COVID-19’s Effect on Apparel E-Commerce and Consumer Purchasing Behavior
As early as April 2020, Forrester had predicted global retail sales to record a $2.1 trillion loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We've seen the retail industry go through a fundamental shift, with an average decline of 9.6 percent globally in 2020.
With supply chains throttled and consumers asked to stay indoors, the world witnessed a sharp decline in consumer spending on restaurants, travel, health, fashion, and beauty. Interestingly, as more consumers find themselves stuck at home, idly scrolling through social media, consumer engagement with apparel and fashion brands have steadily increased. However, the challenge is to convert this casual traffic to actual sales. Many consumers are restraining from discretionary spending, and even top players in the apparel space are scrambling to adapt to such consumer behavior’s economic repercussions.
While the time frame for global economic recovery remains uncertain, many experts predict a “U-shaped” recovery that will leave us at rock bottom for some time. Likewise, specific shifts in consumer spending will likely persist in a post-pandemic future as homebound consumers become accustomed to a “new normal” of spending less and shopping more through direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) and digital commerce channels.
Omnichannel is the New Survival Mantra
Some positive trends are slowly surfacing in the fashion retail industry as we move further into 2021. As consumers adapt daily to the pandemic-induced changes, they're experimenting with new purchasing experiences like never before. Meeting the demands of this increasingly mobile-first or mobile-only audience will require retailers to be agile in embracing the omnichannel experience in its true sense. What truly is omnichannel experience? Check out Apple's strategy. It provides a seamless experience however you engage with the company: its website, stores, retail partners.
To bring the digital world into brick-and-mortar stores and take the in-store experiences online, retailers need a robust product information management (PIM) solution. PIM helps organize, enrich and make channel-neutral product information ready for retailers so that they can extend product delivery across the web, mobile, social media, in-stores, and other third-party channels and engage customers with a seamless omnichannel experience. With the convergence of physical and digital worlds, PIM delivers on the promise of enhancing customer experience (CX) across multiple channels throughout the buying journey while maintaining cost efficiency and operational flexibility.
Product Availability is the New Influencer
In its latest study on CPG buying behavior as a result of COVID-19, a leading brand intelligence firm found that 64 percent of consumers noted "perceived product availability" as a significant influence on their buying decisions. Product availability is the foundation of any e-commerce business, especially when it comes to omnichannel strategies. Along with that, it's also critical that detailed product information:
- allow consumers to get a 360-degree view of the product;
- provide information about key product features and unique selling proposition; and
- address most customer FAQs.
By centralizing all product information, a PIM solution acts as a single source of truth for retailers. It enables you to provide accurate and real-time product information to customers across all channels. It helps you manage inventory, both for offline and online distribution channels, with ease and accuracy. Locating the right products for processing orders, updating stock regularly to match sales and return figures, and answering customers’ questions on product availability becomes very easy with a PIM solution. By efficiently aggregating data from various sources — CRMs, ERP software, hard drives, suppliers, external partners, syndicators — PIM provides real-time data on in-stock inventory to retail merchants. In turn, retailers can deliver targeted marketing messages about available products to their customers.
Contactless Personalization is the New Customer Demand
With the pandemic unsettling lives worldwide, digital transformation in the retail space is edging towards an inflection point as enterprises are incorporating immersive solutions that connect the real and the virtual worlds. To survive, retailers must anticipate consumer purchase behavior changes and deliver contactless yet engaging customer experiences.
The key is to use innovative technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to establish an emotional connection with consumers and appeal to their shopping preferences. Implementation of AR/VR in the fashion retail space can prioritize customer safety while powering D-to-C channels for highly optimized and immersive buying experiences through in-store navigation, smart mirrors, contactless virtual try-on, and prolific personalization of products. A scalable PIM solution is essential for managing and delivering such contextualized digital customer experiences across every touchpoint.
PIM brings content, commerce, and community together to push consistent, high-quality data to various output channels, such as web, mobile web, Internet of Things (IoT), AR, VR, wearables, conversational interfaces, etc. It empowers enterprises with a single source of master data to align the next-generation digital capabilities that customers want with the critical security, production prowess, and business agility that today’s retailers demand.
Driving Innovation in the Next Normal With PIM
While predicting the next "normal" is difficult, we can safely assume that the world of retail has changed for good. Retailers are experimenting with innovative e-commerce strategies to cater to changing customer expectations and drive business resilience in such unprecedented times. Offering a contactless or touch-free retail experience to alleviate customer fears is the primary goal of fashion and apparel retailers today. PIM helps retailers achieve this mission by enabling the seamless merger of physical and digital channels to drive omnichannel strategies for ensuring value-driven customer experience.
Shashin Shah is the CEO of Pimcore Global Services – A Happiest Minds Company. PGS is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and e-commerce.
Shashin Shah is CEO of Pimcore Global Services – A Happiest Minds Company. Pimcore is an open-source platform for product information management (PIM/MDM), digital asset management (DAM), content management system (CMS), and eCommerce. In his over 20 years of experience, both globally and in the US, he has managed large enterprise clients through strategizing, operating, consulting, and carrying out implementations worth USD 100M+ via global delivery models across several industries.