Have you ever tried to buy a bathing suit in the summer? It’s not easy.
We’ve all been there…we walk into a store in the summer, trying to escape the heat and get a bit of A/C and what do we see on the racks? Winter coats. The opposite is true in the winter – trying to defrost our fingers and toes we walk into a department store to thaw out and on the racks are bathing suits galore. What is going on?
Apparel shipping seasons have always baffled my mind from the time I was a little girl. I never understood why stores were trying to sell coats when all I had on my mind were swimming pools and ice pops. There’s something counter-intuitive to this method of selling, however, “wear it later” deliveries are nothing new to the fashion industry. What is new is the recognition that the recession has had long lasting repercussions on how consumers buy.
“Wear It Later”
When the economy was healthier, there was something to be said for the anticipation of shopping for the next season. Now, with wallets a bit lighter, shoppers are buying what they need, when they need it – and most of the time – on sale.
When I started my own clothing line I saw the benefit of shipping early. The cycle went something like this: Get your product on the shelf as early in the season as possible to lengthen the selling window; the earlier the stuff arrives, the more likely the store will re-order. Of course, this was during a healthier economy when stores were actually re-ordering.
Now in the recession, we hear about a store closing its doors every week and there isn’t much re-ordering happening. But, the shipping schedules have not changed. Instead, brands ship out their product early in the season, only to have their product dramatically marked down by the time it’s actually in season and relevant. This new system has essentially trained shoppers to buy on sale. Look at the way you shop – when was the last time you paid full price for something? One need only look at all the sales at boutiques and department stores and burgeoning online discount outlets like Ideeli.com, Gilt.com, RueLaLa.com and TheOutnet.com to see that consumers don’t want to pay full price.
“Wear It Now”
Designer Donna Karan has long been a proponent of changing deliveries from a “wear it later” to a “wear it now” model. For a while her cries went unheard, but now with the current state of the economy, her arguments are gaining traction among the fashion industry. Her solution?
It’s very simple, we just stop. It is not nuclear science, it’s really simple. We deliver Fall clothes in August like back-to-school, we change the calendar, we go to stores and say, ‘Okay, no more getting Fall clothes in July or June so they’re on sale in September when the weather hasn’t changed. We have to go into a system where we’re talking in-season. It’s the way we eat, it’s the way we dress, it’s the way we think. We’ve conditioned the consumer to buy on sale — I don’t want to buy it full price because I can buy it on sale . . . We’ve turned our business into the white sale business.
Other designers echoing Donna Karan’s sentiments include Tommy Hilfiger. It took him 25 years to perfect, but he coordinates his deliveries according to regions, tastes and climates. “[I]t’s not doing anyone any good to not find a swimsuit in July, and to look at wool sweaters and outerwear in July and August. It just doesn’t make sense.”
(The Fashion System: Tommy Hilfiger by Bridget Foley, WWD, 3.23.2010
So what do retailers have to say? Surprisingly, they seem to be on board as well. Linda Fargo, senior vice president of fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman stated:
If there’s been any upside to the recession, it should be a heightened drive to retool the status quo of how we have assumed business was to be done….We took for granted for too long that women were eager to buy a little slip of a summer dress in January and a heavy dark wool tweed jacket in June and store it in her closet for three to four months until she could wear it. It would be a certain win-win for everyone if the entire fashion cycle of production and consumption shifted closer to a need-it-now cadence.
(Deliveries Out of Control: The Year Ahead by Marc Karimzadeh, WWD, 1.25.2010)
Other retailers are noticing that fewer customers are planning out their wardrobes far in advance. Senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, Ken Downing stated that “the mind-set of the consumer is more ‘buy-now, wear-now’ than ever.” (Deliveries Out of Control: The Year Ahead by Marc Karimzadeh, WWD, 1.25.2010)
The Changing Tide
With support gaining momentum from designers and retailers, “wear it now” may become a new shopping reality. However, any change takes time – I just wonder how long an industry that prides itself on fast changes like the constant turn over of trends will take to completely adjust how it does business. Is it really as simple as Karan suggests and just stopping the early deliveries?
The new momentum in the fashion industry to adjust the delivery schedule is definitely a step in the right direction. If sales are hurting, it makes sense to implement protocols that will give customers what they want, when they want it. There’s also something more intuitive and natural to seeing clothing that’s in season on the racks – the virtual equivalent of eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.
When it comes to recovering from the recession, I wonder if clothing delivered in season will be enough. Consumers are still hurting and even those that are not are buying cautiously. Though it seems we may be slowly making our way out of the recession, as a society that shops, we’ll be feeling the ramifications of the recession long after it’s over.
Once a consumer has been trained to shop on sale, clearance or markdown, how do you get them to buy at full price again? Good design, and having pieces that are relevant and in season will definitely help, but I think that the situation is a bit more complex than just changing deliveries. We’ll also have to change shoppers’ mindsets. Next week, I’ll explore what it will take to get consumers buying again – at full price.
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