The World Wide Web has radically shaped the way we do business, in particular that of the fashion retail sector.
Estimated to be worth over £4.1bn by the end of 2009*, the sector is booming, with no self respecting high street retailer now without a transactional website.
The savvy aren’t, however, solely using the web as a sales platform.
Responding to the rise in popularity of social media, a new culture is emerging, labelled by industry leaders as “democratic consumerism”.
Pioneering the move towards the new culture is Asda Chief Executive, Andy Bond, who recently announced plans to open up the workings of the business to scrutiny from customers in a move to build greater trust and long-term loyalty amongst shoppers.
Among the range of initiatives to be introduced by the retailer is Asda’s new blog, http://www.aislespyblog.com/, which invites customers to participate in the buying process – voting on their favourite styles and colour ways.
Still in its infancy, the blog is already enjoying a positive response. Speaking on it its launch Beth Somi, George Marketing and PR Manager, said: “http://www.aislespyblog.com/ is a great way for our customers to understand more about what goes on behind the scenes at Asda and to know more about our colleagues who work here.
“I enjoy talking to people about my job, so this is a great opportunity to do it while I’m at work. There is so much to talk about, we have new ranges launching in store every week so there is always something going on. The tough decision is knowing what to blog about so that I don’t bore everyone!
“I love the fact that I can ask for feedback on my blog and that the readers respond in such a positive way. It’s a great way for us to get instant ideas on our new ranges. As I speak to the teams here at George House, they are excited about what we can ask for comments on in the future.”
An example of an entirely web-based retailer epitomising democratic fashion is http://www.styleshake.com/. Possibly one of the most ingenious fashion websites to launch in recent years, StyleShake.com puts the customer at the heart of the proposition, allowing the user to design a garment from scratch choosing fabric, colour style and trim.
The site goes against the typical nature of the fashion industry with trends that ‘trickle-down’ from the catwalk to the high street, asking the user to vote and design exactly what they want to wear.
It is also a fashion community with users rating and commenting on one another’s designs. Recent celebrity fans include Duffy and Holly Branson.
Not only good news for fashion addicts looking to create an individual look, StyleShake.com is a pretty good business model. The retailer only produces what its users order so there is never over-supply; good for the environment and for the businesses overheads.
Chief Executive Officer of StyleShake.com, Iris Ben-David, comments: “StyleShake is all about empowering the user, providing them with the means to express themselves and celebrate their creativity. We are delighted to offer new ways of collaboration”.
The retailer’s vision is to become a leading online resource that revolutionises the way we consume fashion by making it much more personal and individual.
A design obsessive from a tender age and regularly frustrated shopper, I personally, am delighted by what looks to be a customer-empowered future. But what does democratic consumerism mean for the future of retail?
Its potential to impact on the overall business model is huge. Armed with increased customer insight, the risk of costly, unpopular bulk buys will undoubtedly be lessened, reducing retailers’ need to discount and perhaps marking the beginning of the end of the January sale. The retailer/supplier relationship will also inevitably see a change. The potential for collections to be further tailored by store in response to regional demand an increasing reality.
Democratic consumerism, it’s an interesting one to watch, one I will certainly be following with a close eye.
* Taken from Mintel’s Fashion Online report, August 2009