The Corona pandemic has hit the fashion industry hard. At all levels. But it has also led to a rethink among many in the industry and has accelerated digital processes in particular. What long-term consequences Covid-19 will have on the fashion industry cannot yet be predicted, but what has already changed for many brands as a result of the Corona crisis are the internal work processes, the increase in digital tools for product presentation and the expansion of creative digital solutions to maintain and expand customer contact. If you can even speak of a winner in the crisis, then it is clearly all about digitalization. But which digital tools do brands use to promote and sell their products? Which digital solutions are used to present the collection pieces to retailers? And what lessons do brands learn from the Corona crisis? We have asked the industry.

The importance of digital B2B platforms is increasing
While physical meetings with retailers were the norm for many brands before Corona, during the Corona period digital B2B platforms have developed as THE sales tool. Johan de Niel, vice president of brands at Kontoor EMEA, Antwerp, says: “At Wrangler we have started selling to customers through a new digital platform, which is used to present the latest season while also enabling video conferences for us to present the products similar to what we would have done in-person prior to Covid-19. The digital catalog can be shared and worked with in many ways, allowing all parties to work efficiently in a virtual environment and has a minimal eco-footprint because it allows us to eliminate the need for travel.”



Due to the Corona pandemic, fashion group Mango is also using its digital B2B platform. The company states: “We have a full B2B digital platform for our retailers. This has been developed internally with the aim of optimizing the buying activity and updating them on the collections.” Camel Active also wants to focus more on digital tools in the B2B sector in the future. Volker Weschenfelder, the brand’s managing director of marketing, e-commerce and retail, notes, “For a/w 2020-21, we will start to provide short video clips to inform and teach sales staff about new collections, highlights, product features etc. and to train them regarding selling techniques. In addition to face-to-face meetings with our sales agents, we are producing videos for the sales teams and retailers to show outfit combinations, color themes, key styles and matching accessories. In addition, we will conduct an e-conference to present our new s/s 2021 collection to our international distributors.”

Volker Weschenfelder
Photo: Camel Active
Volker Weschenfelder
Hamburg-based fashion brand Closed has already started and will continue to introduce new digital tools across all of its departments to promote and sell its products. One focus of the brand is on enhancing the ERP system, a business management software solution for controlling business processes. Another focus is on introducing new CRM tools and introducing a business communication platform. Til Nadler, co-owner and managing director of Closed, says: “We have our own Closed B2B online shop, where our accounts can preorder and reorder all our collections. We also offer the possibility to place orders via Joor. To enhance the buying experience, we are introducing a virtual showroom this season, where we present key looks and new fits, explain the mood and inspiration behind the collection, and take retailers on a tour of our showroom. Our sales managers play a vital role in the process. They schedule virtual appointments with their accounts and guide them through the ordering process as they would in the showroom.” True to the motto “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the Corona crisis has led some brands to not only deal more intensively with the topic of digitization, but also to implement digital solutions creatively in a short period of time.
Til Nadler
Photo: Closed
Til Nadler
Paul Marciano, chief creative officer at Guess, USA, says: “As we’re all adapting to the ‘new normal’–this requires new insight, flexibility and above all, creativity. After these intense few months of learning and growth, we continue our research in developing innovative digital tools that can facilitate the buying procedure both for B2C as well as B2B. I believe that the fashion business was already quite digitalized, but this new reality pushed us further and exposed us to some of the latest technologies at our disposal. Today we’re organizing our appointments online in video conference and we’re also offering newly developed digital catalogs with 360° shootings in order to offer maximum experience that meets the reality as much as possible in terms of fit and materials.
Paul Marciano
Photo: Guess
Paul Marciano
Customer touchpoint via social media and brand apps
All of the nearly 20 brands we surveyed agreed that social media tools have become one of the most important digital tools during the Corona crisis, not only to connect with customers, but also to promote and sell products. Antony Morato attaches great importance to the Facebook Shop: “As soon as Facebook Shop will also be available in Europe, we plan to use it to the maximum of its possibilities, also for product launches on Whatsapp. In the near future we believe that Facebook Shop will become an alternative to large e-commerce platforms such as Ebay or Alibaba–by activating direct payments also via chat”, says Lello Caldarelli, president and creative director, Antony Morato. The Chinese video portal TikTok is also on the radar of many brands. The mobile app is known for lip synchronization of music videos and other short video clips and also offers functions of a social network. 


Brady Stewart, managing director of direct to consumer at Levi’s US, says: “We’ve been focusing on digital for years, investing in new solutions and tools that make the consumer experience better across every channel. In April, we announced our new partnership with TikTok’s ‘Shop Now’ program, allowing us to reach a younger audience and engage directly at the point of inspiration.”

Instagram also developed in the Covid-19 period as an important and helpful social media tool. David Segal, digital and creative content manager at London-based Raeburn, says: “Instagram is our biggest audience and most relevant channel. It lends itself well to real time streaming via Instagram Live, storytelling via video and strong visual content, as well as having the more recent shopping function. With both locations closed in these circumstances, we had to think very quickly of engaging ways to keep interacting with our community. Raeburn Connects is an Instagram Live series of accessible talks, focusing on connecting good people, great ideas and great visions. Social media plays a huge role. For us it’s much more than a platform to promote our products. It gives us instant access to our community, allowing us to be part of the conversation and providing the tools to host live talks. It also allows us to share raw behind the scenes and storytelling, aspects that are otherwise mostly reserved for studio visitors only. Without the tools that social media provides, it would be very difficult for us to sustain that level of community engagement.”

Brady Stewart
Photo: Levi Strauss
Brady Stewart
Enzo Fusco, head of Blauer and FGF Industry in Italy, notes: “Our aim is to always be near our final consumer, especially via social media. Putting product in the limelight and promoting our collection was the core of our digital strategy. After the most recent events, instead, we became aware that it is very important getting back and talk about the brand and the values. We have been doing it via video, photo and live streaming mostly via Instagram.”
Enzo Fusco
Photo: Blauer and FGF Industry
Enzo Fusco
Levi’s and Denham have invested in their own brand apps and see this as a good opportunity to expand and intensify customer contact. “Immersive commerce is set to become a key player in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year we launched our consumer digital app. We see this as an opportunity for future growth providing commerce, content and community within a single user experience,” reports Ali Kirby, art director of Denham. And Stewart from Levi’s says: “Today we’re connecting with our fans through our own e-commerce sites of course, but also our newly introduced Levi’s app, with online customization offerings like Future Finish, and expanding how we reach consumers through social commerce. We’ve been offering exclusive product drops and curated editorial and brand content in the Levi’s app to help our shoppers connect with the brand and discover and purchase exactly what they want.” In addition to the increasing importance of social media channels for many brands, there are also other “classic” digital tools that have proven themselves during the Corona period. 


Johan Andrén, communication and development manager at KnowledgeCotton Apparel, says: “We collaborate with content makers and content platforms that promote our brand and our products, and we’re setting up affiliate and native app partnerships. Our advertisement on search engines such as Google and Ecosia is very successful since there is a global awakening around sustainable fashion. Still, a very successful tool for us is e-mail marketing. For us, this has always been a great tool to promote our journey, our values and products.”


And what about the attractiveness of global market platforms?
The opinions of the brands differ when it comes to global online marketplaces. Here, of course, important aspects such as size of the brand, target group and product selection are important. For Danny Hodgson, owner of Rivet & Hide in London, online marketplaces such as Zalando or Amazon play no role at all. “Rivet & Hide is very much a destination store so global marketplace platforms do not really work for us. Our direct interaction with customers is essential. We offer a specialist and luxury product that needs the support of our customer service. It cannot be left in the hands of people who don’t care.” “We’re not working with any B2B marketplaces at this time, and I don’t see us going in a different direction down the road. The reason for this is that we believe in building partnerships with our retailers, and that requires human connection as a starting point,” says Alexander Graah, co-founder and CEO at Dr. Denim.

“Buyers tend to find us anyway, and we want to make sure that they come to us to build a lasting relationship, rather than seeing a product in a marketplace.” On the other hand, for Jürgen Wolf, founder of Homeboy, online marketplaces are animportant pillar in the sales model: “Also in this case we did not change our strategy. We do work with marketplaces. Marketplaces will be the new shop-in-shop. All of us will see if this works better than the shop-in-shoptrend 20 years ago. It is just a new game.” For many brands, especially the “bigger players” such as Mango, Wrangler, Camel Active and Levi’s, online marketplaces including Zalando, About You and TMall form important pillars for their sales activities. At least half of the brands surveyed stated that they are continuously looking for relevant online marketplaces.
Alexander Graah
Photo: Dr. Denim
Alexander Graah
Lessons from the Corona crisis
Although the topic of digitization was already high on the sales strategy agenda for most brands even before Corona, the crisis has shown that this topic has now become more important than ever. “Agility and adaptability are key. Businesses who can’t move with the times are stuck with non-efficient, old processes will get left behind,” says Segal from Raeburn. Adapt fast, develop creative ideas and quickly implement them digitally.

Marciano of Guess USA also believes that these measures are essential to position yourself well as a brand in the future: “We have experienced amazing growth in online sales but now more than ever we realize how we need to enhance how our consumers interact with our brand online. By adding interactive features like Guess playlists, video tutorials and online styling, we are continuing to build and improve our online presence, creating a better brand experience and encourage brand loyalty.” “We’ve become more aware about our vulnerability–both as a company and as individuals. To be a digital native company is clearly a requirement for the future, but that would have been the case even if Covid-19 wouldn’t have hit us all,” says Andrén from KnowledgeCotton Apparel. “Perhaps we’ve just been forced to speed up the process. Just as the Covid-19 has put sustainability into sharp focus. That process was also inevitable for the future–but the crisis has made it a requirement for being relevant faster than anyone perhaps expected.”
Sean Dixon
Photo: x
Sean Dixon
Sean Dixon, CEO and founder of Richard James, adds, “Communication is vital. People still want to shop and at the same time feel confident in what they are purchasing. It’s obviously important to know your market and know how and where to reach them, but don’t always be confined by this, potential customers appear in the most unlikely places, the message may just resonate with them.” The rapid implementation of digital creative and product development processes, the simplification of internal work processes through digital solutions and the development of innovative digital tools for product presentation for retailers and end consumers–all these aspects played a decisive role in the sales strategy of brands even before the crisis and are more important today than ever.

Editor's note: This article runs in our current "The Issue at Hand", #293. Please also check out the e-paper version for more information.



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