The glitz and glam of runway shows are great but as Mercedes Gonzales, director of Global Purchasing Companies, put it, “Besides knowing what colors, fabrications or silhouettes are in style, we also have to think about how the consumer is thinking.” Speaking Wednesday at a Texworld USA seminar in New York, she outlined the top trends and consumer preferences reshaping the retail landscape.
We’re living in the age of the customer, and brands and retailers must adapt or die. Consumers are increasingly craving customized experiences, ranging from something as simple as a monogrammed tote all the way up to a made-to-measure suit—and price is not a problem.
“I call it the avocado effect: People will pay for the things that they want,” Gonzales said, noting that consumers aren’t money-poor; they’re time-poor. That’s why they expect every interaction, no matter how menial, to be tailored to their individual needs.
“This is why the specialty retailer is doing well,” she noted, pointing out that Anthropologie, for instance, is a national chain disguised as a boutique. Even Target and Walmart are opening small-format locations. “Some of the big stores have realized they need to act small, too.”
It comes as news to no one that in today’s fast-moving market the key to survival is simple: Agility. “You have to be nimble enough to react daily to what’s going on,” Gonzales said, joking that the sales forecasts of yesteryear have no place in retail now. “We as an industry don’t know what’s going to sell for back-to-school—I can’t tell you what’s going to sell in five years!”
Most companies never thought social media would one day impact their supply chain, but the reality is that brands can use insights from those networks to predict demand and leverage their position in the market. “If you put something on social media that gets a crazy amount of hits you have to be able to go deeper into it,” she said. Plus: “Online cannot be your only channel. You have to be in all places at all times to sell.”
Woo With Wearable Tech
Think wearable technology is just another time-suck? Think again. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, it will soon become an integral part of many retail experiences. In fact, 72 percent of people surveyed said it should improve customer service, while one in two Millennial-aged respondents said they would use wearables if they had apps or features that rewarded loyal customers.
“Wearable technology used to be ugly. Now it’s beautiful, fitted and has multiple functions,” Gonzales said, adding, “In the future, everybody will have some kind of monitoring device, and how we incorporate it into fashion and accessories is very important.”
Her favorite: a T-shirt created at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, made with nanotechnology cells woven into the fiber that can collect enough kinetic energy throughout the day to charge a cellphone
Create an Emotional Connection
What kinds of commercials are most likely to trigger spending? There’s no easy answer. While 80-year-old Joan Didion starred in the spring ads for Celine, Joni Mitchell, 70, was front and center for Saint Laurent and 93-year-old Iris Apfel appeared in Kate Spade—and the overarching message was one of empowerment—Gonzales disagreed with brands putting disabled or overweight people on the runway or in marketing campaigns.
She somewhat controversially said, “I don’t want to see handicapped people or fat people representing fashion. This does not create emotion—it creates sympathy. This is not aspirational. This is not fantasy. This is not the right emotion you want to create.”
Instead, she said, “fashion marketing is about creating a want where there wasn’t a need. You have to create an emotion, a desire, a feeling were [consumers] can’t live without it.”