Fashion festival fever: Australian retail plays catch-up – Part One

feature-fashion-200Retail has moved online, there’s no point denying it. Slowly, but surely traditional bricks and mortar fashion stores have to embrace the new technology or risk losing customers.

Few Australian brands stand out in terms of their strategies on a global scale, but ecommerce experts, marketing directors and retailers are all confident Australian fashion brands are capable of moving up the ranks and developing new and exciting strategies which will challenge the online dominance and ingenuity of European and American brands.

Most recently, the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival provided insights into the developing arena of fashion retailers’ online strategies. The festival updated its website, iPhone app and Shop the Runway – its three most successful digital platforms.

Shop the Runway was an industry-first for Australia, launching in March 2012, it offered consumers the chance to instantly act on their shopping desires following their runway experience. Utilising a new technology called ‘Pips’, consumers could click on interactive points in image galleries on the festival’s website to read product information, share looks with friends via social media, locate stockists or immediately purchase online.

SmartCompany talked to a range of market experts to find out where the industry in Australia is headed and what Australia’s best brands are doing in the online realm.

David Briskin, Sass and Bide chief executive:  Creating a brand community

Sass and Bide was founded in the late 1990s at the start of the Internet boom.  The iconic Australian designer ticks all the fundamental boxes for a basic online presence – social media presence, established online brand identity and ability to purchase its products online. But it is now striving to go beyond the fundamentals and create a digital strategy which provides its customer base with an inside look into the brand and its creators.

Briskin says providing this ‘behind-the-scenes’ element to the website aims to help foster consumer engagement and get people talking.

“We want to provide insights and also communicate with and hear what the customers like, don’t like and any feedback they have. We’ve been doing it in-store for a long time, but this is another way,” he says.

Sass and Bide has also been building this consumer-brand relationship by enlisting Canadian model and fashion blogger Coco Rocha as a guest blogger on Sass and Bide’s website and social media pages and running competitions.

“We get a lot of feedback, whether it’s specifically product related or comments about the Coco initiative. We also ran a competition to fly someone to London fashion week. Even when we put a picture up of the girls, it really generates a lot of engagement,” he says.

At London fashion week this year, the brand live-Instagrammed images of the models on the runway, allowing Australian customers to see the new looks at the same time as their European counterparts.

Briskin says ultimately, Sass and Bide is now trying to create a brand community, undefined by geographic locale.

“We want to try new things online and we’ll hopefully be opening a store in New York later this year. For the opening we’d do something online around the launch and bring it back to the Australian customers, uniting the customers around the world.

“By trying to share what goes on behind-the-scenes or information about the brand, this generates that community,” he says.

Despite current efforts to ramp up its digital strategy, Briskin freely admits Australian retailers have fallen behind their global competitors when it comes to adopting innovative digital strategies.

“I think we were probably a little slow to get going, Sass and Bide included. I’m not sure if people felt burnt during the .com era, when lots of people put money into websites in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, this could have been a reason for the industry being slow in general in embracing social media and now it has to catch up,” he says.

Globally, fashion retailers are out-doing Australian brands. Gap has implemented technology which allows fashion blogging websites such as Refinery29 and Lookbook.nu bloggers to share their Gap outfit creations on its website and it’s beginning to favour video rather than image content. In April last year, international beauty and cosmetics retailer Sephora began trialling iPads in stores as a way to provide customers with more information about products and tips about styling while they browse in the shop. Other brands are appearing on fashion TV shows, using musicians as ambassadors and organising promotions and stunts which generate a strong social media following and go ‘viral’.

Briskin says he expects Australian retailers will start to be more innovative.

“I’m sure we’ll see some innovation coming out of Australian retail soon. There are sure to be some interesting things coming through, Australia is great for innovation,” he says.

Briskin says currently 5% of all Sass and Bide’s sales come from online and all its social media is managed in-house.

“At the moment our PR and online marketing is managed in-house, but we’ve outsourced our website development to WeAreDigital and they work on strategies for growing it. We’re definitely putting more time and energy into the online world.”

Briskin says the greatest challenge in implementing a digital strategy is maintaining it.

“We’ve seen a really good following on Facebook and customers want to communicate with us in that way. The problem is keeping up with it and then the next thing will come along, so businesses really need to be agile.

With 21 stores to operate, Briskin says “there is a lot to do and now in addition we have all these extra mediums to focus on.”

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