The bigger Bubbl with Harriet Posner of Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design

“Life is neither static nor unchanging. With no individuality, there can be no change, no adaptation and, in an inherently changing world, any species unable to adapt is also doomed.” ― Jean M. Auel

For those of you that may not know, the above quote is from an author responsible for a wonderful series of books called Earth’s Children. These books are centred around the coexistence of two of the earliest forms of humans (Cro-Magnons & Neanderthals), at a point where the evolution of man was painfully birthing itself through trial and error amid a backdrop of a hostile landscape of new and frightening challenges and enemies (there’s also lots of romance but that’s not relevant to my point so let’s park that..)

Making way for the next wave can be a painful experience, unless you are willing to become like water (thanks Bruce Lee) – but we are once again faced with that choice – are we drowning or are we riding the wave?

I’ve watched everything play out from the comfort of my flat, wearing my now trademark lockdown uniform of shorts and a vest. Buying things just hasn’t been on my mind. I actually quite enjoy looking like a weak sickly roadie. I am not travelling anywhere. I am not seeing shop fronts or billboards. I’m not seeing beautiful people to make me feel inferior. I’m not going out anywhere nice so I don’t need to look nice.

And guess what else….I GOT RID OF INSTAGRAM!

I’ll give you a minute to recover.

My reasons for that are personal and I’m not gonna go all Russell Brand on you and tell you you’re a sheep for looking at friends’ pictures or whatever he’s into these days (seriously mate, tell some jokes again!)

The point is, I am now a much harder target to be sold to. I’m definitely not the only one, either.

Whether my current state of blissful ignorance continues into next month is yet to be seen (I’m very fickle) but retail as a whole absolutely needs to address a very significant shift in attitude and circumstance.

The evolution of the customer is happening before our very eyes. We’ve simplified. We’ve re-evaluated. We’ve shed our old skin and we are beginning to emerge from our lockdown cocoons. We want more of what’s important to us. We want less irrelevance. Time is precious. People are precious. To the wonderful people that make up the vast landscape of retail, I am excited to see what you come up with.

Today’s Bigger Bubbl guest, Harriet Posner (Programme Director at Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design and author of Marketing Fashion: Strategy, Branding and Promotion) is not only hugely successful in her own right, but she is guiding the next generation, passing on her knowledge and expertise to those who will be leading lights in what will hopefully be a better future for us all.

Harriet Posner, Programme Director at Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design

In a rare trip to my wardrobe, I put a good shirt on to have a zoom chat with Harriet. I really do get the best guests! Over to you, Harriet!

1. Like most industries, retail has been significantly impacted by the global pandemic – how can the industry adapt to this new challenge?

This is a big challenge. Firstly, I think there is likely to be two main responses by customers – those that pare back realising after the pandemic that they don’t need so much stuff. They may choose not to purchase so much and make do with what they have. There will be those that decide to purchase but buy better quality that will last longer. There will also be those forced to cut back due to losing their job or pay cuts etc etc. Meanwhile, there are those that will be so excited to be able to shop again in a physical environment that they will be happy to venture back to stores as soon as they can. It will be interesting to see how consumer behaviour changes and there is no doubt that e-tail is key and will remain prominent – certainly, those that didn’t purchase this way previously may have been converted to the convenience during the Covid lockdown. The challenge for fashion retailers to engage customers through e-commerce and find ever more accurate and engaging ways to communicate details of fabrication, fit etc. This remains a key issue for the sector.

Another interesting area is Queue Culture. This has been a growing trend, started by the likes of Supreme and is now inbuilt into the ethos and customer experience of many brands. Social distancing will necessitate queuing, and this is now likely for most fashion retailers when it was not part of their culture originally. It might work in a similar way to the luxury accessory brand Goyard. They operate a queue system because they only let a certain number of people in the store at a time – the number that can actually be served by staff. So this model may be what all retail stores will need to employ. Michael Sheridan Co-Founder of Sheridan & Co, states that the queue will become another Touchpoint and that, “ it is fundamental that we treat this experience as a touchpoint in its own right and consider ways in which we can make the retail experience better – especially if consumers are confronted with long waiting times.”

Suggestions to make queuing time more engaging are that brands might provide entertainment and one area that is growing especially for luxury brands is their engagement with gaming – this is a significant area where technology/entertainment could be used to help. Valentino, for example, have showcased their collections virtually with Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons with 20 looks from the SS20 collection available to wear virtually on the players’ Animal Crossing avatar. Gucci has just announced a gaming collaboration with Tennis Clash. This allows players to discover exclusive Gucci outfits, and they can purchase matching real fashion items from the Gucci website. This is a really interesting development and sets up some very exciting routes for the customer journey and CX. Louis Vuitton has also released a collection inspired by the League of Legends game. So, this is a major area to watch – expect more gaming collabs in the future.

According to Katie Baron in an article for Forbes (2020) a recently launched platform called ADA is a new breed of gamification which mixes consumer-creation, social networking and real-time e-commerce. If fashion brands continue to develop in this area, then I can foresee proprietary games that could be played using fashion branded ‘skins’ while queuing for the actual product to purchase in-store. If in addition there are unique special products available only to those who queued, then – there could be benefits to the whole process.

2. COVID-19 aside, what issues does the wider retail industry need to address?

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated a growing problem with retail and fashion retail in particular. Physical retail has been in trouble and this will continue.

3. Undoubtedly, we are all looking at our screens much more now – how do companies compete for our attention and is there a risk of overkill?

Yes, I think there could be there is a risk of overkill. It is interesting how much I have been on screen – with teaching and meetings on Zoom, so I can imagine that there could be digital overload for quite a few people. Brands have to think about why they want us to engage? Is it to be entertained, then great shareable content can help. Fashion brands are becoming publishers, they release films, digital content etc. They could morph into entertainment providers – see above with gaming.

So if this continues with the growth of fashion and gaming, then there could be lots more looking at the screen. Brands need to consider what will be fun and interesting and consider a move into the realm of entertainment and engagement. This is also happening in the physical space where store cafes can be a key part of retail strategy for fashion brands, offering a more comprehensive lifestyle experience. More fashion houses are moving into the hospitality market by opening branded cafés restaurants and hotels. There was a very interesting launch of a new restaurant, Oursin at the end of last year as a collaboration between the French fashion label Jacquemus, retail emporium Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées’and gastronomy experts Caviar Kaspia.

Something that I find really interesting is that there are so many people who engage with a brand but don’t buy their products, they engage through social media and the sharing of content with friends, and this brings us back to the idea of gamification, where younger audiences can interact with brand products in the virtual world.

There is a new social platform called Squadded Shopping Party that encourages teens who miss shopping with friends to shop online. Launched by former L’Oréal brand manager Elysa Kahn. The platform was built in conjunction with her father, and it allows engagers (mostly Gen Z girls between 15 -25) to shop in groups on e-commerce sites like Asos, Pretty Little Thing etc. Mimicking the idea of girls going shopping together as a social activity. The Rise of Squad Shopping Vogue Business. (Chitrakorn 2020) So, although this is another example of possible more screen time, it does solve a real-life scenario of social shopping in groups, that might not be so possible if social distancing were to continue.

Interestingly, when I did a customer journey exercise with my students, it turned out that almost all of them took a photo of the item they wished to buy, (if they were in store) and shared the info on the item digitally to get the feedback and validation from a friend before they went ahead with the purchase. Then the friend decided to purchase themselves so nearly every journey resulted in double the number of sales for the brand. The Squadded Shopping Party platform could help brands as groups of shoppers can interact in real-time and give each other feedback just like shopping in the physical world.

4. Can you see a time when online completely replaces bricks and mortar retail stores?

No – I can’t but I think that Bricks and Mortar will morph more into experiential – I can see a time when a fashion brand no longer sells clothes but rather experiences. A place to meet, to learn, to experience interactions but not necessarily purchase. Or a fashion brand will become more like an installation and the purchase would be more like a souvenir, like from a museum gift shop. A democratic approach where larger audiences can interact with the brand and be able to purchase into the brand and the experiences that it offers. VIP customers and those that do buy from the collection would expect something different and would need to be offered have a completely differentiated or bespoke service.

5. How do brands cultivate loyalty and how integral is technology in building these relationships?

Technology will be highly integral to building loyalty. Brands need to consider the customer journey in depth, looking in detail at how a variety of different customer types engage with the brand and how they move between digital and physical spaces. Highly personalised communications are key.

6. How did you get into the industry and what was your journey like to get to where you are today?

I first started in the industry when I was 19 and I got a job at a London Couturier. I made coffees, picked up pins, opened the door to greet clients and did the matching – going out to the suppliers to get trimmings in the right colours for the bespoke garments. I also helped make hats in the millinery department and dressed the models during the fashion shows. It so happened that the gentleman who ran the house, taught at St Martins School of Art and he suggested I took an evening class, so I did the evening class in fashion design and later went on to do my Foundation and then BA in Fashion Design at St Martins, graduating in 1984, the same year as John Galliano.

My next step was to start designing my own collection – as one did in the 80s, you just had a go from your kitchen table. It grew from there, and my collections were stocked in Harvey Nichols and Saks 5th Avenue amongst other world class retailers. My designs sold extremely well, but I didn’t know how to run a business, (this is why I went on to teach the business of fashion, but more of that later!)

Eventually, I closed my business and got a job as a knitwear designer for Esprit moving to live and work in Hong Kong. Through various twists and turns, I got a job as a fashion buyer and returned to work in the UK on the British High street. This is where I learned all the other elements of the industry, from buying, merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing, retailing etc. etc. I then worked freelance for many years as a consultant, designer, marketer and brander. I got into lecturing because I wanted students to understand the business, which I had not been taught when I was at College. At the time there were very few fashion marketing or promotion courses, it was mainly fashion design, so I taught fashion business to designers and milliners, eventually ending up as a Course Leader for BA Fashion Communication. Now my full focus is on curriculum design and supporting students to enter the industry. Oh, and I wrote a book on Fashion Marketing that is used globally as a key textbook.

I love researching the industry and looking for case studies that exemplify what is going on.

7. Finally, how are you doing personally during all of this – what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

So far so good during the pandemic. I live in Norwich so normally spend the week in London and it has been lovely being at home and being in my garden. In my spare time, I walk, garden, cook and read. Very simple things, but I love simplifying my life and not rushing around. The benefit without all the travel is that I have more time to focus and more time to help the students who have been quite fantastic in the way they have adapted to the situation and continued their studies – I am very proud of them and their achievements.

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#Retail #Fashion #Conde Nast College of Fashion & Design #BiggerBubbl