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Fashion independents will have to evolve digitally to compete

James Knowles

The news this week that the IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) will launch a new digital panel called SaveTheHighStreet.org to help monitor sales data is one that should be welcomed. It also shows that, despite being much maligned in the face of online competition, bricks-and-mortar retail will continue to survive by evolving.

In the same way that etailer Missguided announcing its intention to open shops underscores the importance of a physical presence, etailers also use their web traffic as a guide for where to open stores. In turn, this generates a halo effect on their ecommerce business in that area. But what does this all mean for independents if their online competitors are moving onto the high street and bringing with them all of their digital learnings?

Independent retailers have the benefit of knowing what it takes to run a bricks-and-mortar store and are aware of all the challenges that come with it. However, where many – but not all – may lag behind is their online offering.

Certainly, this was backed-up by Drapers’ exclusive Independents Market Report, which surveyed nearly 100 fashion independents about trading and strategy. The report found 35% of fashion independents do not sell online, rising to 41% for menswear independents. Most of the categories polled – womenswear, lingerie, footwear, and occasion and formalwear – reported that their online sales represent less than 5% of total revenue. However, the same study found that around 37% are expecting online sales to grow 20% this year.

Where many – but not all – may lag behind is their online offering

This might be challenging, considering just 43% said their website is transactional. Only 22% have a responsive site, and just 29% a mobile-optimised one. Independents are even further behind when it comes to apps – only 8% have one.

Despite these hurdles, the threat of online competition was only independent retailers’ third-biggest business concern this year – 15% considered it a problem. This is some way behind discounting at 31% and high rents/overheads at 22%. Moreover, when asked where they expect to see the most sales over the next 12 months, while 51% said in stores, a surprisingly large 33% said online.

Initiatives such as this will certainly help the independent sector to compete. For more on the future role of the bricks-and-mortar store, check out Drapers’ September 9 Property Special, where we will be looking at the subject in depth and questioning what the future of the high street will look like.

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