Karen Alberg Grossman
by Karen Alberg Grossman

Portrait of Karen for MR Magazine

After the best holiday season in more than a decade, retailers deserve to feel a bit less anxious. But while comfortable is cool, complacency is not, as retailing becomes increasingly competitive and confusing.

I’m not sure I have this quote verbatim, but some retail expert somewhere once said, “Good merchandising is giving customers what they want. Great merchandising is giving customers what they didn’t know they wanted until they saw it brilliantly displayed in your store.”

In this era of data overload, retailers should not forget their own power to create desire, both in-store and online. We rely so heavily on statistics these days: previous shopping purchases and patterns; what customers say they want next; why they turn left instead of right as they enter the store; where, when and why they click; what they leave in their carts; which influencers have how many followers, ad infinitum. Yes, the analytics are interesting and sometimes helpful, but I don’t think they explain the visual magic that so often inspires impulse purchasing.

This is particularly relevant in menswear today. For despite the proliferation of fashion bloggers and online shopping sites, few American men are fashion mavens. Few think to mix tailored clothing with sportswear; few are familiar with performance fabrics that make today’s clothing (even tailored clothing) newly comfortable and easy to care for. Telling men to wear a merino knit V-neck under a soft sportcoat is one thing; wowing them with a line-up of mannequins dressed in sexy softcoats, sumptuous knits, fitted five-pocket pants in new fashion shades and cool sneakers-this is the instructional impact that’s too often missing, both on selling floors and on retailers’ websites. Personally, I’ve never understood why so many e-commerce sites feature product shots of men’s fashion rather than showing clothes on models. To see how the item drapes on the body and to imagine (by his smile or the twinkle in his eye) how a guy would feel in this fabulous clothing is, in my opinion, the magic that generates sales.

My other pet peeve of the moment is a reaction to those who say that retailers should not let their personal taste affect their buying decisions. I find this absurd: if not the store owner/buyer’s personal taste than whose? If a guy wants basic jeans or a white dress shirt or a zip-front sweatshirt, he can buy it on Amazon or in Costco. If he wants to elevate his style and find a new wardrobe to take him to the next level, he needs inspiration from a specific taste level. Why shouldn’t that taste level be yours? Today, more than ever, menswear stores should stand for something rather than featuring something for everyone.

So work your magic my retailer friends. The romance and rewards, the energy and excitement of our industry are still here for those who trust their instincts. Study the numbers, but then take a few risks, test some directional product from a few of the many emerging designers you’ll discover at Project, and present it like you mean it.

From all of us at MR/UBM Fashion, we look forward to catching up in Vegas!