In the last decade, the adoption of digital technologies has been moving forward at a steady pace. Retail business executives recognized the need to modernize their strategy, but they were also hesitant to invest before seeing actual proof of success. While the delivery of value to consumers was among the key drivers of the digital transformation, organizational challenges and experimentation with new practices deterred many manufacturers, retailers, and brands from taking the leap. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a rapid acceleration into the digital space ensued as employees began working remotely and consumers expected new shopping experiences to meet their demands. In this climate, businesses could not meet goals, maintain a competitive edge, and revenue growth without a new digital strategy.
But the rapid nature of the digitization process hasn’t come without its hurdles. Many retailers and manufacturers had to navigate unchartered territory. The pandemic showed that there is no one size fits all solution for forming a digital transformation strategy. Each company needed to create a personalized experience and tailor their needs to fit into the saturated market. The success stories in the digital transformation have come from the companies that adapted quickly. Those without a digital presence, mainly brick and mortar stores, were left behind as competitors made great strides in efficient remote working while maintaining consumer loyalty.
As e-commerce boomed, online shopping habits changed, too. Consumers began valuing lower costs, cheaper shipping prices and delivery time, and bigger promotions and used this as a reason to shift to different brands. In physical shopping experiences, maintaining a relationship with a sales assistant and having a personalized experience were key factors in driving their loyalty and connection. But through acquiring endless options on the Internet and opening themselves up to competitors, their loyalty went to the most cost-effective option. Taking these insights on board, some retailers began looking for ways to regain consumer loyalty and trust and give them a memorable experience that would leave them resonating with the brand. The emergence of virtual stores and showrooms, high-definition imagery and videos, and live, virtual events that would facilitate consumer interaction became the new way of increasing customer loyalty and creating a seamless consumer experience, despite the pandemic’s restraints.
Consumers were given access to cutting-edge, true-to-life environments through the virtual stores that ultimately boosted engagement and sales rates for retailers. Simultaneously, manufacturers and wholesalers found that the B2B, VR showrooms were immensely effective in driving orders from brands. The digitized programs helped expedite business in reducing the time from sales to market. The elimination of travel increases sustainability, and the upholding of professionalism and realism through the technology has enabled the supply-chain’s acceleration.
By using video chats such as Zoom, we can expect more digital buying appointments in the future. 2020 saw a quantum leap into conducting business virtually. Through revolutionary virtual showrooms and experiences, retailers and manufacturers have recognized their value and cost-efficiency, thus implementing an increase in the technology’s investment and adoption. McKinsey conducted a Global Survey for executives who reinforced this notion, adding “funding for digital initiatives has increased more than anything else—more than increases in costs, the number of people in technology roles, and the number of customers.” The survey also concluded that these new technologies, remote work, and improved customer experience look to stay for the future.
The longevity of these technologies is among the most widespread debates in this new world of manufacturing and retail. Many have questioned if businesses will continue their digital efforts when international borders and offices have reopened when pre-pandemic life resumes. While timelines of when this will actually come to fruition are unclear, one thing is certain; consumer demands have changed, and the fashion industry as a whole has been opened up to a new, advanced world. Companies must consider how digital has been a crucial lifeline that has allowed them to stay afloat during the pandemic. Buyer behavior has shifted from 2020 to 2030 in just over a year, and consumers will soon be looking for the next generation of shopping experiences.
Safe working has become efficient working. Instead of things slowing down, companies are finding competitive ways to increase their brand awareness and make the digital experience on-par, or even better than in-person. Wholesalers and manufacturers have also witnessed a huge sea change in how business is conducted and have recognized digital-centric platforms as a viable option in the supply-chain. Going forward, virtual appointments and showrooms will be a useful tool in the fashion industry’s arsenal and will undoubtedly open up more business opportunities. The landscape has evolved, and companies will have to consider innovation a top priority when assigning funds and investing in their business. The time for experimentation and forward-thinking is now; retailers, brands and manufacturers need to adapt, stay relevant and make moves for the future.
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