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Retailers Get A Boost From Reality TV

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NBC’s latest reality show Fashion Star is pioneering this year’s most entertaining fashion trend: reality television shows launching fashion lines at major retailers. This cross-platform concept, in which viewer engagement is defined by the model of retail, is advertising at its very best–urging consumers to buy from retailers via an hour-long primetime TV show.

Halfway through its premiere season, Fashion Star has placated mediocre ratings with impressive store sales. The show premiered on March 13th with 4.55 million viewers tuning in. Last Tuesday’s Nielson ratings saw the show match its season high with 4.65 million viewers. Out of the ad-sustained programs that aired in primetime on broadcast networks that evening, Fashion Star ranked 12 out of 15.

To creators James Deutch and E.J. Johnston’s credit, Fashion Star has tread unknown territory – combining classic reality TV contestant/mentor drama while delving into the business of apparel buying. Each week, designers present a showcase of three to four pieces to representatives from Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and H&M. The buyers, if they like what they see, make a monetary “offer” and bid in competing amounts for the opportunity to sell the garments in their store. The gimmick of Fashion Star is that viewers are able to buy the clothes that get an offer the very next day.

Both Saks and H&M saw increases in website traffic on both the day of the premier and the day after. In one short hour, both retailers boosted sales and built their brand image. Macy’s, however, did not see the same lift in daily reach. H&M’s total sales for March were up 26% from the year prior with a 16% increase in comparable sales. Saks saw a 6.2% increase in sales and a 6.4% increase in comparable sales for the same period. For March, the company’s strongest categories included women’s contemporary apparel. Macy’s same-store sales rose 6.9% from the prior year.

While this new platform for fast fashion and broadcast retailing has seen steady success on the apparel side of the competition, Fashion Star is certainly not without its criticisms. The speed at which the winning designs sell out online, even before episodes end, implies that the retailers are purposefully limiting stock. Retail chains appear cautious about the advance production of winning items from previously taped episodes.

If consumers continue to walk away from the show empty-handed, Fashion Star’s Nielson ratings will certainly be jeopardized. If retailers strive to meet the demand caused by the marketing of millions of viewers, partnerships with leading entertainment platforms in pop culture will make them immediate consumer destinations.

Wisconsin-based Kohl’s is the next retailer to launch a collaborative pop culture fashion line. The newly created American Idol brand Authentic Icon (AI) will be available exclusively at Kohl’s and Kohls.com beginning April 2012, to coincide with American Idol’s 11th season on FOX.

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