The Australian retail landscape is an ever-changing one and it can be hard to keep up – especially when high-profile and established brands are falling by the wayside.
Faced with a challenging economic environment, increasing competition from overseas and online as well as a shift in consumer shopping habits, regular bricks-and-mortar retailers have their work cut out for them. Adapting to the changing environment and finding innovative ways to gain and retain customers are crucial.
“To survive in this new chapter of retail,” says fashion blogger and stylist Cecylia Kee, “[businesses] need to offer something exciting and unique in store that customers are unable to experience or obtain online.”
Continuing our series discussing the future of retail and following on from our interview with Patty Huntingdon, this issue we talk to Cecylia.com’s resident style queen for her thoughts on e-commerce, social media and the importance of engaging with customers online.
The Australian fashion industry is moving rapidly into new unchartered territory, what are some of the major hurdles you think retailers will face?
The GFC, the high Aussie dollar, high rent/overhead costs, international competition (both online shopping as well as from large international brands such Zara and Topshop) coupled with customer’s changed shopping habits (from in-store to e-store) are all impeding Australian retailers from thriving in their businesses.
Many retailers perhaps don’t realise that sales are like a double-edged sword. They help to clear stock, but decrease revenue and decrease perceived value from customers, resulting in customers even less inclined to purchase goods at full prices.
Thanks to the internet and low import taxes, Australian customers are able to have shopping experiences just like our overseas counterparts, resulting in more savvy and discerning customers who want the latest styles as soon as it is ready overseas. There are also labels who produce more than two seasons a year who entice customers with their new designs and products. Many Australian labels don’t have the funding or support and hence are not able to compete with these overseas business models.
To survive in this new chapter of retail, bricks and mortar retailers will also need to have an online presence and ideally an online store and social media channels, as well as being able to offer something exciting and unique in store that customers are unable to experience or obtain online.
How do they overcome these hurdles relatively quickly and cheaply?
Many of the aforementioned factors are completely out of retailers’ control (e.g. the GFC, high dollar, overseas competition and the changing market), however retailers can focus on some aspects of their business to offer their customers more exciting and rewarding shopping experiences.
Retailers can engage with their customers more via social media channels, e-newsletters, live streaming (video blogging), hire experts who can help with these, or engage with bloggers/celebrities to create ambassadors to promote their business.
Bricks and mortar stores can offer a more exciting retail space by having stylists in store, hosting special events (eg. high tea/champagne), creating ‘showrooms’/previews for loyal customers, and of course, providing the best retail experience for one’s customers is still the best way to keep/attract customers to one’s store. Make sure that all staff are trained well to serve well.
Clothing label retailers can move away from traditional ‘seasonality’-derived collections and instead try offering trans-seasonal collections, capsule collections, tailoring and custom pieces for customers. Also, collaborating with others will help you both to combine and increase your client base.
The recent Lisa Ho closure has sent shockwaves through the industry, what are your thoughts on this? Is it all doom and gloom, or are there good news stories out there too?
Having worked in retail for Lisa Ho and being one of their best retail assistants, I would like to say it’s because I left. I know that Lisa Ho had already started to change her designs and marketing strategies to accommodate a younger market a year ago. I personally thought that she was doing a great job. However I left the company before all the changes crystallized so I’m not too sure about ‘what went wrong’.
I can only say that I think that the younger market are global shoppers and are unafraid to go to online, overseas retailers to get the latest styles and the best bargains. The competition for the younger market is also brutal as they tend to be less discerning about the durability of garments, manufacturing standards, and the quality of fabrics.
Perhaps the younger market that would appreciate Lisa Ho’s garments is still quite small/niche, and during the process of the age-focus-shift, Lisa Ho’s older market may have fallen away. But at the end of the day, the cause is multifactorial: the GFC, the high Australian dollar and high rent costs are all to blame.
Having said that, there are still many very successful retail stores in Melbourne, for example: Green With Envy, and there are some innovative business models and successful entrepreneurs such as Gusto & Elan and Swoon who provide emerging designers with a launching pad and customers with a real shopping experience. The Australian dollar is slowly falling so this may be impact on spending habits in the near future.
As a regular visitor to Fashion Exposed Melbourne, how important is it to have industry events like this that support education and networking? Why?
Fashion retail needs as much support as possible in Melbourne, especially during the current economic climate. Fashion Exposed plays a pivotal role in supporting the fashion industry. It gives designers, store owners, buyers, press, media, stylists and bloggers an unparalleled opportunity to meet one another to support, collaborate and further each other’s businesses.
What have been your key reasons for visiting Fashion Exposed? What were the highlights?
I love attending the seminars at Fashion Exposed. They are always informative, relevant and educational. Fashion Exposed always have incredible speakers. Hearing Jo-Ann Hicks (eBay.com.au) speak about online shopping – she had such a great presentation and spoke so eloquently.
I also enjoy catching up with industry insiders at Fashion Exposed. Last year when I was there, I bumped into an old high school friend who I hadn’t seen for years, and had turned from a lawyer into an accessories designer. You never know who you may run into at Fashion Exposed!
What do you think the future of retail looks like?
Collaborations between creative industries that use the retail space cleverly and effectively, pop-up stores that produce hype and excitement, products with strong focuses on individuality, quality and durability will stand up in the current retail climate.
A trained veterinarian and an avid lover of fashion, Cecylia has always immersed herself in art and design. Having over 10 years of fashion industry knowledge as a retail consultant, she even ran her own eponymous boutique Cecylia. Renowned for its unparalleled customer service, with a motto of “Shopping should be an experience, not just a transaction”, the boutique on High St Armadale was the exclusive stockist in Australia for international labels such as Alldressedup, Felder Felder, Roksanda Ilinicic, Sophia Kokosalaki and Spijkers en Spijkers. The boutique also showcased some of the finest Australian talent including Gail Sorronda, Karla Spetic and Sara Phillips.
Cecylia lives and breathes her style philosophy that “every day is worth dressing up for”, even as she juggles her double life as a veterinarian and a fashion blogger. The blog showcases her personal adaptations of the latest designer trends fused with her abundant vintage treasures.
Take a look into Cecylia’s world and style, visit cecylia.com