don’t exist as separate functions anymore,” said Nordstrom, who noted that the department store is able to fulfill online orders from its stores, essentially using them as warehouses for the time being.
When stores re-open, experts agreed that they will have to abandon their tried-and-true methods. Metrics will no longer be measured by the number of sales per square feet, discounts will likely work on a different schedule and brand discovery will be a larger part of the in-store experience.
And according to Radice, retail has needed a shakeup like this for a while.
“People want retail to change, and this crisis is a catalyst to do that,” he said. “The industry was designed like this when the scale was much smaller—now, the scale is enormous. And if you keep the same calendar; the same events, you end up having a problem.”
While it may take some time for shoppers to go back to stores in the same numbers as before the crisis, brick and mortar will always be a vital force in the fashion industry simple because humans are social beings. Nowhere is this more true than in Italy, where La Rinascente’s flagship in Milan stands alongside one of the city’s liveliest piazzas.
“Take the analogy of restaurants. You can cook at home and you can have food delivered to your home, but people still go to restaurants, and they love going to restaurants not only because they want to have great food, but they want to be with friends,” Roussel said. “Retail is [similarly] becoming more and more of a social dimension.”