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Shopping through a new lens

The events of the past year have fundamentally shifted consumer behavior and the landscape of the retail industry

The events of the past year have fundamentally shifted consumer behavior and the landscape of the retail industry. With many physical spaces shuttered, e-commerce exploded in 2020 and accelerated the existing trend away from physical to digital shopping.

To help us better understand the impact of Covid-19 on the retail world, Snapchat’s vice-president EMEA, Claire Valoti, has invited Flora Macdonald Johnston, fashion and luxury editor and next gen editor at the Financial Times, for a conversation on the future of e-commerce, the impact of gen Z on the fashion industry, and how businesses can best navigate this new digital world.

Potential for growth

While many sectors of the fashion industry suffered as a result of the pandemic, 2020 still showed potential for growth. Macdonald Johnston points out that both LVMH and Kering reported surprisingly good figures for the year, especially in the first quarter. Although recovery will be more of a struggle for certain parts of the industry – particularly non-DTC brands – Macdonald Johnston is confident that retail will bounce back post-pandemic.

The key, for both luxury and mainstream fashion brands, is to find the sweet spot between the digital and physical experience. This means making sure consumers are getting the best possible online experience – one that offers the efficiency and convenience that make e-commerce so appealing to begin with. “If brands can really dig into understanding the DNA of their customer and constantly innovate their digital experience, the industry can recover. But it will take time,” Macdonald Johnston says.

Physical meets digital

E-commerce provided an essential lifeline for fashion brands during the pandemic, but Macdonald Johnston believes that there is still an appetite for physical spaces. Going forward, gen Zers and younger millennials in particular will be looking for brands and retailers to integrate the e-commerce and physical retail experience.

Burberry is one example of a luxury fashion business that Macdonald Johnston points to as a successful case study of this experience in action. At a recent pop-up in Harrods, Burberry used AR technology to invite consumers to see in-store statues come to life and walk around the store, modelling products and appearing in the backdrop of customers’ selfies. The brand plans to further integrate digital experiences in their upcoming London flagship. Outside of the luxury world, high-street retailer Zara has announced that they’ve invested £2.7bn into making sure all of their stores have better digital integration.

“If there’s not a seamless physical-to-digital interaction, then it won’t work for gen Z,” Macdonald Johnston says. For the next generation, physical retail spaces will be considered a place for discovery and for tapping into a community experience, while e-commerce will provide an ease and efficiency for purchasing.

Gen Z’s influence

Even before life in lockdown began, gen Z was already making huge waves in the world of e-commerce. They’re digitally savvy, comfortable working across multiple devices and platforms, and catalysts of change. The task for brands, Macdonald Johnston believes, is to try and keep up with this ever-evolving generation.

As drivers of digital innovation, it is important to note that sustainability is a core concern for the next generation, as evidenced by their engagement with resell platforms. Having already lived through a recession, socio-political movements such as Black Lives Matter and Me Too, and the pandemic, gen Zers have great empathy for social and ethical causes and are focused on putting their money where their morals are. As a key e-commerce consumer, gen Z’s concerns and calls for transparency should be taken seriously by brands.

A local outlook

With travel on pause, brands and retailers have had to adopt more local outlooks. A recent study by Morning Consult reported that 27% of polled gen Zers said they planned on shopping more locally following the pandemic – but this sentiment can be felt across generations. Consumers are also thinking internally, as shown by the home interiors boom during the first lockdown. Macdonald Johnston believes that even as the world opens up, this local-first thinking is unlikely to leave our psyche.

For designers and brands, this means being more thoughtful about creating and promoting products that appeal to local consumers and what they want in this particular moment, instead of planning around tourist shoppers and international markets.

Augmented reality

At Snapchat, we have already seen the potential augmented reality has to connect the physical and digital, especially in the fashion world. Many brands are engaging with the opportunities posed by AR technology, like Croatian label Tribute Band, which makes exclusively digital clothing that can be worn by consumers for social media images and videos. “Consumers are still getting that dopamine hit of wearing something really cool and new, as well as instant gratification, but with none of the waste behind it,” Macdonald Johnston explains.

AR technology is also being used by luxury brands to reach wider audiences. In March 2021, Gucci created $18 AR versions of their sneakers that in real life can cost upwards of $500, making their high-end items more easily accessible. This is especially appealing to younger consumers who are granted access to the magic of luxurious labels that would otherwise be out of their reach in the real world.

Key tips for businesses

Macdonald Johnston offers the following advice to businesses looking to adapt and make the most of future e-commerce opportunities.

  1. Embrace mobile: Examine the demographics of your consumer and invest your time in the platform that will have the greatest impact.
  2. Consider Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) options: For many brands, being equipped to go DTC if necessary is a smart move, as it ensures that if we ever face another crisis where supply chains are disrupted, they can be in control of their money and their business.
  3. Create a ‘phygital’ experience: Brands should take advantage of the data at their fingertips to create a seamless online experience that works with the physical space, not against.
  4. Build engagement: This is going to be even more essential for brands going forward, as consumers – especially gen Zers – want to feel connected to the brands they’re purchasing from.
¹ Morning Consult, (2020), Gen Z’s most loved brands 2020