By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
BY ITS very definition, fashion is an industry that re-invents itself every season, as trends switch from long hemlines to short, prints to patterns and tailored cuts to baggy wear. Today though, much of the ready-to-wear sector is facing another and much greater challenge as shoppers increasingly turn to online sites to order their clothes and accessories.
Less affected is the luxury sector, where the shopping experience in opulent boutiques is almost as important as the clothes themselves. Of course, they also offer online sales but for the brands, going digital is seen more as an effective way to add value to business and communicate with their global market.
Sopavadee Bejrajati, division manager of Club21 (Thailand), a distributor of such luxury fashion brands as Alexander Wang, AX Armani Exchange, Bao Bao Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, DKNY, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Marni, Mulberry, Pleats Please Issey Miyake, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney. It has been successfully operating in Thailand for more than two decades and for four decades under the banner Club21 Asia. With a commitment to brands, designers, and customers, Club 21 has always nurtured its loyal clients while promoting its labels and building long-term relationships underscored by brand trust and services.
“Even though all Club21’s boutiques continue to do well, we have to admit that digital has turned the world around. For designer labels, consistency in projecting brand image is valuable. For this reason, we apply what we call the ‘3Cs’. The first ‘C’ is for Communicate. In the past, we used to produce our own magazine called Club Communique twice a year. Now we do this online monthly to promote brands and also use Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to communicate what we want. But that doesn’t allow for interaction. The second ‘C’ is for Commerce. We don’t have our own platform and due to the nature of our products and their prices, customers can’t always make a decision right away. They want some form of interaction. The introduction of @line allows immediate responses and payment can be completed more easily. With Line, the conversation between the team and customers is much better and customers will leave messages even when the shops are closed. Sometime they are too busy to come to the stores so they line us and ask, for example, ‘I’m going out and want a red bag, what are the choices?’ Our team will forward the message and within a short time, our listed brands will send pictures of their red bags and prices to the service team who pass on that information to the customer. Once a decision is made, we organise free delivery. That’s the third ‘C’ and it stands for Convenience,” Sopavadee says.
While overall return rates for online purchases currently stand at around 30 per cent, Club21’s are considerably lower, partly, Sopavadee says, because of brand trust.
“Retailers should put everything they have into avoiding customer disappointment. I would say that luxury brands in particular still need their stores to sell the experience, add mood and tone to the products and, most importantly, offer a truly personal touch, which the visual world cannot do. Online and offline must go hand in hand,” she says.
Like Club21, Pacifica Group is a key player in the high-end fashion market and manages about 18 brands including American Eagle, Camper, Coach, Coccinelle, Etro, Furla, Geox, Keds, Kenneth Cole and Max Mara.
Sopana Lavichant, director of the group, travels frequently, often staying for months in the US, and says she’s seen firsthand how global retail stores are being forced to adapt to the digital world.
“It’s rather frightening to see stores in a prime location closing down and nothing opening in their place. Customers increasingly choose online over offline to take advantage of the wider variety of products, better promotions, and higher convenience and today we are seeing more and more luxury brand items on offer such as at net-a-porter. The e-commerce market share of total fashion retail sales keeps growing and many customers, especially millennials, are turning to this channel.
“At Pacifica Group, we have gradually incorporated digital into our core business but prefer to adhere to omni-channel marketing,” Sopana explains.
“We have to base our strategies on the behaviour of Thai customers and provide them with the human interaction or personalised services that make them feel comfortable when they shop. It is the Thai way. They like to do things this way unlike in other countries where the shopping experience is far more individual. That’s why e-commerce around the world is higher than in Thailand. We also see that online retailers or brands are having to open physical shops to push their products and avoid return purchases,” she adds.
“For us, it is important to be able to complete the sale and delivery of products to customers wherever they are. That allows us to clear our stocks. Digital plays an important role here. For example, a customer comes to a shop at CentralWorld, finds the product she wants but they don’t have it in her size. We find it for her at, say, Central Lat Phrao. So we’ll make an order and then deliver it to her. We’ve also learned that the delivery mode is important too. Customers are happier to take delivery of the attractive box straight from the courier than through the post. As the shopping experience is very important for the luxury market to create brand loyalty and be highly competitive, I think event marketing is also key to creating brand awareness through it’s better managed through influencers than the mass media. We have to focus on the visual effects and right now the trend is for personalised experiences.
“And above all, we mustn’t be afraid of changes but embrace them as they happen. Whether digital-first, high automation, or new technologies, there still will be a need for interaction, and fashion companies will need to keep adapting in order to succeed,” notes Sopana.