How fashion brands can last lockdowns and create omnichannel skills for future


While every sector has been affected by COVID-19 in some way, The COVID-19 impact the fashion retail industry is severe. Especially the clothing and apparel industry was the hardest hit. With lockdown in place, around the world, many brick-and-mortar stores were enforced to shut their doors, and in an industry where more than 80% of dealings took place in physical spaces created an unrecoverable wound.

Figure: Blending digital and in-store experiences and offering a broad choice payment wise can turn the tables for clothing brands in the short and medium-term.

In March 2020 – first lockdown – the UK govt. published its retail sales report which estimated the volume of retail sales for that month. The report foresaw that apparel stores will perceive a 34.8% fall in sales compared to February, further declining by 50.2% in April 2020.

Though, along with this drop in brick-and-mortar retail, there has been a vertical growth in e-commerce. Some apparel brands, like H&M reported that online sales soared 36% between March and May.

Although, this was not sufficient to counteract the damage from brick-and-mortar stores, as retailers such as Primark reported annual damage in profit compared to past years.

COVID-19 impact on consumer behavior

In this new-normal, consumers are giving preference for e-commerce, and the swift move away from cash payments – were well recognized before the first lockdown.

COVID-19 has only fast-tracked these aspects, due to the augmented requirement of online shopping and public health messaging advising against handling cash.

Besides, the burdens of the first COVID-19 wave enforced unforeseen shifts in consumer conduct. A mid-2020 Mintel report found that consumers in that time were diverting funds that would typically have been used for a trip or a night out into home improvement or entertainment buying. Not surprisingly, fashion comes into this category as well.

In many parts of the world, online shopping became normal for most consumers, but this presented some challenges. Fashion consumers could no longer give a trial before they buy, which meant many were hesitant to commit to a purchase, especially with fashion not being seen as an essential item.

Using technology in retail to tackle challenges of COVID-19

The main challenge for various retailers was the change to a primarily e-commerce platform, mainly during the early lockdown period. Thankfully, for the 2nd lockdown, many of these clothing retailers already set-up with a current online shop so is in a healthier position to exploit the prevalent shift to buying online.

Unfortunately, those with an underdeveloped or still without an e-commerce platform are having a hard time.

For these retailers, taking the first leap into e-commerce can be made much simpler when they use a modular and configurable online system. These systems help retailers to build an online selling platform that can securely take payments.

With single proposals offering all from real-time reporting and managed security services to checkout customization, traders can start selling their products online easily.

Significantly, for businesses related to digital transformation, these selling platforms are simple and easy to use, with no need to multiply back-end costs, complexity, or admin. Many retailers have been able to jump into e-commerce with a minimum amount of expense, time and complication, and instantly begin accepting many new payment options as well.

For the fashion industry struggling under COVID-19, online selling and payment platforms have the flexibility to offer outstanding support.

Setting up an e-commerce platform that can offer multiple forms of payment is convenient for customers, and it won’t feel like a temporary or wasted effort when lockdown eases up as e-commerce can support, not replace, the retail store.

Technology will continuously aid retailers in 2021

Online selling platforms have been vital for the retail sector so far and will remain to be a huge support in 2021. The benefit of an e-commerce store is that it does not need to swap the brick-and-mortar store.

Retailers can offer an omnichannel experience to customers that supports their new behaviors in a COVID-19 world.

Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), try in-store, and purchase online and other offline/online hybrid shopping experiences can become more common.