How fashion retailers are reacting to COVID-19

By Lisa Lohmann | 19 May 2020

Fashion brands are among those most impacted by COVID-19 and the resulting shift in customer behaviour. Not only through the lack of physical sales channels, but also a reduced level of purchase interest - online sales saw a drop of 30% in March. As a solution, many retailers have decided to follow heavy discounting strategies to encourage customers to buy online. Going forward, discounting is likely to remain a big part of the strategy for many brands within fashion eCommerce, among them even premium brands such as Nike. For some, it’s resulted in the first signs of recovery through April, with an increase in sales and conversion rates compared to the previous year.

Although this strategy might provide short-term benefits, it’s questionable as to whether or not it can provide sustainable profit margins in the long run, given the uncertainty around when physical stores can re-open. It’s also worth highlighting that while strong discounting might work for large fashion retailers, it could provide a threat to smaller retailers and boutiques who will see themselves confronted with even stronger competition.

Some retailers have taken a different approach in order to adapt to the recent developments. Success has been reported for those retail companies that have shifted their focus to categories like activewear, loungewear, and children’s clothing. Boohoo, for example, quickly moved from promoting its ‘go-out’ style clothing to highlighting its loungewear selection instead, a category that has grown by 411% YoY – and it’s seen positive results.

Regardless of the strategy, experts think that the online purchasing trend is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. In Germany, where the re-opening of stores has hit the four-week mark, the initial hope to receive similar revenue levels as before the lockdown has quickly deflated. With long queues and preventative measures in place, physical shopping has not yet gained its usual traction and retailers are reporting they’ve received only 40% of their usual revenue.

It’s certainly a crucial time for fashion retailers to take a digital-first approach. In light of the wider impact that the current crisis could have on jobs and financial security, being where the customer is has become more important than ever before – and that, for now, is online.