So last week Fashionista headed to the very glamorous Soho House to celebrate the first birthday of the London Fashion Network ("LFN"). The evening began with a Q&A session with Tim Danaher, editor of Retail Week, and Jess Price-Brown, Editor of Drapers; together the two most influential retail publications in the country. The retail landscape has changed dramatically since the LFN was launched a year ago and the discussion centred around the fact that although the past year has been one of the most challenging in the history of the industry the effects of which are still being felt, there are 'green shoots' which we should all feel optimistic about.
Both Tim and Jess felt that the biggest challenge to retailers has been the collapse in consumer confidence. Retail is after all a function of the broader economy and the sector most prone to suffer when consumer confidence does the same. Although it was felt that many of the brands which have gone into administration were weak businesses in the first place (Fashionista overheard mutterings about whether anyone has actually missed Woolworths), even the stronger brands have had to become more reactive in order to survive and will have to continue to do so.
The big question is whether consumers are going to shop differently as a result of this recession and as a result whether retailers are going to have to behave differently in the future. Consumers are no longer spending for the sake of it and retailers must become more responsive and specialised rather than focusing on seasons and long-term ordering patterns and planning. Fashionista was pleased to hear that many independent niche retailers are actually prospering during this period of uncertainty.
In terms of what retailers can be doing to protect themselves Jess and Tim had a number of suggestions. High on the list is dialogue with landlords and suppliers to attempt to reduce costs. Secondly it is important to focus on customer satisfaction in terms of pricing, incentive schemes and service. Differentiation from the competition is key and it was argued that now is the time, although it may seem counter-intuitive, to be adventurous and progressive. Lastly there is the issue of online representation. Fashionista was surprised that a relatively small proportion of retailers have transactional websites but the message was that the success of sites such as ASOS should inspire more retailers to get online and use their existing customer base to drive sales.
There was a very spirited discussion of the role of the government in all this and the lack of understanding of politicians of the woes facing the retail industry. Although some of the government initiatives to rev up the economy were praised most of those in attendance felt that far more needed to be done in terms of remedying the abuse of prepacks, delaying the return of the 17.5% rate of VAT and encouraging the banks to lend.
All in all a very interesting insight into the current state of the market and an excellent excuse for Fashionista to mingle with the LFN at the recession defying party afterwards. To find out more about future events, visit their website at http://www.londonfashionnetwork.com/