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With its London Fashion Week trendspotting, Topshop shows the way for retailers online

Today’s marketers live in a craven state of panic as they try to seize on or adapt to the latest marketing trend, buzz phrase, or piece of essential new technology (Oculus Rift anybody?) With everybody chasing their tails, worried about missing the latest microtrend, Professor Leslie de Chernatony helps businesses separate brand magic from hype.

London Fashion Week (LFW) is the UK’s major shop window for this successful creative industry. It is also increasingly a showcase for the creative use of technology in retail.

Topshop is no stranger in this area. Last year it demonstrated a virtual reality catwalk that shoppers could experience in its flagship store. This year it experimented with Twitter in a way that looked to shorten the distance between digital marketing and generating a sale.

The fashion chain latched on to key trends that the fashion industry was tweeting about during LFW and flagged up Topshop products that fit the trend on digital billboards near six of its stores. Customers who tweeted @Topshop with a specific trend hashtag would also receive a tweet with a curated collection of styles that were available to purchase straightaway.

As businesses in all sectors continue to wrestle with turning digital experiences into opportunities to purchase, the Topshop campaign is intriguing. In some respects, fast fashion of the kind Topshop excels at is not a million miles away from fast moving consumer goods. Both are reliant on catching the shopper’s attention and communicating with them in a moment, so there are lessons to be learned for Britain’s grocers.

By making the most of positive sentiment in this moment, Topshop has created a classic impulse purchasing opportunity. It’s the sort of call to action that has been the bread and butter of FMCG brands over the years, but which they are finding difficult to replicate online.

While buying a multipack of Coca-Cola will never excite in the way that purchasing a shiny new pair of Topshop shoes will, it is still possible to adopt and apply some of this thinking – and to apply it to FMCG. In the online shopping environment many brands don’t even get a chance to make their pitch to the consumer. If you are not on a shopper’s favourite list, then you’re largely invisible.

Online sales channels give brands tools to combat this, but many in FMCG aren’t moving quickly enough or in a creative enough way to make the most of them. There are opportunities for brands to adopt a more partner driven approach here because retailers have their own issues with ecommerce, namely that they need to make it profitable. With store-based business models, increasing online sales are a drag on profits, and this will only increase.

Brands can help but it shouldn’t just be by providing tasty discounts for the big four. Online has grown up being cheaper, but brands need to shift the conversation on behalf of retailers. The same packs, sold in the same way at the same price is a missed opportunity. Exclusive product formats, gifts with purchase or personalised products can all be delivered through online mechanisms more effectively than in store, and they add value and increase margins to both parties.

Topshop, like John Lewis, has shown the way in managing the emerging dynamic between physical retail and online. At Christmas, over half of John Lewis online orders were click and collect, driving significant footfall into stores. The question of what these shops are ‘for’ in future is still to be resolved. Are they sales areas, incremental spend drivers, or simply distribution points?

One thing that is clear is that retail is increasingly omni-channel with store boundaries irrelevant. Brands need to be alert to the fact that sales opportunities arise pretty much anywhere. Rather than thinking of a shopper trudging the aisles of a store, brands must cater for this new mindset. Just as Topshop has used trends to serve up slices of its inventory as ready-to-wear outfits, FMCG brands could be providing meal ideas and solutions for the weekly shop.

As shoppers become more agile in their use of the various channels open to them, marketing media have to follow them with consistency of approach. All media should play some role in moving people through the path to purchase, so investing the time in working out how shoppers switch between channels and media touchpoints is crucial.

At the same time, don’t neglect the basics. Optimising owned media, such as pack shots and online product descriptions seem obvious, but often doesn’t get the same attention as traditional merchandising and POS. It’s just as important, and it should.

Whether it’s online or instore, retail is detail – a message that Topshop has taken on-board and that others should heed.

Professor Leslie de Chernatony is a board director at LIFE Agency