Accessories put four industry experts on a panel and asked them about oversaturation, curation, experiences and the rise of the indie brand.
This panel, “Reinventing Retail,” took place at a recent NY Women’s Market in New York at the Javits Center and below is an edited version. Accessories Magazine is owned by UBM Fashion, which runs AccessoriesTheShow, Accessorie Circuit and other fashion exhibitions. Stay tuned for information on Accessories Magazine’s panels coming May 7-9, 2017 at the Javits.
“REINVENTING RETAIL” PANELISTS:
- Stephanie Solomon, VP/Fashion Director, Lord & Taylor
- Olga Vidisheva, Founder and CEO, Shoptiques
- Emily Blumenthal, Founder, HandbagDesigner101 and the Independent Handbag Designer Awards
- Beth Goldstein, Accessories and Footwear Analyst, The NPD Group
Accessories: Let’s talk assortment, or shall we say, overassortment. While merchandise space is limited in brick and mortar, it’s virtually endless online. Is this a blessing or a curse?
Olga Vidisheva, Shoptiques: There’s a misconception that online is better because you have an unlimited amount of space to present unlimited inventory. Yes retailers can put unlimited items online but the key is this: we as people do not have unlimited mental capacity! Customers have limitations. On average a consumer sees 40 products. So you have 40 products to grab a customer’s attention and it often comes down to rows. What I show you in the first two rows will determine things that catch your attention. Shoptiques did a study and found that across the country, women in Atlanta wear the highest heels. So if you’re thinking about your online presence, you should add the right items if you’re targeting those consumers. Actionable insights are key.
Stephanie Solomon, Lord & Taylor: I do feel she has too many choices. Something that is highly curated and personal works. Girls, you buy with your heart, not your mind. You don’t care if you have enough money, you just buy it. That’s emotion, not science.
Emily Blumenthal, HandbagDesigner101: There is the element of oversaturation and choking the customer, and so many people don’t realize that. I tell my students the analogy of Baskin Robbins and a dad taking his kids out for ice cream on his own. What happens? They usually end up with nothing or hysterical. There is just too much choice. The element of curation and being thoughtful of using your gut and your heart is so important. And that is often missing on dotcom sites nowadays. There is so much sameness and the opportunity to find something unique for that emotional connection is often missing. That need for more curation is pivotal.
Accessories: So has curation become the most important buzzword? This seems to be the way to reinvent retail to give consumers what they want or need.
Beth Goldstein, NPD: Curating has become really important. The consumer is so overwhelmed with all that is on the web, and it really comes down to the store to present its vision.
Vidisheva, Shoptiques: Curation is me finding the right stuff I want in that moment. So the word is really about personalization. How many skus is almost irrelevant. If you have 40 pieces to fill, it has to be personalized to each person. How am I using the data I have to make this happen? Online it’s a blessing. I know what size they are once they make one click, and then I can personalize the rest of their experience. My engineering team is all guys who don’t shop, and I have to explain to them that if she clicks on something you need to show her more of that… and if our data shows that New Yorkers wear flats and this shopper is from New York, you have to show her more of that. The data can also make the experience more personalized. We are all so busy. At the end of the day, that data makes it more enjoyable and personal.
Accessories: Shoptiques doesn’t just curate merchandise, it curates boutiques! What are you looking for when you select/curate a boutique to add to your site?
Vidisheva, Shoptiques: We don’t buy product, our boutiques do, but we select the boutiques and we’re very selective. We look for point of view. I one hundred percent agree that the market is so vast and things can be delivered so fast, and you can get it all online. But a point of view and being different is what I’m looking for. Does this boutique have the passion to prevent that point of view? Even if your store has a very niche following, I’m aggregating 5,000 of them, so all the niches becomes pretty big. You have to love what you do… if I can get it on Amazon, why would I buy it here?
Accessories: Curating isn’t just about presenting consumers with merchandise, but helping them discover it themselves, right? How is Lord & Taylor doing this?
Solomon, Lord & Taylor: It’s common knowledge that brick and mortar retail is in a state of flux, and the word “experience” seemed to resonate with Lord & Taylor and our parent company Hudson’s Bay Company. We decided to think outside the box; to go places where you would normally not expect to find experiences. And bring them to Lord & Taylor. So I thought, personally, what do I love to do? And my first word was “discover.” Not just new products but new designs and new designers. And that translated into what the customer would want as well. We wanted that discovery to resonate. So we created Birdcage (the name is actually an homage to a historic restaurant at Lord & Taylor famous for lovely tea sandwiches. You’d even get a complimentary cigarette on your tray, too, to show you how long ago that was!. It And it was very well known for the ladies who lunch. We reinvented that magical idea and now we change the Birdcage assortment and theme every season or twice a season to deliver an experience you wouldn’t expect there. To discover something new and different that YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW YOU WANTED. Becoming gradually a destination shop for our customers.
Accessories: So it’s about curating experiences?
Vidisheva, Shoptiques: I say it’s no longer B2B or even B2C, but it’s really H2H Human to Human]. So we had an experiential idea for customers on their birthday. But instead of saying “happy birthday, here’s some money,” we went around New York and had people sing happy birthday and we send out these 90 second videos on customers’ birthdays. We actually send out the discount in another email. This birthday video email is not to sell, but it’s to remind them they’re part of this amazing global world or Shoptiques. And we get emails all the time thanking us and reminding us that we’re living in this big world but you made it a little bit personalized.
Solomon, Lord & Taylor: we’re all trying to establish the same goal… human contact. The act of shopping is an emotional experience and everything that goes into emotions, and this is behind new initiatives at Lord & Taylor. When we looked at the data and analyzed the data through the century, we realized we have the biggest dress customer of any store in the US in volume. Lord & Taylor just launched the Dress Address on the 5th Floor on Fifth Avenue—the biggest dress floor in America—and accessories are part of this area as well. It’s the whole floor and The Gallery includes that old couture dress buying format.
It harkens back to the idea that buying a dress is a very emotional experience, just like a handbag is. When you go to buy the dress for a part where you really want to seduce a man, look great. It’s a very emotional experience. Providing the right kind of experience and backdrop on the floor. It’s not your typical dress assortment, but rather an experience that lets you feel how important we know it is for you to buy and accessorize your dress. It’s the Dress Address. We’ve heard that for ages and now we’re going to distort this message and make it fun. We also created My Closet, which is another trend area in the store. We realized everyone uses the word seamless. What can you do for that customer who isn’t a millennial, but that Lord & Taylor customer? So we set up an area that has the Must-have handbag and the must-have shoe and the must-have piece of jewelry. I hate the word curated but it’s totally curated by the fashion office. You can grab and go. It’s all merchandised to work together and that’s another point of differentiation at Lord & Taylor to experience something that you haven’t in the past.
Vidisheva: I love physical retail and I don’t think it will go away. We love to touch and feel and we love human interactions. And how much fun is it to go on a weekend and shop in physical stores? That connection with another human being. Because it all started with a physical store, the idea was always to tie that together. We love the buy online pick up in store model. When I worked in finance and always dressed so boring, I would have loved to buy online and pick something up later for my date that night. At Shoptiques, we combine the discovery experience but with the physical store. People when they travel they find local stores to shop. And I know some people think they shouldn’t use my site to browse and then they shop in the stores, but it’s ok. We all shop in different ways now. you might start your journey in a physical boutique and you might end in Apple Pay. For us to leave our houses with all the Netflix at home, we really need to deliver that fun.
Accessories: Fashion and accessories are getting more seasonless as well as more open-minded. What does this mean for retailers to curate assortments?
Goldstein, NPD: I think it’s a lot of opportunity for retailers and manufacturers. Anything goes: athletic, fur, open toe… the con [of more seasonless departments or merchandise] is that it takes a lot to manage.
Solomon, Lord & Taylor: The biggest challenge is to present this seasonless point of view in an industry that is very deeply ingrained in a cycle. It’s getting better for sure and everybody is thinking outside the box and our merchants are buying fur pom-poms for June delivery. That’s all part but it’s a slow evolution, especially for big dept stores.
Vidisheva, Shoptiques: It’s putting so much pressure on supply chain. Before you had a lot more time to analyze the data because you had dept stores pre-buying so you could supply and make what you had to. But Zara changed the supply chain. The trend has been there for many years. And now they say designers are so innovative because they let people buy off the runways. We always wanted that positive reinforcement in that moment. We used to say, the spring colors were whatever they were from a Spring collection a year ago, but people didn’t buy that way. If you loved a top but it wasn’t in that color you would still buy it. In that moment, you wanted it. I think it always existed with customers and the industry couldn’t catch up.
Blumenthal, HandbagDesigner101: But also, at least from the accessories perspective, there is a retail anthropological science behind how certain silhouettes become famous and their rise and fall. Market dictates how silohuettes will sell. If the market is good you can assume that an oversized slouchy bag is going to happen. She’s comfortable, not carrying as much, not thinking as much about organization. But when the market is bad, she’s worried, she wants structure, she wants organization… you’ll never find a backpack selling in a bad market because she doesn’t want something behind her, she wants to hold onto it. So you know there are certain elements that you just have to pay attention to. In a bad market, we’re going to find a whole lot less color because lab dips are expensive and color is expensive. So she’ll be forced to buy things that have a whole less color. Look at hemlines going up and down when the market firsts dropped. There is an element if you pay attention.
Accessories: Everything these days is data, data, data, but this is fashion! It can’t just be about numbers. What’s the art and science behind it all?
Goldstein, NPD: The art has always been there but it’s the science piece that has become more developed lately. I started at Lord & Taylor and retailers had always been so analytical and focused on sales data, but now it’s a broader intelligence: what’s happening elsewhere and how is shopping changing? The art and science is really important to put your finger on to understand the shifts. We never say a retailer/brand should make their decisions on just data. You have to take your experience and what you know the customer wants and what your gut is too.
A lot of the market traffic that we do does look at the last month or last season, but we’re starting to use that data to be that much more forward thinking. We recently dug back into our archives and looked at 10 years of trends in certain categories, and we found that trends tend to last 2 to 3 years, but the steeper the growth curve, the steeper the drop. More slow, controlled growth is healthier. You might risk some sales in the beginning but the trend will have more longevity.
Vidisheva, Shoptiques: We are really focused on data, and we know that small boutique owners don’t have time, they’re doing it all! So we gather the data for them and give them our insights.
Solomon, Lord & Taylor: But if retailers get too bogged down in the data, it’s a grave error. Now is the time to think a little bit more on the art side… analyzing data is going backwards, not going forward. If you’re only analyzing the past you’re not predicting the future. If stores buy from the heart and don’t look into the rear view mirror, you will be successful. Just go with your gut! That is the essence of shopping. You walk into a store, or you see a video on a website, and you think it will make you happier, prettier, skinnier, younger.
Accessories: This might just be the year of the indie handbag designer. What has been your role in discovering such brands, nurturing them, and getting their names known?
Emily Blumenthal, Handbag Designer 101: This market is so oversaturated so it’s an opportunity for them to potentially become the next IT bag. We have a database of over 6,000 designers worldwide and we work with 250 design schools. And they come to us to help their people go from unknowns and catapult to fame overnight.
With online shopping, everything is so ubiquitous that nothing wows us. Logos are getting smaller and people don’t want that anymore. This is the time for a new brand to rise up to fame. This is the time for the unknown brand. The space is wide open.