How is coronavirus impacting fashion brands?

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

In March, UK retail sales fell a record 5.1%, according to the BBC, as the coronavirus lockdown forced shops to close for the foreseeable. But for fashion brands with an online offering, there’s good reason to be hopeful.

We’ve analysed the developing impact of Covid-19 on order volumes and referrals for more than 100 fashion brands in the UK and beyond. As the below graph shows, online orders and referrals for brands in the fashion sector have significantly increased since the lockdown began.

Order volumes and referral trends in the fashion sector

Here's how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry so far, and our predictions for the months ahead.

March: the pandemic hits the UK

Unsurprisingly, the week the UK went into lockdown caused online order volumes for fashion brands to fall. People feared for their jobs, their lives, and their dwindling toilet paper supplies. They went into survival mode, stocking up on essentials and forgetting everything else.

In the week following the government’s lockdown announcement, food and drink sales soared. Meanwhile, online sales for our fashion clients dropped by 12%, remaining only marginally up on the same time last year.

The rest of March saw companies and employees adjust in anticipation of what the virus could mean for business. Retail workers were furloughed, marketing budgets were slashed, and the world retreated behind closed doors.

April: adjusting to the 'new normal'

By the start of April, the panic began to subside. People settled into a new way of life, albeit within the confines of their homes and local supermarkets.

Most individuals’ employment situations were now apparent, supermarket supply chains had proven robust enough to meet demand and every mundane chore possible had been completed.

The vast expanse of time yawned ahead. And that, combined with surprisingly good weather, prompted consumers to revisit a popular pre-coronavirus pastime: online shopping.

Now: returning consumer appetite for fashion brands

There are promising signs online sales are picking up for fashion businesses.

Worldwide spending on luxury fashion items online has gone up by 57% year-on-year. Sales for online fast fashion retailer Boohoo are booming. More people are downloading apps that let them try on clothes digitally.

One difference, however, between online baskets now compard to this time last year is what’s in them.

Alongside floaty summer dresses and vibrant tropical shirts, consumers are adding loungewear and athleisure gear as they seek maximum comfort for staying in. Online order volumes and referrals for women‘s and men‘s fashion are up 49% and 42% respectively.

Online jewellery brands are doing particularly well at the moment. While putting on jeans may feel like an effort too large, adding a pair of hoops or your favourite watch is an easy way to liven up an athleisure look and feel more like ourselves. For one of our jewellery clients, referrals are up 96% year-on-year.

Even footwear, the fashion sub-sector hardest hit by the coronavirus, has seen online order volumes rise over the past two weeks. The UK lockdown may have been extended, but consumers still want sandals for the garden or trainers for their daily exercise. Order volumes for footwear clients have increased by 68% year-on-year. We anticipate this trend continuing as we approach warmer months and easing lockdown restrictions.

As order volumes for fashion brands begin to rise, so do referrals.

Our referral marketing platform is now delivering 101% more customers to our fashion clients than this time last year. Right now, more people are recommending fashion brands than at the start of the year.

June onwards: the future for fashion brands

There’s good reason for fashion brands with an online presence to remain positive. On average, online sales for our fashion clients are up 71% year-on-year and rising quickly.

The same goes for referrals. Consumers have time on their hands, and they‘re using it to shop online and catch up with friends. That presents valuable potential to ecommerce fashion brands with referral programmes.

As businesses and consumers alike adapt to this evolving environment, we anticipate fashion sales and referrals to continue increasing.

This prediction is supported by looking at countries that passed the peak of the coronavirus before the UK. In China, a Hermès boutique made $2.7 million in a single day after reopening. Order volumes for one of our luxury fashion clients, also in east Asia, are up 234% year-on-year. Its referrals are even higher at 304%.

The biggest unknown for the future lies in not if consumers will shop, but how.

With all buying activity now online, time will tell if this shift to ecommerce continues once physical stores reopen. But whether or not the coronavirus has accelerated the death of the high street, it’s already forcing brands to optimise their online offerings and reimagine the retail experience. Only those that do so will survive – and thrive – over the coming months and beyond.

Courtney Wylie, vice-president of product and marketing, Mention Me