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“Doing more of the same is not an option”

With non-essential retail now working towards a re-opening date of 12 April, BuyersEye’s Julia Redman explains why as well as being a time of great change, it should also be a time of excitement to be in retail.

“There is no feel good way to say this… retail is facing its toughest time in living memory. We are up against an extremely challenging and unique combination of circumstances. Nothing will ever be quite the same again, and we are going to have to use our ingenuity, creativity and flexibility to embrace and facilitate ongoing change, to cope with the ‘new normal’.

Doing more of the same is not an option, as has become very apparent, with the demise of so many formerly successful businesses.

We are like dominoes… when a major retailer like Arcadia or Debenhams goes down, via a CVA or through administration, it inevitably takes many other, smaller businesses with it. By facing into the challenges head on, we can build a new and more resilient way forward, but it is going to be very hard work and will involve significant investment and difficult decisions. It is also a very exciting time to be in this industry, a time of regeneration, newness, bravery and evolution in new product development, technology and processes.

An increased online presence will be essential for most in maintaining growth. Globalisation will also continue to be key – retailers like ASOS and Zara have driven sales through increasing their online presence in overseas markets. Diversification and/or changing the product mix has, for many businesses, protected some revenue, for example moving out of occasionwear and into loungewear or sportswear, in line with the trends through lockdown. Adding new categories, such as homeware, beauty, or accessories, has also broadened the appeal of some fashion businesses over 2021. Speed to market will also remain critical, requiring flexibility in the supply chain, quicker decision making and calculated risk.

Retail value is no longer simply about price vs quality, it is also about inclusivity and sustainability. At every point in the decision making process of the product lifecycle we should be asking ourselves about the impact on the environment, and the people involved in the supply chain.

Gymshark is one of the businesses which has built its success on the back of social media and platforms like Shopify.
Gymshark is one of the businesses which has built its success on the back of social media and platforms like Shopify.

The demise of the old guard in high street retail will naturally encourage the birth and growth of new businesses. This is already evident with the success of online brands like Gymshark, Glossier and Sosandar. All have built their success on the back of platforms such as Shopify, and marketing through Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and now video content on TikTok, Reels, IGTV and Twitch.

However, Primark has shown that it is still very possible to have a successful bricks and mortar business if you get the formula right and never stand still. Diversification into new product areas, incredibly creative VM, amazing prices, sustainable product development and the introduction of more interactive experiences, along with destination departments… it suddenly becomes very apparent why so many of our high street stores have struggled to remain relevant.

What all of these successful businesses have in common is that they have a deep and thorough understanding of their customer, and are quick to evolve with a changing consumer mind set. Their connections with their customers are highly targeted, encouraging them to engage on a deeper level.

Retail is built on people and relationships, conversation and the ability to share ideas and creative processes. With the vaccine comes a light at the end of the tunnel. We will have to maintain our optimism, resilience and downright dogged determination to succeed in the meantime.”

Julia Redman is founder of BuyersEye, a retail buying and sourcing consultancy. Having spent nine years at M&Co, latterly as head of buying, kidswear, Kylie, menswear and homeware, and before that in senior buying positions with retailers including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Woolworths, Julia relaunched BuyersEye in 2019 with the mission of supporting buying and product development teams to achieve their goals. She can be contacted by clicking here or check out the BuyersEye website here.

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2021 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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