In an ever-changing digital age and saturated luxury industry, modern-day customers who shop for designer clothes and accessories – both on- and offline – are constantly on the look-out for authenticity and want to be engaged in new, unique ways. Anissa Draa, e-buyer at French department store Printemps, discusses the status quo of fashion buying and its challenges and what it takes to perfect a customer's shopping experience.
On how buying has radically evolved in the digital era:
Before the advent of social media, significant efforts were required by a brand to make itself known to industry professionals. It was more difficult for us buyers to discover emerging brands and designer talents, especially the ones that would not stick to the traditional industry codes. With the arrival of social media and, in particular, Instagram, the "hunting grounds" of buyers have expanded dramatically. Indeed, this vast online playground has made it easier to discover new brands, especially the ones that are emerging exclusively on social media, the so-called "digital native brands." This makes it much easier for buyers to uncover new trends, take the pulse of their popularity, and experience future commercial successes first-hand. However, since the expansion of digital technology – both e-commerce and social media – the competitive environment has become even more competitive.The 24-hour online shopping experience puts customer behavior in the spotlight. To satisfy the customer's demand and build customer loyalty, buyers are required to be on the look-out for new and impactful trends. Unlike the physical brick-and-mortar boutiques, e-commerce websites make it easier for customers to behave in a volatile way, as they usually have several e-commerce tabs open whenever they shop online and are able to switch from one to the other very easily and compare the offer and product selection at any time. When a buyer is purchasing products for an e-commerce platform, she or he has to keep in mind that potential clients "scroll" and "switch" very quickly – that they have less time and patience to do long hours of online research. The editorial vibe of an online product selection must, therefore, be very inspiring and distinctive.
On the differences between supervising purchases for a physical store and an e-commerce platform:
The two approaches are quite similar, and yet the online one allows us to have more precious insights into customer behavior. In both cases, the selection must be visually strong, balanced in terms of product categories, and highly representative of the primary sources of inspiration for the collection. When buying for a physical store, it is crucial to plan your purchase in relation to the retail space by considering storage capacities, future visual merchandizing animations, and theme rotations during the season in relation to the delivery drops. When it comes to online stores, there are no such retail space constraints; instead, we have to make strong product choices to capture and maintain the customer's attention on the e-commerce page. In a matter of seconds – and just after a few scrolls – you have to be able to draw your potential customer's attention to a product and make her or him want to add the product to the online shopping cart. And this is a real challenge! E-commerce platforms also allow multi-brands to integrate new designer brands more efficiently, and to experiment further and to innovate. Online stores provide a much more detailed analysis of the products and brands that are successful and, therefore, help to refocus or redefine a store's brand and product selection in a more targeted way.
On a buyer's daily challenges across all retail channels (boutique, department store, e-commerce, social media):
Buyers must always be alert both to new trends and emerging brands as well as to the potential hype of tomorrow. You have to keep a sharp eye on everything that is happening in the sector, and you must remain open to the unexpected and be curious without any preconceptions and trust your intuition. In my opinion, talent and creativity are everywhere, and up-and-coming designers are just waiting to be discovered. It is important for buyers to think outside the box, take risks, and innovate in order to build a distinctive and robust offer. The significant new challenge for buyers is to be more responsive and to be one step ahead of social media trends. By digitizing their businesses, brands are in direct contact with their customers and set a new tempo. In a way, the lifespan of new collections has become increasingly shorter – leading to customer fashion fatigue more quickly. It is, therefore, essential to be constantly up-to-date and vigilant for the industry's next big thing.
On the actual relevance of new-gen buying formats, such as drops, capsules, and pop-ups:
Paradoxically, a fashion season is both long and short. Long because the lifespan of a pre-collection lasts nearly 8 months and at the same time short because the collections follow one another at a frantic pace. During the lifespan of a collection, it is crucial to animate it and ensure that it is dynamically brought to life. The different "drops" of a collection's delivery allow brands to inject newness over the months, to offer freshness, and thus to make the customer come back both in the physical store and on the e-commerce platform. However, the "capsules" that were once intended to create excitement and exclusivity throughout the fashion season are sometimes overused and trivialized, which ultimately leads to a decrease of their appeal and impact on the potential customer. The industry's over-frequent production of capsule collections also conditions the customer to get accustomed to a frantic pace of new product releases. However, in the context of the industry's current actions related to sustainability, the actual necessity of such a frenetic industry pace is highly debatable and might eventually become obsolete. Pop-ups, for their part, can have a true impact on the customer by creating a new and exclusive experience around the products, both on the physical and digital retail channels, that goes beyond product purchase and allows a real get-together between the customer and the designer.
On what it takes for a buyer to invest in a brand (established Maison vs. young designer):
Depending on the brand, different questions may arise. For a young designer, I will mainly question his creative strength, his differentiating elements in relation to all existing brands, his commitment values. However, it is also necessary to analyze the economic balance of the brand. I will look at the structure of the brand's offer, its price positioning, its production and delivery capacities, and its first choices in terms of distribution. For an established Maison, the fundamental questions I ask myself every season are mostly about the impact of the Maison's creative direction on the loyalty of the clientele. For instance, when a new creative director takes over the helm of a Maison, it is necessary to understand the brand’s new strategy – from product design to price positioning – and to anticipate whether this new approach will be a successful one or not.
On how to find the "next big thing" in a saturated luxury industry:
It takes a great sense of curiosity and patience to find the industry's next disruptor: it usually starts with a fortunate encounter of a designer whose name continues to resonate in your mind, even after a busy fashion month. A disruptor is a designer who has been able to create his own creative language while offering a competitive price/quality ratio that will hardly be found elsewhere. In this context, as a buyer, you need to trust your experience and your intuition if you really want to be able to discover the young designers that will make tomorrow's fashion industry. The market being very saturated, it is essential to keep a critical eye on trends and to think outside of the box. Discovering new talent is, in fact, a permanent editing process – an ongoing quest for the unknown. A designer who has been out there for a little while might just become the industry's next big thing overnight, so a buyer needs to keep a designer's potential on her or his mind and determine the ideal moment to invest before a competitor does. Overall, it takes a lot of intuition, persistence, and dedication if you wish to discover the designers of tomorrow.
About the author:
Anissa Draa is a fashion buyer and currently works for Printemps, one of France's most reputed department stores next to Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, and BHV. Before working as a fashion buyer, Draa has worked in retail, digital project management, and visual merchandising. She started her career at Maison Christian Dior and has worked for Gucci and Givenchy.