This is a disaster. This will probably be the biggest recession the world has ever seen and fashion and retail is going to get hit hard. What the global spread of coronavirus (COVID 19) shows us is how interdependent our economies have become and what a fragile house of cards it all was in the first place. Those cards are disappearing quickly and the entire thing is coming crashing down.
Fashion brands and companies are in freefall and the current mindset is to cancel everything. Fashion had a problem with unsold inventory well before this. As the industry got bigger and the need for huge quantities to make a profit increased, unsold merchandise and how to get rid of it was a headache for the majority of brands, high-street or ‘luxury’.
It has been reported that garment factories in Bangladesh have now had orders worth more than US$2 billion cancelled by brands and retailers because of the global coronavirus crisis. Orders for nearly 650 million garments, worth a total of US$2.04 billion have been cancelled, impacting on 738 factories and about 1.42 million workers, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Just as the Chinese factories start production again, Europe and US are mostly in lockdown with many shops closed and retailers cancelling orders.
Primark is using a force majeure clause in its contracts to cancel its orders, the Times newspaper said. “We are deeply saddened that this will clearly have an effect throughout our entire supply chain,” Primark Chief Executive Officer Paul Marchant told the newspaper.
While much of the SS20 season would have been made despite the reported disturbances in the supply chain from China at the beginning of the year, it’s not too late to cancel high summer stock or the waves of drops, brands, who don’t want to hold much stock, have become used to. Primark has no online sales, so all that stock will be stuck in stores and warehouses.
“We have large quantities of existing stock in our stores, our depots and in transit, that is paid for and if we do not take this action now we will be taking delivery of stock that we simply can’t sell. This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times,” said Marchant.
Marks & Spencer has recently cancelled £100m in clothing orders.
This is the retail equivalent of cutting off limbs to save the vital organs. Brands don’t know how long this is going to last and what shape they and consumers will be in at the end of it. They need to save cashflow. Fashion feels particularly unimportant right now and will be awash with huge discounts to clear stock in the near future, and that’s in an already saturated market. Brands cancelling orders will impact manufacturing countries hard, but this isn’t a frivolous decision, this is a battle for survival.
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As we wave goodbye to another decade, it’s time to assess where we’ve been and what the next 10 years will have in store for the retail sector. It’s hard to think back to 2010 and not somehow feel it is closer than it really is. Nine years’ later and you’d think online had virtually replaced traditional retail, but it is still under 20% of total retail sales. About 7% of total retail sales were online in 2010 rising to 19% by 2019 as a percentage of total retail sales.
At the start of the decade, in June 2010, there were 1.97B internet users, by 2019, that figure had reached 4.54B users, 58.8% of the world’s population. Virtually all adults aged 16 to 44 years in the UK were recent internet users (99%) in 2019, compared with 47% of adults aged 75 years and over.
And this is before the roll out and connectivity of 5G. We’ll probably look back and feel we were living in the dark ages when it came to internet speeds when we finally have uninterrupted data and mobile signal.
Left - Autonomous vehicles will be the future of deliveries
While online sales have grown nearly 3 times as a proportion of retail sales over the decade, it’s interesting to look at the growing monopoly of the internet. In the USA, the top five online retailers own 64.7% of sales, (data via Statista).
While online retail sales growth appears to be slowing nobody knows the final plateauing retail mix in numbers yet. One recent report by the analysts ‘Retail Economics’ for the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, says online shopping could more than double its share of the retail market by 2028. The internet is expected to account for 53% of retail sales in 10 years’ time as younger people who have grown up with the internet become more than half the UK’s adult population according to the report.
Richard Lim, of Retail Economics, said: “Successful retailers have always had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, the pace of change will inevitably prove too fast for many. It definitely feels like the digital retail revolution is only just getting started.”
Arguably the most important revolution in the coming decade will be automation and automated vehicles. Take the human out of something and it instantly becomes far cheaper and more flexible.
The automated car is coming, it’s just a matter of when. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said that he anticipates completion of fully autonomous technology by the end of 2019 with their self-driving vehicles being so advanced in 2020 that the driver can basically take a nap. He said, “I think we will be ‘feature-complete’ on full self-driving this year, meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year.”
There will be rigorous testing and legislation for this to happen, which will take time, but once vehicles become fully driverless and trusted we’ll be able to have everything delivered at anytime for very little cost. It will revolutionise delivery and the volumes of deliveries. Things will no longer be a hassle to return and as such, will be easier to buy. You'll never be out when you know exactly when your delivery is to arrive.
Right - Secure and cheap deliveries without the human
Fashion will become a service. We’ve seen the idea start this year with the rental and secondhand markets growing recently, but it will be with automation when the business model will make sense. Fashion companies will sell ideas and consumers will buy or borrow those ideas. At the end of life, these items will be returned and disposed or recycled responsibly. The new affordability automation allows will make it cheaper than buying regular clothes. This is when the idea will reach a tipping point.
Having large fulfilment centres servicing larger numbers of people will also be more efficient and reduce wastage, particularly in food. The idea that every supermarket has to guess what that individual store will sell that day or week and it doesn’t leave that store unless it is sold, reduced or thrown away makes no sense in the 21st century. Retailers and brands will like this reduced wastage and more full price sales. Consumers will get fresher items and greater convenience.
The environment will become increasingly important and efficiencies will be driven by green ideas. I think it’s naive to expect consumers to buy less and retailers don’t want that either, it’s going to be about cycles and closing the loop on goods and services.
It will be about knowing more with regards to what to make and when, with fewer sales and less wastage. When The H&M Group is estimated to sell three billion articles of clothing per year, made in 40 countries, using 275 factories in Bangladesh alone, the scale and potentials for efficiencies is huge. Consumers being able to order exactly what they want and it will be a boon for retailers as well as the environment.
Left - What will the first automated vehicles look like?
How fashion dictates how we look throughout all this will be anyone’s guess, but luxury brands are getting bigger and more dominant, though never underestimate consumer’s desire for change and the human characteristic of becoming bored and moving on relatively quickly.
Whether we will still be wearing sportswear in 2029 is yet to be seen…but the future will definitely involve less humans.
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