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GUEST COMMENT What is value in 2020…?

Shoppers are now more likely to buy secondhand clothing. Image: Fotolia

Fashion retailers have had a tough year with the lockdown and the pausing of many social events which normally drive sales. Yet we’ve seen shoppers heading back to chains like Primark, and the likes of Boohoo and Asos doing better than expected, so analysts might summarise this behaviour and infer that consumers are looking for value.

Customers have been conditioned by these fast-fashion retailers to expect keen prices, ‘more for your money’, ‘entire new wardrobes’, in turn redefining what value means.

Yet being lighter on the bank balance doesn’t necessarily confer value. These low prices always come at a cost, and in regards to fashion, the true price is often paid by those responsible for making the garment, much earlier in the supply chain.  

Production quality is visible to the customer in the form of fabrication and construction, and the shopper can make their own assessments on these elements. In the case of fast-fashion, it seems that price wins. Products go into baskets, one of many making up the ‘larger units per transaction’ that Primark has reported. 

More for less seems to be the customer mind-set, but this is certainly not value, products built on the fast-fashion business model often have very short lifespans. Busted zips, broken seams and fraying hems, these are all likely outcomes resulting from moderate use. All due to the sheer speed items are run off the production line.

Pair a broken garment with a low initial investment from the customer, and they are less likely to repair or mend an item of clothing. This is ok though, the customer can rebuy this week’s must-have, in turn, this shopper now becoming a member of the disposable fashion cohort.

But its 2020, disposable is NOT on-trend and does NOT feel like good value. And this is before the supply chain is considered.

The cost of material, labour and shipping (only a few components of the production process) should add up to a higher price than what’s on the price ticket. Very low prices cannot be accounted for just by faster production methods. 

This means those in the supply chain; farming, factories, or freight are being squeezed financially.

These elements are invisible to the end consumer. Resulting in a lack of emotional investment in the decision-making process. Even broad terms like ‘improving supply chain’ can be used by companies to disguise the human element, a sort of soft admittance that standards were not high enough or perhaps previously even exploitive.

With such opaqueness, it’s easy for us, as shoppers, to forget that this piece of clothing has been made by people. Perhaps by a small family business weaving, stitching and sewing components of the end garment. The low prices mean that it is likely their pockets are being squeezed. 

Thus, in a nutshell, ‘value’ is not an outcome of lack of expenditure and of course, it also doesn’t mean that spending more guarantees good value. This does beg the question: What does define value?

Value is an amalgamation of the entire customer experience when exchanging cash for goods. 

This experience is driven by purpose or story and starts long before goods are on shelves. Defined by creators of the products and brands, identifying a strong purpose early on and ensuring communication through the customer journey is important.

However, for the customer, in a brick and mortar setting, it can begin in the presentation of the shop window, shelf or rail. Online shoppers want to see a great website, amazing social channels and a great buying experience.

Strong visual merchandising is a key component of storytelling and will draw a customer to a product to begin and build an emotional journey. Value is added when store staff bring knowledge about the product, not pushing a hard sell but instead relaying the message and purpose, this adds confidence into the customer’s decision making. These aspects can be replicated online and of course, many brands have hugely loyal communities. Look at how Nike handles its digital brand building. 

These examples of a slick front of house operation are long-lasting for the customer. This positive experience will cement confidence and lead to describing such experiences to friends and family, even passing on the storytelling and purpose of a product, provided the actual physical item is up to scratch. This is what good value looks like, or at least one example of it. 

The physical approach to retail has to of course bring into play just how much sway the digital world has on our emotional connection, or interpretation of ‘value’, to physical products. 

More clicks, more likes, more swipes are high social currency in the digital era and a trade-off on price, quality and customer experience can mean more looks, more fits, more content.  

It should only be fair then that we are privy to more information, more transparency, and more visibility on the journey products have gone through to land in-store or online with shiny five pounds price tickets. Only then can consumers make a conscious and informed choice on what they feel is good value. 

Ollie Shepherd is head of product and merchandising at Sweetshop Media

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