In college I worked several retail jobs. Apart from the amazing employee discounts I received, I also enjoyed retail because it taught me important customer service skills. One of my employers followed a listen-connect-and inspire model. Employees were required to first listen to the customer’s needs and wants before recommending products. It was a way to not assume what the client came in for but to have an honest conversation – one with dialogue that advanced both parties. We were taught that listening and responding with care formed connections. And once we had that connection, we could then inspire the customer to purchase needs and wants. It was brilliant and worked every time, something the commission obsessed employee, like me, thrived on.
To me, a big reason why this worked was because of face-to-face interactions. It was always a different story when I would answer the phones and converse with fed up yet loyal customers. The model didn’t work as easily. It’s probably one of the reasons so many companies operate online and with brick-and-mortar stores. The in-person exchanges are unmatched. So what happens when interactions – positive or negative – are done entirely over a screen. Are there any benefits for fashion companies in 2020? And more importantly, do brands even know their customers anymore? Ahead, we investigate.
Brands need customers
Fashion houses base their current offerings and upcoming campaigns and collections on trends and customer buying behavior. The trends help them categorize their offerings and to adhere to the mass population. While customer buying behavior is a series of recorded customer preferences, issues and desires. This information is often gained at the final step of the shopping experience: the checkout counter. Customers are asked if they found everything ok. If a sales associate helped them. And if they’d like to sign up for loyalty programs to receive discounts and news about upcoming events.
These mundane questions are not just small talk but a way to gauge how satisfied the customer was with their experience and the brand. A bad reporting alerts the brand to adjust their product offering, sizes, representation and customer service.
Point of sales systems, or cash register systems, can show you all the items the customer has purchased, their birthday, events they’ve attended and sizing. Advanced systems even note their complaints. Brick-and-mortar interactions are vital for fashion businesses. It’s a little harder to discover all those preferences online.
How are brands adapting to COVID-19
Today, brands have to constantly ask who their customer is: are they repeat customers who migrated from brick-and-mortar stores, or are they new customers? They’re also wondering how the hell they can gain valuable information at lightning speeds.
Brands in 2020 are experiencing an information deficit. The deprived data and intelligence gained from customer transactions are so scarce or unusable that it paralyzes decision making. It makes it harder to interpret, predict and pattern customer behavior.
It’s happening to both big fashion houses that had a plethora of customer information pre-pandemic, and to new businesses attempting to tap new markets and audiences. As we learn more and more daily, Coronavirus does not discriminate, and for retailers, the struggle is real.
Today’s pandemic fashion shopper
Customers needs and preferences are rapidly changing as they grapple with all the darts 2020 throws at them. Like me, many of us were forced to shop online this year as we saw our favorite shops close one by one. A lot of my window shopping leads me to purchasing at stores I’ve never heard of. Other times, I’m more concerned about sustainability elements and buying Black. I want to buy apparel that speaks to climate change, good labor conditions and equality.
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 has been confusing and is ever evolving. My mind and options are changing more often than in previous years. I really want brands to be responsible and sensitive to what’s going on in the world. I also want to make sure I’m being responsible with the paycheck I’m so fortunate to still receive. All these factors come into play. All these thoughts also go away as quickly as they came if I see a well-designed accessory or piece of clothing that makes me feel like I have to have it immediately.
The contrast of my thought patterns this year are dramatic. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think many shoppers are confused on how to shop but are doing it anyways. From a brand’s stance, our shopping behaviors aren’t defined or easy to read.
Do brands even know their customers anymore?
Short answer: no. But can you blame them? Consumer patterns are changing daily. One minute they treat themselves to ‘feel better items’ amidst a pandemic and the next moment their pinching pennies to save for unexpected darker days to come. Brands are doing their best to adapt and respond quickly. And really, that’s all they can do.
And if you’re looking to purchase from Black-owned businesses, We Buy Black now has their own distribution center.