In what is obvious news, the retail land space has changed drastically in the last 10 years. Retail, as it has been historically defined, has gone the way of landlines and checks. It no longer functions as it once did, and this change has birthed an entirely new costumer.
I have been in retail in New York City, as both a sales associate and personal shopper/stylist, for the last decade. I have witnessed the shift in spending, particularly in the high end market. The women who were once devotees of the designer floor at Bergdorf, or the flagship boutiques of Madison Ave, are no longer shopping with the blind loyalty with which they once did. Brick and mortar is now competing against a multi channel attack. From the expanding E-commerce and resale landscape to the popularity of large chain stores, the high end shopper has expanded their retail resources, finding better prices and more selection. Social Media has also increased the visibility of fashion. The constant need for new images is forcing shoppers to get more creative with both their looks, and their spending. This used to be a conversation focused on millennials, but these changes have impacted all demographics. The high end shopper has their eyes wide open, and the game is on.
A well informed consumer, much like a well informed electorate, makes calculated and balanced decisions. Never before has a shopper had this much information literally at their fingertips. Resale sites such as The Real Real, Vestaire Collective, Tradesy, and Poshmark have created a vast online resource. A shopper can google a current item and instantly see its resale value. They can also locate an item for less than the current retail price. This access puts contemporary prices in question: why pay full price when I can find it for less, or have the option to negotiate? As well, seeing the resale value puts the increasingly higher prices of ready to wear into perspective. Much like boats once they hit the water, clothing and shoes do not retain their full value. There are of course exceptions to this rule, with couture or limited editions. But outside of handbags, one can never be fully reimbursed for a full price purchase. Therefore, the high end consumer will take their money and spend it where they feel they are getting the better deal.
One of the ways to offset buying full price designer clothing is to shop one of the many large chain stores. Zara, Aritzia, TopShop & H&M, broadened their appeal beyond millennials and the youth market. Topshop & H&M are successful in their collaborations with high end brands, bringing awareness to a consumer that may have overlooked their stores. Aritzia’s minimalist apparel and color coordinated racks evokes a higher end feel. The same woman who is buying Gucci and Dior, is also finding her fashion fix at these stores as. The ability to mix the high and low is now a testament to shopping acumen and an example of their great style. These stores provide a constant stream of new merchandise for a cheaper price, allowing the shopper to create new looks consistently. Zara, a vertical company, can produce on trend merchandise in mere weeks. The consumer lusting after a runway collection no longer has to wait 6 months for items to hit a sales floor. They can fulfill their need for instant gratification, and at a mere fraction of the price. These stores are no longer just an alternative for the high end consumer, but a necessity to compete in the digital age. These mass produced items must be counterbalanced with designer and unique items in order to stand out. This is where Vintage enters into the mix.
Vintage has become a part of the consumer consciousness. Celebrities and stylists have been incorporating vintage for years, but now it is known and discussed. Kim Kardashian posts and names her vintage Helmut Lang or Alaia looks by name. Ebay, Etsy, 1stdibs and Vestaire Collective are all online resources for vintage shoppers on a mass scale. Vintage dealers and shops are also making use of Instagram to promote and sell products. Never before has vintage had a direct path to the consumer. You used to have to hunt and seek it out, spending a day going from stores to flea markets.
Now you can shop vintage in your pyjamas on your couch.
Whether you want vintage Levis, or a 1980s Chanel bag, you can find it while scrolling through your phone or iPad. For the high end consumer, they can get a one of a kind or designer item yet again at a better price than contemporary. It also provides an alternative to the whatever particular style or aesthetic trend is sweeping the retail floors at any given time. The new, smart shopper can see that vintage is a better investment. Once again, they can impress others with a one of a kind find, unique piece that they through into their wardrobe mix.
I have witnessed all of this first hand. I have watch my clients become incredibly savvy and shop smarter. I have also witnessed how this has affected retail negatively, as stores and brands are trying to adapt to the new pro active shopper. Before a fashion brand could easily place a singular product on a celebrity or in a tv show, and have it become the “must have” item of the moment. There was less competition and a direct line to the consumer. Now, there is endless merchandise available and multiple channels for the product to connect with the consumer. Fashion brands now have to cultivate brand awareness across all platforms. They have to work hard for to be desired across all demographics. Now, the brand itself becomes desirable. The product is an after thought to the brand loyalty and recognition. Gucci is the prime example of a high end brand successfully attracting the intelligent consumer. They brought back their most icon designs that have a broad appeal; the GG logo fabric is easily identifiable and has a vast history. They increased their presence on social media, making use of celebrity placement and popular ad images. And in an effort to appeal to the desire for the unique, Gucci offers customizable options on their handbags. This is perfect for the high end consumer who is seeking a value for their money. The client can create their own unique bag, but all within the brand aesthetic. This is one example of a luxury brand responding successfully to the change in consumer, but how will the high end market fair overall? As retail floors are flooded with more merchandise and less shoppers, how will stores survive? What will distinguish them? What will appeal to the this new intelligent consumer?