MSFW: Retailers, innovate or be left behind

MSFW: Retailers, innovate or be left behind
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Australian retailers are too risk adverse and are struggling to keep up with local consumer’s expectations of constant innovation.

Vicki Stirling, director of brand consultancy Sunrise Junction and former Pacific Brands marketer, said local retailers are “a bit afraid” of innovation.

“The Australian market can be a lot more aggressive with innovation and take a lot more risks,” she said during Melbourne Spring Fashion Week’s The Plenary panel discussion.

“Innovation and risks come hand in hand. You can innovate but there is no guarantee of a sale. There is a big risk element in Australia, people are a bit afraid.

“But you have to got to constantly change up, consumers expect it.”

Michael Wittner, co-CEO and product director at footwear brand Wittner Shoes, said the integration of new technology with bricks and mortar retailing is set to drive innovation, with the mobile wallet one of the most “exciting” developments yet to come.

He predicts an “explosion” of pop-up stores when mobile banking takes up, which he forecast would occur at some point next year.

While the discourse surrounding bricks and mortar retailers focuses on their ecommerce capabilities, Elysha Sullivan senior menswear buyer for Levi, believes traditional retailers still have the upper hand when it comes to customer service.

“You cannot beat old fashioned customer service. That is something bricks and mortar stores still have over and above anybody else.

“That is why you are probably finding some of the vertical retailers are doing better than the department stores because they are getting that service right.”

Helen O’Connor (pictured), the creative force behind the Thurley fashion brand, said “old fashioned service” is how the brand, which has concept stores in David Jones, is trying to differentiate itself.

The brand is heavily weighted towards bricks and mortar, with an transactional function to be launched on its site soon.

“There is an entire generation that is older than us, my  mother’s age, they do not understand internet shopping and they never will,” O’Connor said.

“They are going to be around for a lot longer and they have money to spend. You have to respect that side of retail as well.”

Wittner said the footwear label has “really struggled” to replicate the in-store customer service online. The brand is soon to launch its click and collect service but this has presented its own challenges.

“You have to have stock in the right place, for a traditional retail chain that is really hard because you are decentralised. Your stock is everywhere around Australia.”

At the forefront of all retailers minds is how to get out of the “dangerous” sales cycle, Levi’s Sullivan said.

While vertical retailers are bucking the traditional sales season, there is another dimension added for brands that are carried in department stores and have stand alone stores.

“It’s about instilling customer confidence, no customer wants to buy something and then its on sale three weeks later because it makes you less inclined to spend money in that store,” Sullivan said.

“Everybody at the moment is struggling with that discounting drug and how to get off it. Sales lifts going into a sale period are less and less because they are more frequent.”

O’Connor agreed that retailers need to be “really cautious not to educate to buy on sale”, adding that the traditional fashion cycles and seasons are “quite difficult and frustrating”.

“I’m delivering my first winter drop in January, by the time March rolls around the sales and discounts need to start and the cold weather has barely even began.

“I know it’s a seismic shift they are with in the US but no one seems prepared to hold back deliveries.”

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