The use of digital technology for connecting brands with retailers and retailers with consumers (not to forget brands with consumers) seemed “virtually” inevitable even before the pandemic. Here’s what some key retailers are thinking of their forced change in buying for spring ‘21.
Andy Mallor, Andrew Davis, Bloomington, Indiana
I’ve now sat through two virtual appointments: In both cases, the vendor did a great job with the preparation, sending samples and information. The first appointment was for trousers and, while not as satisfactory as being in the showroom, it worked just fine because we were already familiar with the product and the fit. The second appointment was with a multi-brand showroom. Here it became much harder. The lighting was inadequate as was the camera. It was difficult to get a feel for fabric or fit. Advice to those vendors who might be interested in a virtual trade show: invest in technology and plan ahead via great digital images, clear line sheets, etc. Of course, the best part of a trade show is finding new and exciting lines. This will be almost impossible in a virtual world.
Richard Pattison, Taylor Richards & Conger, Charlotte, North Carolina
I’m not sure that I fully comprehend the idea of a virtual trade show, but if it works, that would be great. One thing I’ve learned from the two spring 2021 virtual buying appointments we’ve been through is that high-speed internet connections and high definition video equipment‑are a must. ‑Not being an IT specialist, I don’t necessarily know how to facilitate such, but all retailers will need to see the products as clearly as possible.
Erick DeLeon, MartinPatrick3, Minneapolis, Minnesota
It hasn’t been the same for every brand that we have met with, but luckily, we haven’t had any real difficulties buying virtually. We have been using NuOrder and Joor for years now to finalize orders, so this isn’t new to us. The only frustration has been when some brands are not prepared for this selling season. The brands that have imagery, lookbooks, and/or linesheets, as well as some sort of digital ordering system, are doing the best in terms of creating productive buying appointments. Three-hour Zoom or FaceTime calls are just not productive. I’d rather look at swatches, samples, lookbooks, and then reconvene on a call to place our order. The brands that don’t have these things are frustrating to work with and may have some troubles this season. But, overall, our store has a great sense of direction, and we know what we are looking for going into spring.
David Rubenstein, Rubensteins, New Orleans, Louisiana
We’re all about touch, fabric, fit, etc. so I don’t think the specialty apparel business will transition to all digital. We’re not a replacement business; we’re for a small segment of the world that appreciates fashion. Apple did not replace the watch business. Uber did not replace the car business. We will continue to cater to customers who love to shop.
Scott Shapiro, Syd Jerome, Chicago, Illinois
I make enough mistakes when I can see real product in real time. ‑Can you imagine what can happen virtually…
Brian O’Neill, Brigade, Cleveland, Ohio
The consensus from my buying team is that there’s a challenge finding new products that we can see and touch. Also, our customer likes a specific fit on most of our denim and joggers. (We try most of them on ourselves in showrooms.) Now it’s going to be hard to identify the fit unless the showroom/vendor does more work on fit guides and measurements. A positive spin is that virtual trade shows will cut down on wasted time, travel expenses, and energy, creating a more efficient and focused buying‑process.
Rick and Jim Penn, Puritan Cape Cod, Hyannis, Massachusetts
We live in a time of great uncertainty. We should be less concerned about predetermining the outcome and be more open to seeing where a new process leads us. Retailers and vendors are looking at ways to digitize parts of their business. The virtual trade show would offer some innovation in how we get a “first look” at new merchandise. This could evolve into a hybrid model as fabric swatches or samples for fit would be sent to the retailer if requested. We’re all in a storm and innovation is needed to get us to the other side. The virtual trade show is a start to achieving a new way for vendors and retailers to connect.
Murry Penner, M.Penner, Houston, Texas
While we had a very rough start with digital shopping appointments (disappointing technology, unfulfilled vendor promises to produce and send swatches/samples), many brands have come around and I’ve been able to get most of what I need to remain optimistic about the buy. Some digital appointments have been as good as possible, others required begging for common sense. Still, I don’t believe digital shopping is the wave of the future. We have to get back into showrooms as soon as it’s safe. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d have to quarantine for 14 days coming from Texas, I would have been in NYC showrooms by now – even if I had to drive. As for virtual trade shows, I can see where this may be the only way to and the new lines we’re hoping to bring in this season. But there will have to be some give and take when it comes to swaps, returns, or other types of exchange. As we so painfully learned in a few cases, it’s much easier to share the pain on the front end than after the fact.
Hal Lansky, Lansky Bros., Memphis, Tennessee
I admit my generation is finding it harder to grasp virtual meetings and new merchandise ordering forms (NuOrder, Joor, etc). I marvel at how younger retailers are doing everything electronically with ease. Anyway, Lansky’s will do virtual meetings. We will lean on our top vendors to make a trip to Memphis or to send us samples and swatches. Our vendor list and selections will narrow, focusing on proven winners. There will not be much room for fringe items from anybody since, going into spring 2021, our OTB will be reduced by at least 35 percent. But we will still be in the market if only talking to fellow retailers and vendors via phone, emails, and Zoom, looking for the next winners. We will weather this storm and be back to normal before we know it.
Julie Lansky, Lansky Bros., Memphis, Tennessee
The women’s industry has been pretty tech-savvy compared to men’s over the last several years so I feel comfortable with the direction technology is taking, allowing us to shop digitally as I have been doing for quite some time. The current climate is forcing vendors to be creative in their photography, line sheets, and updating their technology to be able to showcase their products in the best light. The pandemic has forced the men’s industry to learn and adapt to Zoom, social media, and investing money into their own websites. Yes, it’s important to cultivate relationships in person via tradeshows. However, I believe business can go on with virtual tradeshows and Zoom vendor appointments. We are a touch and feel industry so we should be able to have a conversation if an order is placed virtually and it’s not exactly what was expected. We should have an agreement on exchange or return.
Eddie Boas, Lanes, Miami, Florida
I think that virtual trade shows would be most effective for vendors that we already have established relationships with, product knowledge, fit, fabrics, etc. The challenge is finding new product if we are unable to see it and touch it ourselves. If, after viewing a virtual presentation, a new (for us) vendor would be willing to send samples of items that we’re interested in, without commitment on our part, I think we would be more receptive to considering that product for our store. Considering a new product, absent the tactile experience, would be a non-starter.
Lee Leonard, DLS, New York, New York
Four or five years ago, DLS created a partnership with NuOrder: we met, got educated on their concept. They even provided iPads to use as a tool to promote. Well long story short: we spent a lot of time trying to educate vendors and stores alike but got nowhere so we had to put this endeavor aside. Today, NuOrder is embraced throughout the industry and used all the time. So, bottom line: we all have to embrace new ways of showing and selling product. I believe virtual presentations are the way of the future and should be embraced. If nothing else, this will give us an overview of the season.
Howard Vogt, Rodes, Louisville, Kentucky
We’ve done four virtual buying sessions with key vendors and it’s not great: shaky cameras, disorganized presentations. Will hopefully get better with practice.