UK Fashion Makes Alterations for a Digital World

The days of long hikes through shopping malls or along high streets to procure our clothing are behind us.

Here in 2018, the process of acquiring fashion has taken a decidedly digital turn. Whether you’re subscribing to a monthly rental box of gorgeous staple pieces, live-streaming the catwalk from Fashion Week in Paris, or having an irresistible pair of shoes delivered to your desk mere hours after you’ve hit “complete purchase” on your phone, our emerging technology is changing the way we do fashion. Accessibility, for one, is up: consumers are engaging more and more on social media, finding inspiration in the outfits of their favorite Instagrammers and tuning in to live streams of exclusive shows. 


Keely Stocker, editor of fashion trade title Drapers, has seen the industry respond to the digital landscape firsthand.

“Fifteen years ago, Asos was just one-year-old, Facebook was three years away to being founded and Instagram was not even yet an idea,” she said. “That shows just how rapidly the industry has changed over the last decade. Pure-play retailers such as Asos and Net-a-Porter have come along and brought a new shopping channel to customers and forced high-street retailers to increase their channel offering to keep up with the change in consumer shopping habits. Add mobile and social channels on top of that and you can see just how much the way we shop has changed.”

For shoppers, much of the change relates back to convenience. Deliveries can be scheduled for whatever time is preferred, and be sent to the most opportune location-- no fuss, no muss. Consumers are also enjoying a vast increase in their choices, with access to millions of products and brands across the globe constantly at their fingertips. Their options have never been more open, and it’s changing the dynamic.

“Now consumers hold all the power,” says Bernadette Kissane, apparel and footwear analyst at Euromonitor International, adding that consumers can now compare the prices of a product on their phones while walking round a store. “Fashion brands are now at the mercy of what consumers want, rather than pushing products onto them.”

Charlotte Ellis, director of digital at womenswear retailer Karen Millen, agrees. “Technology gave us the ability to interact with the customer and understand her so much better, putting her at the centre of our business. Through digital we can reach her wherever she is, giving her 24-hour access to our product whenever she wants it.”

Brick-and-mortar chains have been obliged to craft strong online presences to keep up with the social media trend. As CROWD has covered before, tackling the millennial market is now a matter of harnessing the power of influencers to engage their customers in a unique way. This is especially true when high street companies consider their online-only competition, and the demand to grow digitally is dramatically altering the structure of established fashion brands. 

“Karen Millen’s digital offering has grown significantly and continues to grow, particularly in the UK where digital has been a key focus,” said Ellis. “Customer exposure to the brand exploded with the digital eruption and enabled us to enter new markets and expand our business globally.”

Retailers are optimizing for mobile, hiring top-notch graphic designers and user-experience experts to set their websites apart from the rest. Some have even introduced technology in-store – take Burberry, for instance, which arms store staff with iPads, in order to make the customer experience more seamless. Desktop users are a significant fraction of business, but companies are noting that smartphone traffic is eclipsing computers as a purchasing force. “Customers are increasingly adopting a ‘mobile first’ approach to shopping and a high percentage even search our site while they are in store, so mobile is extremely important,” says Ellis.

The internet has changed the fabric of UK retail, with competition cropping up on all sides from online-only brands who don’t need to contend with business rates, and whose very nature makes them native to the digital landscape. For brick-and-mortar retailers, it can be hard to keep up.

“Digital has been a blessing and a hindrance to many smaller retailers,” says Stocker. “It has allowed them to reach a whole new audience but it’s a costly channel. Many are still looking at their digital options while others are reaping the benefits of a digital store.”

Those retailers who have broken into the digital world, including womenswear retailer The Dressing Room, are finding international success.

Three years after opening her St Albans store in 2005, Deryane Tadd launched the website, enabling shoppers worldwide to buy from her curated stock of premium brands.

“Online has absolutely transformed my business,” says Tadd, adding that the website accounts for around 30% of overall turnover and is seeing more than 30% growth year-on-year.

“The website is our best marketing tool to get people through the door of the bricks-and-mortar store, and also allows us to engage with our customers at any time of day through the content we have online, such as styling videos, lookbook shots and constant product uploads. I knew nothing about ecommerce and made many mistakes along the way, but we now have a strong and evolving multichannel offer.”

For some luxury retailers, however, digital marketing is seen as a dilution of their image. Many still believe that the exclusivity of their products is a crucial part of its appeal. However, such a mindset is unlikely to do them any favors with the millennial market. The days of wearing brands as status symbols are mostly behind us, as consumers choose instead fashion which expresses their individuality. 

The opportunities afforded by digital marketing, especially those that allow brands to collect customer data and use it to target shoppers across different channels, are changing the fabric of the industry beyond recognition. Retailers are choosing to focus on creating more of a tailor-made experience, a move that will undoubtedly bring them returns as they expand from their roots in the UK into globally accessible fashion giants. 

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TrendsVicki Frid