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How COVID-19 is disrupting the retail calendar

From digital runway shows to a decline in arrivals, discover how COVID-19 has impacted decision making and changed the retail calendar.
How COVID-19 is disrupting the retail calendar | EDITED

As designers share mutual feelings towards a more sensible fashion calendar, we examine how COVID-19 has been the catalyst for this cognizance and what this means for the retailer industry.

Key takeaways

  • Looking at changes in assortments, tops took the largest hit in new deliveries as a move toward smarter looks was already in the works pre-pandemic.
  • With a staggering decline in promotions of spring campaigns and trend edits, retailers have opted to tailor communications to the current pandemic.
  • A shift in collection availability across mass market retailers will mean trends land closer to their peak purchasing period, preserving margins.

With an increasing disconnect between product arrivals and sell outs, along with pressures on designers to make drastic changes, we analyze how coronavirus has forced the retail calendar to course-correct.

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Calls for change

Open letters have now been sent from three groups of industry professionals calling for a shift in how the fashion calendar operates. While many major players in the industry are yet to sign, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele announced the move to a seasonless schedule with only two fashion shows per year over the weekend. Fellow Kering brand Saint Laurent opted out of the traditional fashion show circuit earlier in April. This highlights the hunger for change within the industry.

1. Open letter to the fashion industry

This letter was the first big call to action, essentially declaring intent to amend and align the seasonal shopping and fashion calendars. Some of the designers and brands who have added their signatures to the petition include Dries Van Noten, Tory Burch and Bergdorf Goodman. Sustainability and discount shifts are also key points within the letter.

2. #rewiringfashion

A group of independent designers, CEOs and retail executives, ‘facilitated’ by Business of Fashion, rethought how the fashion industry ‘could and should’ work. The online statement goes into more detail than the former, breaking down the current issues into 3 key areas & offering solutions for each under the headings:
1. Reset the Fashion Calendar
2. Reimagine Fashion Shows
3. Break Fashion’s Addiction to Discounting

3. The Fashion Industry’s Reset: An Important Message from the BFC & CFDA

In the latest call for change, two of fashion’s biggest trade groups released a joint manifesto, urging designers and businesses to ‘reset and rethink’ their current business models. This included recommending designers focus on no more than two main collections a year, consider hosting virtual presentations and support the shifting of delivery cadences closer to the intended season.


The impact on luxury

Spring 2021 reimagined

  • London Fashion Week: Jun 12th – 14th
  • Paris Fashion Week: Jul 9th – 13th
  • Milan Fashion Week: Jul 14th – 17th

Coronavirus continues to incite creativity and force the industry to adapt the way it has traditionally operated. New York Men’s Fashion Week remains postponed, however, a digital format is coming for London, Paris and Milan. While not the first of their kind – Shanghai took a similar approach back in April – this will be the first major event to implement the model. It is reported that content will range from digital lookbooks and videos to sit-downs with the designers and potential for podcasts as well.

Assortment changes and a shift in communications

While the luxury industry has less flexibility to react to significant market shifts, labels are pivoting by way of new deliveries and customer communications. Looking at arrivals since the virus ramped up, categories across the board were down YoY except for swim and underwear – up 8% and 11%, respectively. This is mainly due to recent holiday edits from Dolce & Gabbana, further backed on the label’s Instagram page.

Tops took the largest hit in new deliveries, primarily seeing divestment across T-shirts and hoodies as a move toward smarter looks was intentional pre-pandemic. However, many customers remain at home, leading to higher sell out rates for the aforementioned categories.

Lastly, email communications and Instagram serve as key tools luxury labels should use to push relevant styles through quarantine. Though few have tapped into this strategy, brands and retailers could promote comfort styles and ways to wear current stock at home.

Men’s trending arrivals

Trending arrivals in the menswear luxury market provide some inspiration and commercial direction for mainstream retailers. Trench coats were popular and offered a trans-seasonal option, requiring less discounting and increased backing for neutrals and brown shades. Co-ord sets, particularly jersey hoodies and shorts, found their way into assortments and should not be ignored by the mass market. Given that the 70s trend was set to be big this season, retro stripes proved favorable.

Women’s trending arrivals

A perennial comfort fabric, linen is a springtime favorite and luxury retailers are continuing to invest in commercial silhouettes like basic tees and wide-leg trousers. Neutrals across apparel also continue to grow, jumping from 4% of arrivals last year to 6% this year, and providing a necessary calming aesthetic. On the other hand, dresses landing at the likes of Stella McCartney showcase the power of print and its ability to give hope and optimism ahead of summer.

Promotional frequency declines

Mentions of spring/summer collections Jan 01 –  May 05 2019 vs. 2020

Last year not only saw increased mentions of spring and summer collections in emails, but noted more formalized campaigns launched around their deliveries. This indicates that the arrivals were predictable and retailers had confidence in launching an initiative around these trends.

Spring collection communications in 2019 peaked during April, which observed 37% of mentions for the noted period. The ramp-up heading into peak summer season was nothing out of the ordinary and expected from several mass brands.

2020 has noted a staggering decline in the promotion of spring campaigns and trend edits. With mentions down 14% YoY, a shift in focus is evident as some retailers have opted to tailor communications to the current pandemic while others have experienced delays in receiving products.

Those retailers who did promote springtime edits and collections changed the focus from a campaign to the situation at hand. Perry Ellis used the opportunity to prove the power of color while Missguided reminded consumers that ‘Spring is still a thing.’

Benefits and drawbacks for mass retailers

Pro: Buy now, wear now

One major plus of a shift in collection availability for mass retailers is that trends would land closer to their peak purchasing period. Rather than fall outerwear dropping in July, products would arrive closer to its intended time of wear, freeing up floor space and extending the possibility to sell summer apparel while temperatures are still high.

Pro: Preserves margin

In an effort to make room in-store for new merchandise, retailers often prematurely discount seasonal products. This unnecessarily erodes margins and forces End-of-Season sales to take place sooner than required. Club Monaco was one of the earliest to promote this event last year on June 7th. Once lockdown restrictions have eased, the selling window will return for categories such as occasionwear and vacation edits.

Con: Everyone must be on board

The vicious cycle that exists around the early arrival of seasonal collections began to stay competitive. While the virus has caused a delay in stock this year, the market must align in continuing later deliveries. Otherwise, the desire to be first to market will force the calendar to return to its original timeline.

Alternative options

Adapt for next season

While it might require some creativity, there are ways to reposition currently stocked seasonal trends for the many months ahead.

Delay deliveries

This route might make the most sense for brands with the luxury of pressing pause on new orders. Several trends that sit within fall collections are year-round favorites, making the merchandise desirable for the next few seasons.

Deliver now & reduce discounts

Having already delivered its Spring 2020 collection, Givenchy has vowed not to discount any new products until July to shrug the cycle of anticipated sales. Retailers should consider this option to get markdown cadence back on track and retrain consumer expectations.

Despite the uncertainty of the current retail calendar, data can help your business decode wider industry trends so you’re not relying on guesswork. For more data-backed analysis, sign up to our weekly Insider Briefing delivered straight to your inbox.