The brightest minds focus on retail as we discuss selling fashion to today’s teens and how this is the precursor to the future of shopping.
Today’s teenagers – digital natives who have never known a time without Instagram, Snapchat or Kendall Jenner – hold the future of fashion and shopping in their selfie-taking hands. It’s a daunting prospect, particularly for brands that have built empires based on legacy business models tied to bricks and mortar stores.
Generation X teenagers worshipped at the altar of shopping, establishing a “mall” culture epitomised by films such as 1995’s Clueless. That, however, was a time before the global fashion marketplace was accessible via a tiny portable computer held in the palm of our hands. Today’s teens have the ability to shop whenever, wherever and the impact of this will be felt for decades to come. That’s not to say, though, that they aren’t still hanging out “down the shops”.
Michael Goldberg, Creative Director at Victoria's Secret points out one thing that hasn’t changed when it comes to shopping culture. “Don’t underestimate the importance of shopping as free entertainment,” he says. “That's essentially what a mall is. It's a place to meet your friends, hang out and spend the day.”
It also gives shoppers of all ages something you cannot get online. “Particularly with fashion, but with most any type of specialty retailer, having physical contact with the product is still really important,” says Goldberg. “No one buys perfume online, for instance, unless they've been into a store and smelt it. There are some things you really need to experience if you want to buy them.”
With 42 retails centres in Australia valued at $7.2 billion, property development company Stockland is invested in the teen shopping experience. Ben Allen, Stockland’s chief marketing officer, says teens are populating Aussie shopping centres just like they always have been. He says: “Without a doubt, teenagers are definitely still coming to shopping centres. In fact, at a rate slightly higher than other generations such as Pre-Boomers and Gen X.”
Around 85% of teenagers, which Allen refers to as Gen Z, have visited a centre in the last three months compared 81% for Pre-Boomers and Gen X with many teens making multiple visits each week. The reason for this, according to Allen, is that today’s shopping centres are about more than making purchases. He says: “Our shopping centres are highly successful commercial enterprises. It's all about the offering. What's available now in more modern shopping centres, and particularly as we redevelop our centres, is broadening quite significantly.” The shopping complexes of today are just as likely to house gyms, cinemas and restaurants which gives teens a place to gather, socialise and get inspired.
Inspiration is key for this generation as they strive to be unique. Victoria’s Secret’s Goldberg says: “This group is very influenced by their peers and they're motivated to fit into their ‘squad’, but at the same time, to differentiate their identity. It's a combination of being part of a group, but also being an individual within that group.”
Stockland’s Allen agrees and says shopping, and the places where we shop, play an important part in this rite of passage. “They're trying to discover who they are, how they fit in the world, what other people are wearing and talking about,” he says. “Shopping centres are still an amazing melting pot where the community gathers, and they like being a part of that.”
It’s a theme retailers and arbiters of fashion are continually tapping into. One such example is Vogue Fashion’s Night Out, a yearly shopping event that sees Vogue and GQ magazines create a heightened shopping experience. The event has been held in Sydney for the past six years and made its Melbourne debut at the start of Fashion Week last year. The 2015 Sydney event saw 200,000 people make their way to the city’s shopping precinct where they spent an average of $300 per person, more than is spent at the Boxing Day sales. The event is targeted at millennials and young shoppers.
Jack Phillips, Digital Commercial Editor for GQ Australia, says: “There’s potential discounts. There's more people in the store, there's music, there's bands. You've got much more of a shopping festival type of vibe. It's about trying to create that added value so people would prefer to go into a store and enjoy the whole process of shopping more than they would the necessity of shopping, which they can get by browsing and buying online.” The changing teen shopping habits while teens don’t seem to be abandoning shopping IRL – that’s in real life – what has changed, is the trend of window shoppers spotting an item in-store then going home to purchase it online. Social media is also, unsurprisingly, having an impact on purchase behaviour.
GQ’s Phillips says: “Social media completely sells fashion. There are so many menswear bloggers that make revenue out of their ability to showcase clothes in such a way that people click through to buy them. More and more platforms have the capability to click through to purchase. If you're scrolling through your Instagram feed, you're increasingly likely to be able to go, ‘I like those shoes,’ click straight through and add to cart. Eventually you'll be able to one-click buy straight off the social media platforms.”
In this category, the question is not whether social can sell – that’s a given according to Victoria’s Secret’s Goldberg – it’s more a case of correctly aligning a brand’s marketing objectives. He says: “Right now a lot of brands limit the potential of their social media marketing because they align their objectives to things like engagement and building followers. If you set objectives such as driving conversion, building brand relevance and loyalty, you will, over time, build social into a strong sales channel.” A fashionable future like many other industries, retail is experiencing change at an unprecedented rate on account of the technology being introduced into the sector.
From tech that can track shoppers in-store as if they were online and catch when they abandon their cart, to a headset that reads a consumer’s mood serving up the perfect clothing match for their particular state of mind, or sections of stores designed for people to use as ‘sets’ for their Instagram photos, retail is being impacted with incredible force. Perhaps the greatest force is today’s teens for whom this technology is second nature. Stockland’s Allen says: “This group is projected to represent almost 23% of retail spending in the next 15 years. Without a doubt, their needs and preferences are going to shape the way retail looks both digitally and in-store.”
With this rate of change and the impact of generation fashion, it’s impossible to predict what the future of retail will look like. GQ’s Phillips says: “We're looking about two years maximum into the future. It all depends on technology and you can only perceive that which exists.”
He adds: “With the amount of data that's collected from people nowadays, you'll be able to predict certain trends, you'll be able to predict what people are talking about on social media, which designers are about to be up and coming. Retailers that have access to this data will be able to predict what's going to be popular in six months, potentially in a year, and so can then design accordingly.”
What comes after that will be up to today’s teens who by then will be running the marketing departments of retail brands, an even more daunting prospect.