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Business Advice

Fashion sellers trail today's savvy buyers

They do research online to make purchase decisions, says expert
The Straits Times - May 16, 2012
By: Yasmine Yahya
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Fashion sellers trail today's savvy buyers Topman at ION Orchard -- PHOTO: TOPSHOP

TODAY'S average consumer is not only tech-savvy but well-informed, opinionated and not loyal to any particular brand - and the fashion retailer is only now scrambling to keep her interested.

'The consumer has changed drastically and the retailer is still in shock,' said Ms Angelia Teo, content director for the Asia-Pacific region at fashion think-tank WGSN.

No longer do most customers walk into a store to browse and buy on impulse. Research has shown that more than 40 per cent of young people do their research online and decide what to buy before even stepping into a physical store, she said.

And this 'online research' could include information culled from various interactive social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest.

Yet most fashion retailers are still trying to understand what these sites are, and how they can use these sites to their advantage. Many do not even have an online store. This delay is causing a lot of damage, Ms Teo noted.

'In Australia, retailers are bleeding despite the country's economic success over the past few years because they missed the e-commerce bubble.'

But it is not too late to catch up, Ms Teo added.

'We are in a moment where suddenly all retailers are on a level playing field. Even the biggest ones, such as Macy's and Walmart in the United States, are amateurs in this new world of shopping,' she said.

'As a local or regional retailer, the opportunity is there to be a leader. Commit the finances, manpower and expertise to make sure you're leading the pack.'

According to data from Spring Singapore, Singapore's fashion industry comprised some 4,500 establishments with a total workforce of 24,300 workers. Together, they generate $6.4 billion in operating receipts. These include companies in the textile and apparel industry, retailers, wholesalers and fashion designers.

Professionals from these various sectors are converging at the Asia Fashion Summit this week, a three-day seminar where global fashion experts will share their thoughts on how to keep up with ever-changing consumption patterns.

Wing Tai Holdings is one retailer that has heard the clarion call and is responding with much gusto, despite - and because of - the restrictions it faces.

The company, which distributes European labels like Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Karen Millen, is not allowed to sell its clothes online - that right remains with the owners of the labels themselves.

So it has had to come up with innovative ways to engage customers online and draw them to their shops.

'Generation Y consumers are not very loyal. They are very tech-savvy and they share information among their friends. They don't trust in authority,' said Wing Tai Retail executive director Helen Khoo.

So instead of sending out advertising or promotional material to its F3 loyalty cardholders, Wing Tai has set up a website - www.f3.com.sg - that looks like an online magazine.

When members log on, they can find out about the latest fashion trends around the world, and how they can dress like their favourite fashion icons with the newest clothes available at the stores in Wing Tai's portfolio.

As consumers are now also more well-informed about trends and products, Wing Tai has also changed the way it trains its staff.

'Some customers are very prepared - they may know more than our own store staff,' said Ms Khoo.

So Wing Tai now conducts a quarterly training session for its shop floor staff.

'It used to be a more top-down training style, but over the past five or six years, we have made it more participation-based,' she said.

During these sessions, the staff watch catwalk videos and are then tasked to come up with presentations showcasing the latest fashion trends and buzzwords.

'We do this thing called 'scraptionary', where we ask them to put pictures into a scrapbook related to particular items in fashion lingo, such as 'skinny jeans' or 'Y-bottom pants'.'

These efforts are paying off. Wing Tai Retail expects that for the year ending June 30, its revenue would have risen by 20 per cent to 25 per cent from last year, and its profit, 40 per cent to 45 per cent.

For companies that can sell their clothes online, WGSN's Ms Teo said there is no reason for them not to.

She cited the example of British firm Aurora Fashions, which allows customers to choose whether they want their online purchases delivered to them in as fast as 90 minutes after checking out their baskets at its Web store.

'If anyone could pull off a 90-minute delivery, it would be someone in Singapore.'

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