I’m Kelly Vero, fashion tech nerd, future-gazer and game developer. I’ve been making games for 25 years but I’ve always had an eye on fashion, where I now work, to drive technology up and out beyond your wildest dreams. In my first article for The Interline I want to take a deepish dive into what happened to the consumer throughout the pandemic and what, as consumers, we want to see permanently change in your approach to our buying preferences. Who changed? And who stayed the same?

When we approach the aspects of fashion, whether it’s fast or responsible, we say we are creating from the aspect of the consumer but is this really true? The pandemic has allowed us to shine a light in a dark corner, and discover that all is not as it seems in the long and assumed relationship between the brand and the consumer.

My consumer journey ended when the pandemic started, which is strange, because this should be the perfect time for choosing and buying online with more choice than I’ve ever seen. But this decision was made because as a consumer I just started seeing the same stuff over and over again: the different labels, different brands but amorphous. Nothing really felt individual to me. At a time when we are spending so much of our work day indoors, in front of the camera, on Zoom, it would’ve been so easy to sit around in loungewear, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to continue to be as individual as I have been to this point in my fashion decisions. I should say at this point that I was never much of a season kid because I’m somewhere between luxury and High Street because I’m on a journey to find my style.

Regular couture isn’t possible on a budget that suddenly goes from being fairly adequate, to pandemic restricted. On the one hand we have more money to spend because of disposable income, but on the other hand we might not be receiving as much of a salary as perhaps the previous financial year for obvious reasons. So I suppose I sit in the area that we call the luxury gap, and there is very little to be found for people who enjoy fashion in this space. First of all there are very few choices in terms of style, and second of all there are even less choices in terms of responsible fashion.

Let’s explore the fast fashion question. In my day job I work in fashion and video game technology, the latter which is driven by, in pandemic times, turning products around the faster the better. Therefore, fast video game development is de rigueur, so why isn’t fast fashion as popular? And why is the term fast – such a dirty word? Why have we tried so hard to eradicate the pitfalls of associating fast fashion with everything from professional responsibility choices and synthetic textiles, overuse of water in dyeing, and then the disposal of fashion garments in landfill etc? When all along we do want fashion to be fast because we want to explore the possibilities of our individuality 一 speaking for myself particularly 一 seeing the same dress in blue, brown and white is the epitome of what fast fashion has become: not cool. It bears no reflection on the quality of the design process in terms of creativity at all. But to make the comparison to video games where ideas are being conceived all the time and though we can play a variety of different games in the same genre doesn’t mean that they’re the same game. Which is why I started to explore the possibilities of how we can apply fast fashion to design for impact during times of the pandemic.

There are four types of consumer behaviour: habitual, dissonance-reducing, variety-seeking and complex buying behaviours. Each one of these personae depend upon the types of products that the consumer needs to buy. Buying a coffee is different to buying a house. Buying a kettle is different to purchasing a luxury handbag. But with all of that in mind it’s still possible that the consumer is not being listened to and is therefore voting with their wallet. How do we overcome this problem? I decided to take a look at a consumer case which takes into account all fast fashion issues 一 design, luxury, High Street, influencers 一 but the benchmark is now China, across the board. I’ll be honest that I wasn’t very interested in the Chinese market place until Farfetch decided to embed themselves further into their business model through this market sector. And I was staggered by the results.

It’s a sunny May day today, and we are a considerable amount of sales quarters into the pandemic now, where we’ve all had conversations about how we’re going to overcome and adapt. However, Farfetch has proved localisation is the key to effective B2B and B2C management of business models. So is local luxury the key to understanding the consumer of the future? I think yes.

Doing good business since 2007, it wasn’t until 2017 that Farfetch propelled into the eye of the consumer when jd.com bought a stake in the company for $397 million. It was the biggest overseas investment to date. And then in September 2018 Farfetch went public. But that isn’t what the consumer cares about too much, we are not so obsessed with the Financial Times angle in as much as we are hooked on the ability to reach the customer and do it well. In 2018 the animal rights activist organisation PETA announced that they had purchased shares that would allow them to attend annual shareholder meetings and stop the company from selling fur products. So how does this compare with say High Street stores such as Zara, H&M and Benetton? I’ve chosen to not include Primark in this comparison because Primark operates a different business model so cannot be compared with the High Street stores mentioned. In the years before the pandemic, selling online was as simple as taking photos of your garment, or a model in your garment and placing that photo on your website with a unique backend store engine which would control the transaction between the store and the consumer. But the amount of time that we spend on our phone, tablet, or laptop since the pandemic started has been exponential. E-commerce sales have grown by 44% between 2019 and 2020 which is super important but doesn’t answer the question about time spent. In the same report, web penetration has grown from 15.8% in 2019 to 21.3% in 2020 and that impacts greatly on the consumer behaviour methodology, that I mentioned previously. If e-commerce is increasing by at least 6.9% per annum, why isn’t e-commerce changing its approach to suit the new consumer?

Simply, the High Street hasn’t changed, it’s still a High Street with a physical point of sale and e-commerce is merely an extension of what already exists within the store; the exception of course, is that there is more opportunity to try on. Whereas, with online purchases there is no opportunity to try on until the garment appears in your letterbox. And this is where the returns problem rears its ugly head. It is completely arrogant to assume that nothing should change when the consumer has quite obviously has. From the way they think about buying garments to their prerogative on returns. How should we solve this problem? The answer is, it shouldn’t be a problem fixed by more clothes and more consumption. It’s an issue which affects the entire supply chain and it’s really simple. Give the consumer what they want. In the high-tech industries it’s not enough to have an incredible sense of problem and solution design, the consumer’s problem has to be at the heart of the solution, any solution from design to end-use. This is something that, to my sheer horror when I started working in this industry, thas been forgotten. I would make a small caveat that only a handful of creators have solved this problem adequately for the fashion consumer and some great examples to look to include Farfetch at the luxury end, and believe it or not Wish at the fast fashion end. Yeah, Wish.  Why would I include this fast fashion brand? Because they’re willing to change to suit the needs of the consumers and I can’t find examples of any other fashion houses who are keen to do more than just throw around the term greenwashing to suit the problem focus as a solution.

There, I said it, Wish who are well known for being fairly responsible and high volume in their output and wastage have actually captured the consumer perfectly and are prepared to try to meet the needs that we might, on the business side, call corporate governance and sustainability. But how? Well, as with Farfetch their business is centred on the consumer and not themselves. One might argue that other companies like all our High Street favourites do the same but actually there’s only one High Street fast fashion brand that does the same as Wish but in a different way and that’s Primark. This attention to detail that the business model makes is reflected both in Farfetch’s successes in China and the success of Wish worldwide. They are keen to spend time with their consumer and in doing so they create talking points, content and clear search engine strategies that are consumer-centric not PLM or product-market-fit centric. This means that if you want to create the same dress in blue green or brown you’re going to find adequate talking points to make that happen and most fashion houses I don’t know how to or can’t be bothered to focus upon that simple strategy. Going further at the luxury end of consumer behaviour, Farfetch have recently opened a private pop-up store that is just for you. In it you can explore your own fashion choices and buy privately but one-to-one. I think that the cachet of a personal shopping experience to the end user consumer makes accessibility to individual styles appeal to wider inclusivity. Farfetch’s regular target sales audience, who have changed in target sales demographics from 31 years old at the end of 2019 to 29 years old by the end of 2020. This VIP experience especially in Southeast Asia is aimed at a younger market place and in Europe the VIP is still seen as a mid 50s woman with a disposable income. Are you getting the idea yet?

What Wish does and is trying to improve upon is the same, they have a foothold in this target sales demographic and they are trying to apply OnDemand methodologies to the online consumer so they can access the same level of personalisation that luxury allows. Dubious questions about counterfeiting and fake goods aside, Wish’s elevator pitch as they approach the $25-$30 billion valuation for IPO is “shopping made fun “ and it is! Their ability to talk to the consumer is like no other, at times dangerous and darkly hilarious yet the valuation speaks for itself. In the first nine months of 2020 which facilitated the sale and shipment of over 640 million items. It reported that it has over 100 million active users in over 100 countries. For a technology company this is BIG. And where approximately 94% of Wish’s sellers are based in China the remaining 6% hail from the western hemisphere which is in direct comparison to Farfetch whose business model operates conversely. However, it is clear that both companies at either end of the spectrum have the consumer at the heart of the supply chain and business model. Although a binary choice, it’s not one against the other because they’re effectively doing the same thing with different outcomes.

Can we work together to make better e-commerce models that can withstand a pandemic and the High Street? How? Simple tips and tricks can help us to speak to our consumer without even breaking the bank. Here are some questions I like to ask when I’m thinking about creating new technologies or new experiences for my end-users and consumers:

Who is my customer? No really it’s easy to assume that we can use product market fit to make everything work but a robust user persona is one which is as thorough as knowing the end user by name. I’m referring to them as such throughout the development process.

Broken SEO? Fix it! There’s nothing worse than trying to remember what the name of that bag and all those shoes are when all you can think of is the brand name. When you put the brand name into the search engine of course you’re going to get the brand name popping up as number one, a quick flick through turns into an hour of me trying to find out what the name of that particular item is. In technology, when we create video games or technology under a brand-name umbrella, we are pretty specific in how we refer to the names of the intellectual property that form part of the brand. Meaning that if I’m looking for a specific app I don’t look for the developer’s name, I look for the name of the app. Do the same. It’s very simple.

Filter or do not filter, there is no try. It’s my belief that returns can be improved by as much as 4% by simply allowing the consumer to filter better beyond the usual product market fit. I might not always be looking for a brown dress, I might not always want a 21/2 inch heel, but when I do I want to be able to find it. We know what dresses are, and we also know what tops and trousers are. But if I’m looking for something specific and I can’t find it inside the 120 million brands that you want me to discover, how unearth will I find what I’m looking for? Currently the desire for discoverability is overkill. Give me what I want.

Fit and try on, make it so. I don’t want to have to wait for a week for my shipment to arrive only to discover that because of the cut, or the length; it’s inappropriate and needs to be returned. Wouldn’t it be better if every single e-commerce platform provided some form of virtual try as standard? I can currently buy a pair of glasses that I know will fit and look good by loading a jpg of my face. If I have my measurements ready and my image available either in real-time or as an upload, why can’t I get what I want? It is my belief that B2C is overthinking this entire process and could simplify quickly and as simply as using a partner app such as AR Spark for example.

Is that enough to get us talking? Almost. It’s really valuable to be able to do just one final thing when thinking about the B2C vision with or without the pandemic, and that is to iterate often at the B2B level. It should be fairly obvious now in fashion especially that one size does not fit all: We live in a time of fit, so why are we trying to use the same old model over and over again that the consumer doesn’t really connect with? Connect with them! Find a route to your consumer and lay out the red carpet regardless of whether they are luxury or high street, unconscious or vintage/pre-loved lovers. Talk to them, and let the consumer speak to you. In an age where influencers are the gods of e-commerce and physical sales, shouldn’t we recognise the influencer in all of us?