Rewind back to 2011 and the imminent arrival of Zara to Australian shores had everyone jumping for joy. Consumers literally lined up for hours to worship at the altar of the world’s biggest fast fashion label.
Since then, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Topshop, H&M, and Uniqlo have opened, to some (if not exactly Zara-level) fanfare.
Has the advent of these international fashion retailers transformed the shopping experience for Australian shoppers forever, or has it all just been hype?
If I was to draw a line in the sand and look at Australian fashion retailers versus these international retailers (recognising that they come from different corners of the globe), some subtle customer experience characters emerge.
The international retailers have increased the volume instore. The music is a little louder and more progressive, the stock weight is huge, staff numbers are bigger, and the VM is an instore feature as well as a storefront necessity. The combined result of this is a more active, impactful sensory experience.
Is this good or bad? Depending on the day it could be either, however, how does this change the consumer experience?
As one moves between stores and the volume dials up and down along the street or mall path, the consumer is given a new rhythm to their shop. No longer experiencing fashion shopping at one tempo, according to the quieter Australian fashion landscape (Sportsgirl and Portmans aside), they are treated to a melody instead of a single tone.
In my mind the net result of a differentiated rhythm is a better overall shopping experience. I can dial up or dial down according to my mood, mission, or just mix it up to keep it interesting.
The art of visual merchandising is making a come back. Back in 2011 again, VM was not getting its just deserts in Australia. This is definitely not to say it was bad, it just wasn’t very exciting and showed up an instore gap between the locals and internationals.
The international retailers are great at VM. Whether it is Zara’s army of mannequins, Abercrombie & Fitch’s fitout, or Uniqlo’s colour spectrum, the VM packs a punch. The impact of which is a greater focus on VM by Australian retailers.
For the consumer, this means more inspiration, whether it is changing fashions or artful executions. For the local retailer, some competitive pressure on a key retail skillset. Net result = win win.
Service is the one area where I think the internationals’ stand apart. They seem to have more staff on the floor, who are more informed, and more actively serve, than my experiences have led me to believe elsewhere.
It may not be the friendliest or most relaxed service, but it is active. I am never left wandering the floor trying to find someone to help me.
Being aware of the customer and putting them first is ultimately driven by the culture of the organisation. You can have all the rules you want in place, but if the team aren’t trained via the culture to engage and activate customers, then the rules aren’t worth anything.
So in the final analysis, is the consumer better or worse off for the introduction of international fast fashion retailers?
I’d say definitely better off, and not just because ‘they’re finally here!!’, but because their entry into to our retail landscape has shaken things up, made all retailers better, and created an overall shopping experience that offers ups and downs.
A tune is always better than a monotone.
Clair van Veen is GM and strategist at Designworks.