Today’s customers are more and more demanding and expert. At their arrival in stores, they are often well informed, having already performed extensive product research and benchmarks. Thus, according to a 2015 survey carried out by IFOP, 80% of Internet users say they use the Internet to learn about retailers’ offer before they take the leap and purchase.
Therefore, offer remains the main domain of differentiation for a retailer. Providing a unique, attractive array of products throughout the year, encouraging the purchase with innovative and relevant services, often allows the best retailers to maintain a competitive advantage over time, and sometimes gain market share.
There are many ways to innovate on his offer: we have listed four major innovation levers with an implementation proving particularly creative in recent years.
Launch attractive collaborations
The concept of collaboration has emerged very early, especially in fashion. In 1910 already, the French couturier Paul Poiret, passionate about Far East and textiles, associated with painter Raoul Dufy and created a textile printing workshop called “La Petite Usine”. Together, they will come out with beautiful, richly decorated fabrics including the renowned “La Perse” coat, a genuine landmark in the history of fashion.
In 1930, the eminent designer Elsa Schiaparelli partnered with artist Salvador Dali, and created many dresses with him, especially the “Lobster dress”. This collaboration had such a cultural impact that its echoes are still felt today, for instance in the FW13 collection of Tsumori Chisato where lobsters could be found in several of the featured looks.
For Rebecca Voight, Fashion Editor at W Magazine, “collaborations have become very important in all fields of fashion, from sportswear to couture. The market is very saturated, yet this is not going to stop: a product leveraging on two, distinct brand identities is simply more attractive!”
A collaboration is relevant when aligned with the brand strategy and core business, but is often really successful when shown impertinence.
A prime example is the SS17 “collection / collaboration” of Vetements, the rupturiste brand of Demna Gvasalia’s team -who’s also the artistic director of Balenciaga. Involving 18 brands in the production of the pieces, each being considered expert in their field, Vetements pushes the creative boundaries of the concept of collaboration to the next level. The substance is sassy, but the form is not less: this collection was presented during the Paris Haute Couture week -whose participating houses are usually selected on the basis of a unique, handcrafted know-how- at the very heart of Galeries Lafayette, one of the main French multibrand department stores!
“When it comes to Vetements, it is clear that Gvasalia fully understood and incorporated the signature, the DNA of the 18 brands with which he worked,” adds Rebecca Voight, “there are premium brands such as Manolo Blahnik and Comme des Garçons, but also rugged sportswear embodied by Levi’s and Carhartt. It is for me a real lesson of stylistic collaboration. Too often, collaborations are merely surface connections, two names associated to promptly accelerate sales, with no real intelligence invested in the product. ”
Vetements SS16 x Levi’s
Vetements SS16 x Eastpak
Collaborations are particularly attractive to younger generations, because they are not part of the traditional seasonal offer. As explains Rebecca Voight, “Young customers are more and more cautious when it comes to fashion, and increasingly put its codes and its ephemeral aspects into question. Thus, a collaboration gives them more confidence in their purchase: the limited edition or iconic piece they buy today has less chance of being heavily discounted after Christmas! ”
Now, you just need to find the right partner with whom to work, one that will bring a décalé tone, a creative burst or an access to potential new customers!
Create your own customer segment
Knowing who your customers are is key, as recalled Business of Fashion in his recent article “The 10 commandments of new consumerism”. New CRM services emerge every day, and allow companies to better achieve this goal. Today, it is absolutely crucial to adopt such competitive monitoring tools to avoid losing foot and push the right offer at the right time, to the right audience.
Yet, the most innovative companies in the field have not only an excellent knowledge of their customers, but sometimes even created their very own customers segment. This is the case, for example, the French company Bonne Gueule. It started as one of the first blogs dealing with men’s fashion, but in an inclusive way: their goal is to help beginners understand the -sometimes blurry- codes of fashion and smoothly integrate them, through advice and specialized articles. Since then, their business model has evolved, but always with the desire to serve this specific clientele: after many successful operations and collaborations, Bonne Gueule opened a Parisian shop in 2015, and realized a € 2.5m turnover the same year.
One key pillar of their success? They focused very closely on a customer segment, willing to spend on clothes, but who needed reassurance, and created a dedicated offer as a result. Why not you?
Innovate on the sub-components of your offer, such as materials
If you master all or part of your value chain, remember that innovation on offer can be performed at various stages of this chain, especially on raw materials. Thus, to celebrate its 80 years anniversary, Lacoste launched vast R&D operations, which in 2013 resulted in the introduction of “wrinkle-free” shirts” made with intelligent textiles.
In fashion, one of the most innovative, commercial proposals regarding textiles and raw materials was probably made by Anrealage, which for the SS16 collection came forward with textiles that changed aspect depending of light levels and colors.
In a context of strong increase in customer expertise, it becomes increasingly relevant to innovate at different stages of the value chain, as the latter are more likely to monitor and react.
Launch your creative R&D department
Research and development: the term was perhaps once reserved for the most demanding industries -it’s over. It refers to those activities that do not bring immediate value but which are nevertheless highly strategic for any company that wants to get ahead of its competitors.
Carrying out research and development on offer is certainly risky. For a retailer, it means accepting to make mistakes, to embark on fruitless tracks or even to see its efforts or ideas copied by unscrupulous competitors. Yet, more and more companies, large or small, are moving towards this strategic direction.
In 2016, Uniqlo has launched its “Creative R&D” laboratory, led by Christophe Lemaire, former DA at Hermès. This one-of-its-kind department is designs the new Uniqlo U line. “This line develops new concepts that have never emerged at Uniqlo yet” says Christophe Lemaire. “If these pieces become successful, they will naturally inspire future Uniqlo products. Hence the importance of this line, capable of influencing the whole Uniqlo offer.”
Thus, the emergence of such departments shows that what is at stake is not about innovating on offer alone anymore, but rather about being the best at dealing with “meta-innovation”: remaining highly creative on all offer performance levers.
Get your pencils out!