A year ago, your favourite designers knew you quite well. They could predict, generally, what events might be in your diary for the autumn season ahead, what types of Christmas and New Year parties you might be attending, and the winter vacations you probably had booked. They knew what you might want outfits for, how many pieces you could buy, when, where and what you might spend.
But the coronavirus pandemic has altered all expectations and halted many of our most obvious plans. You might still be going on holiday, but the destination may have changed, warranting a different type of outfit. You might be heading to smaller gatherings and low-key dinners, rather than galas and mega weddings. The frequency of when you shop and how much you buy, as well as what you want to wear, will have most likely changed.
It might sound like the ultimate crisis for fashion retailers, but it’s also an opportunity – customers have perhaps not been this open to changing their habits and trying new things since the 2008 economic crash. Luxury brands are embracing new retail concepts, looking to change the way we shop going forward via everything from digital games, to Zoom show-and-tell calls with designers.
The new fashion landscape, it seems, is all about three things; ultimate convenience, a fun experience and truly personal service. Shopping as a form of entertainment has been somewhat under threat – first with the initial closure of non-essential retail stores in global lockdowns, and then new rules around queuing and mask-wearing which emerged when customers were allowed to return. For many, it’s been off putting. Why would you subject yourself to the extra effort, if you didn’t really <need> to buy anything? As such, brands are thinking up increasingly creative new ways to reach their customers.
From small couturiers to retail behemoths, super-serving loyal clients has become essential. If you don’t want to go to the shops, the shops can now come to you. The new services are infinitely more personalised than traditional online shopping – for designer Emilia Wickstead, virtual calls with clients over Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime have become a frequent ‘new normal’, before someone decides to place an order.
MatchesFashion.com has seen demand increase for socially distanced one-on-one appointments with its esteemed personal shoppers at the retailer’s 5 Carlos Place townhouse, and has also scaled up its consignment services since lockdown, allowing customers to try at home before they buy, with delivery in as little as 90 minutes. You could now host a private shopping party in your living room – an edit of stock is delivered, for you and others in your social bubble to try, in the safety and privacy of your own home.
Getting customers to engage with shopping again, and to see it as fun, especially if they now have fewer occasions and events to get dressed up for, is the goal. Isabel May, managing director and CMO at Mytheresa, explains a greater need to “keep interacting with the clients and give them something special, something to talk about.”
The retailer has been hosting digital style advice sessions for VIP customers, giving them the chance to join private Zoom calls with influencers such as Pernille Teisbaek and Tamu McPherson, or designers Gabriela Hearst, Stella McCartney, Joseph Altuzarra. How fabulous to be able to tell friends at a socially distanced drinks reception, that Stella herself recommended the dress directly for you?
For those who have coaxed shoppers back into stores, making them feel safe and relaxed is essential, but so is leaving them feeling like they had a good time while they were there. Browns has seen a spike in demand for its new ‘Store for One’ appointments, which are designed to make customers feel like they are the only person in the boutique, and incorporate AI technology at all stages.
Customer experience director Lee Whittle has overseen the launch of a new app since reopening, which both store staff and customers are armed with during their appointment. It enables them to be in constant discussion, pre-selecting items they’d like to try on in advance of their visit and minimising fuss and wait times when they get there. Interactive mirrors in changing rooms are also connected to customer’s apps, and can suggest pieces to the client based on what they’ve bought in the past.
“We’ve really embraced the moment,” Whittle explains, noting that Browns’ new flagship store on London’s Brook Street, launching late 2020, will showcase even more advancements that bridge the online and in-person shopping experiences. “The style advisor navigates the store with each customer and curates the visit based on the individual’s needs or taste. This delivers a unique experience for each client. During these last few months, we took the decision to accelerate the launch of some of our in-store technology. This app gives customers the opportunity to discover and it’s all based on their personal profile.”
If a designer wants you to know about their new collection now, they’re just as likely to show you through a game. Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which launched back in March, was a surprise lockdown fashion success story – Marc Jacobs and Valentino were among the first brands to release their new collections in avatar form on the game, allowing an estimated audience of 11 million users to dress their characters in Valentino pixels, for free. The point, of course, is that the brand is simultaneously telling the huge audience that a new collection has dropped in real life, and is available to buy.
Elsewhere Drest, the game which is due to launch in full this autumn after a soft launch last year, is building momentum as a new place to shop. Players are referred to as ‘stylists’ and are set creative challenges allowing them to dress photoshoots and develop mood boards for designers. Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Chloé and Burberry are just some of the brands which have commissioned their newest collections to be depicted, seeing it as a new way to engage with women who love trying and buying clothes. Critically, once you’ve dressed your supermodel character in, say, Prada’s new fringed leather dress, you can also instantly buy the outfit for your real life self too, via affiliate links with FarFetch.
“It’s ‘style before you buy’, as we like to say,” says founder and CEO Lucy Yeomans, formerly the editor of Porter magazine. “We have partnered with a host of brands and designers in the past 10 months in very bespoke ways. Gaming affords users a unique interaction with their products, so it’s an innovative way for [brands] to foster affinities with the luxury consumers of the future as well as to inspire and engage existing consumers.”
Yeomans notes that use of the app has increased dramatically during -and since – lockdown. Her mostly female audience now spends an average of 33 minutes per day styling, sharing and shopping, with new installs up 50% month on month, every month since February.
“One of the most noticeable behavioural changes we have witnessed is the increased desire for sharing and connectivity,” she says. “Globally, there has been a significant rise in Drest creations being shared across social media. People also seem to be seeking escapism as well as a uniquely interactive fashion fix. Many of our users have told us, it delivers some much needed light relief during these difficult times.”
The idea of giving customers a more stimulating and interactive shopping experience is clearly golden. People are thinking more about what they buy and why they want to buy it, so any new way of shopping which offers them a story to tell is tipped for success.
Retailers including Moda Operandi and MyTheresa have partnered with Psykhe, a new shopping platform which launches this month. You, the shopper, will take a personality quiz based on the psychological BFI-2 (Big Five Inventory) test, the results of which will be used in an algorithm, to calculate which pieces you personally might like to buy from the hundreds of thousands available across all the different boutiques.
The traits assessed are openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – all of which have known correlations with style preferences. It’s like ordering your takeaway from hundreds of different restaurants on Deliveroo – except a step further, as the app narrows down the choices, knowing that you will most likely want either udon noodles or broccolini pizza tonight.
“It’s like seeing a store front that’s personalised to you,” explains London-based founder Anabel Maldonado, a former NHS paediatric psychologist who became a fashion journalist. Psykhe has received funding from Carmen Busquets, one of the fashion industry’s most prolific business backers and an early investor in Net-A-Porter. “It takes what you personally would think was the best from all of those sites and brings them into an edit for you. It captures what personal stylists and people who get to know their clients have always been doing – they understand their consumer and can say, I get you, this is what you would like.”
Psykhe’s initial partners are all luxury brands, however Maldonado suggests that there could be appetite from a whole spectrum of retailers to one day be included on the platform. “There’s no reason high and low couldn’t sit together,” she muses. “We all shop for the same reasons; we all want to be better versions of ourselves and find pieces that are in alignment with who we are.”
Democratising shopping services which were once the reserve of top-spending clients seems to be an important move now. Once, only the super-rich could afford personal shoppers, or a designer might have invited an elite group of customers to attend a catwalk show, while other fans of the brand watched along on Instagram. But now every luxury shopper is craving a special experience, and something to tell their friends about, whether they’re buying the whole new collection or just one bag. For fashion brands that want to survive and thrive, it’s time for things to get personal.
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