To kick off Adweek’s The Future of Shopping event today, marketers came together on a virtual stage to discuss how the novel coronavirus pandemic has shifted, accelerated and upended trends in the retail space.
Three main takeaways emerged from the conversation:
- Brands must respond to consumers, employees and outsiders by reflecting their values authentically.
- Community-building can’t be only about selling more product.
- Planning for the future is important even when the future is uncertain.
The pandemic has proven that brands can make big changes extremely quickly—they just need sufficient motivation. Pamela Neferkara, former vp of retail brand marketing at Nike, highlighted how the pandemic has spurred changes in the fashion industry that sustainability-minded consumers and smaller brands have long been pushing for.
“A lot of smaller brands [have been] calling for a less intense fashion calendar,” Neferkara said. “The pandemic has just absolutely accelerated that.”
Gucci, Neferkara noted, recently announced that it’ll be limiting the number of annual events in future. Fewer events lead to less excess production, she said, which is better for the planet.
That’s just one example of how the retail industry is shifting; brands are going have to continue to care about consumer values and communicate that well to compete in the future. Consumers want to know that “you’re not just … a brand trying to grab another dollar,” she said. They want to know that brands care about their employees and their communities, and they want to see proof.
Similarly, building a community around a brand or product can prove lucrative for any company. But if profit is the only goal, that community loses its usefulness to the consumer, and members lose interest. Nick Ling, CEO of consumer startup Pattern Brands, said the founders of his one-year-old company coined the term “direct with consumer” as a guiding principle for the growth of their community.
For Pattern, that’s meant engaging consumers at every step of the process, asking for input on things like product and website design. “We’ve seen that people want to interact,” said Ling. “They don’t just want to talk about our brands, obviously, but they want to talk with people with like-minded values.”
Using a chat platform called Geneva, Pattern created a space for consumers to engage with employees, building a community that’s broader than the brands or products that Pattern creates. That has allowed Pattern to remain human and relatable as it grows.
That brand-consumer relationship is also where leaders should be focusing when planning for the future right now, according to Ajay Kapoor, vp of global marketing, digital, DTC, consumer experience and sales at consumer products conglomerate Helen of Troy. “We’ve moved away from a transactional society where it was just cash for good,” he said.
Consumers want a relationship with brands, and in the era of Covid-19, retailers are having to get creative in order to foster those relationships without physical stores. Lululemon’s recent acquisition of Mirror, he said, is one example of a brand making a smart, forward-thinking move to create opportunities to build brand loyalty and community virtually.