Disrupt yourself or be disrupted: rethinking retail

Over the last decade, the retail landscape has changed dramatically, with the most obvious shift being from the popularity of bricks and mortar experiences, to online shopping. Indeed, Oberlo has estimated that this year there will be approximately 2.0 5billion people shopping online globally – that’s around 25% of the world’s population.


And while fast fashion has become Queen (more on that later), old school retail stores have struggled to keep up, resulting in former high street favourites such as Karen Millen and Coast closing their doors for good and Debenhams announcing the closure of 19 of their stores in January.


In fact, the British Retail Consortium revealed that 2019 marked the worst year for British retailers in history, with sales falling for the first time in 24 years. So what does it take to have success in 2020? Well, it is undoubted that in order to make noise in a challengingly and highly competitive market your USP needs to be more stand out than ever. Fail to be disruptive in the retail sphere, or to update your offering, and you may find yourself left behind.


However, it’s key to note that great service needs to remain at the core of your brand, after all, according to recent statistics 54% of people shop online because it allows them to compare prices, while 46% of people do so because it saves time; they’re looking for a slick experience with an easy purchasing option.


In order to understand more about how the retail sphere is changing and the ways in which conventional shopping has evolved, let’s take a look at some of the trends which brands can get involved with when disrupting retail in 2020…


Fast fashion: The hype and the pushback

The explosion of fast fashion over the last few years has undoubtedly changed the retail landscape particularly for more traditional brands, with companies from Boohoo, to ASOS, offering consumers the option to see it today, wear it tomorrow. But more recently this trend has kicked into turbo gear. Take, for example, Fashion Nova. The American based retailer boasts 17.5million Instagram followers, was one of the most googled brands of 2018 and is known for turning around red carpet copies of dresses worn by the likes of the Kardashians in under 24 hours. And while it is certainly worth noting that both Gen Y and Gen Z are said to be moving towards a more conscious way of shopping, this is yet to reflect in this super-fast brands’ sales, with the company previously being valued at over $125million. Which means those brands looking to keep up, need to have at least one eye on product turnaround – after all these are consumers who know what they want and they want it now.


Retail is getting personal

Want to offer shoppers something no one else can? It needs to be personal. In fact, research released by Epsilon suggests 80% of consumers say they are more likely to buy something from a brand if they’ve offered them a personalised experience. But what does this really look like? Well from Nike ID to Kenzo and Calvin Klein Jeans some brands have chosen to work with YR. The company sells themselves as, ‘Your global customisation partner,’ with screens which can be installed in store which allow consumers to customise products; from t-shirts to shoes.


And then there is what we call ‘hyper-personalisation,’ where customers are offered a service that is seemingly tailored totally to them. Take for example Stitch Fix – the clothing company allows users access to stylists who will send them a personalised selection of clothing according to their taste. When they’ve checked out their clothes they only pay for what they want to keep. This means they create a double win; the customer feels like they’ve had a really personal experience and the stylist is able to use the information about which clothes have been sent back to better understand them and their tastes.


You have to stay social

Being digital-first isn’t enough, you have to have a stand out the social presence in order to cut through and reach your key customers. But how can you be disruptive in a world run by ever-changing algorithms? One tactic which has been becoming ever-more-popular, particularly with brands focused on Gen Z, is to follow in the footsteps of companies like Missguided. Their Instagram, which has a huge 6.5 million followers, contains a mix of straightforward fashion posts, memes, competitions, tutorials and UGC – they speak to their customers like they are their customers.


American make-up brand Glossier is another great example of a brand which totally disrupted the norm for their industry; beauty. Instead of the high glam, polished (and often airbrushed) images of their competitors, Glossier’s USP is that they put their customers at the forefront of their advertising, showing both images and videos of them testing out their make-up. And, according to the team, when they launch a new product their first port of call is to think about what the social media comments would be about it, because they know better than anyone else, the way to get sales, is to get people talking about your brand.


Make a bricks and mortar experience

Sticking on Glossier for a second, it’s worth noting that bricks and mortar experiences can still prove incredibly popular *if* you play it right and disrupt the norm. Glossier began with just one singular store in New York. Decked out with Instagramable pink furnishings it quickly became a destination to shop and be seen. And when they opened a pop up in London’s Covent Garden late last year it wasn’t long before there were queues around the corner of people waiting to buy their coveted products and snap themselves in the floral beauty rooms.


As Shelley E Kohan, the Vice President of Retail Consulting wrote last year, ‘Providing the ‘In-Store Experience’ is vital for physical stores to win over foot traffic and brand loyalty. Shoppers want to explore, learn and have fun. Above all else, they want that instant gratification from products that are in stock and easy to find.’ And she notes that there is a lot that can be done with technology to make sure that shoppers follow through with their purchases there and then. Think scannable QR codes for example – people want their in-store experience to mirror their online one, it needs to be simple, easy and quick.




Olivia Foster is a freelance writer and content producer specialising in fashion, entertainment and women’s lifestyle. She has written for Grazia, Marie Claire, and Stylist.