Retail Suicide

It’s a known fact that fashion retail is in the crapper right now. Sales are off, markdowns rule and companies are more interested in analytics than creativity. As I strolled through the mainstream shops, seeking gifts for a fashionable almost 18-year-old, I was dumbfounded by how dumb retailers really are.

Store after store was filled with lackluster merchandise, less than enthusiastic employees, and signs announcing high percentages off, and “buy one get one” schemes. I literally saw the same items in every single store, with nobody bold enough to put their own spin on them.

After spending decades in the fashion world, as a designer and retail design executive, let me “woman-splain” to you how it works.

Teams of designers labor to create a collection that the merchants or buyers purchase for the stores. Financial plans are considered, as are prior successes. Fast forward to line review, when the designers show the buyers what they created, based on these requirements. In a perfect world, there was a collaboration of creativity and business acumen, meeting somewhere in the middle to create an assortment that would delight and inspire the customer. In the real world, especially when business is tough, analysis paralysis takes over and the product often gets so watered down that the message is lost. I am willing to bet that most of the product decisions this year were belabored, re-assessed and reworked many times to get to this place, at great emotional expense to the teams. Experienced and talented designers have in many cases been replaced by less experienced workers who shop and interpret what’s already out there. This had to have been the case at many stores where the exact same item appeared at all. Organizations like the Gap have done away with their high-level design talent, in favor of merchants partnering with Google analytics.
The result; same old same old products, and markdowns galore.
Don’t even get me started on the store environments. Other than a little music, there is nothing compelling about any of them. Don’t ask me about the morale of the staff, as only one person approached me in the eight stores I entered.

Come Monday morning, or in this particular case, Tuesday, the teams will gather to rehash the holiday sales. Some will blame the weather, some will blame where Christmas fell on the calendar this year, and some will blame marketing for picking the wrong the shade of red for the sale banners. The reality is that they all need to take a good hard look into the mirror and blame themselves. Shame on you for not creating an environment that draws people in and makes them feel festive and inspired. Shame on you for not stepping out and creating a product assortment that is compelling and proprietary to your brand. Shame on you for either not hiring real creative talent or even worse, for squelching it.

Gone are the days when collections were created with a brand in mind, and a desire to stand out in the sea of sameness. Gone are the days when we felt it in our gut that something was the next big thing. Gone are the days when shopping was an experience, not a chore. If the tactile and interactive experience isn’t pleasant, I might as well let my fingers do the walking and let Amazon bring it to my door, quickly and free of charge.

Retail is dead, and it is a result of suicide provoked by fashion executives who lack the vision to nurture and develop original and inventive thoughts.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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