How redundant is the handbag if you don’t leave the house? Same goes for shoes. This sounds like a surrealist-type manifesto of some ancient and useless items of dress or culture, yet perfectly sums up how quickly something can go from essential to unused. Fashion has always had a intertwined relationship with ‘want’ and ‘need’, they coexist; one propels the other, and, the other way around, it justifies it.
We’ve suddenly lost a lot of the need and therefore the want has waned. For many, clothing is a need only option and, apart from a new pair of joggers or PJs, all those prom outfits, wedding outfits, birthday outfits and all the other fashion treats that keeps the wheels of fashion turning have lost all momentum and become a missed sale.
The latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers, saw online retail sales growth was down -2.2% year-on-year in the first week of the Government’s lockdown guidance, but the clothing sector saw growth plummeting -26.7% year-on-year, and -22% week-on-week. Those result were even more stark across footwear, with growth tumbling -38.2% year-on-year, and -22.9% week-on-week.
Online sales too will grind to a halt with some large retailers closing their websites.
But, there has been an online boom, it's just that it doesn't include fashion. Adobe Analytics analysed data from trillions of visits to retail websites and from millions of product SKUs, finding that online grocery purchases are leading the eCommerce boom. Among the most popular items in people's internet shopping carts: Health products, gym equipment, toilet paper and canned foods. Online orders for fitness equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells and treadmills a saw 55% boost.
People too have begun spending money on board games, puzzles and video games. Notebooks are flying off the shelves and Mike Norris, chief exec at Computacenter - one of Europe's largest resellers said he has been signing "500, 1,000 or 2,000 laptop deals" with business customers that are equipping employees for remote working. He noted similar spikes in sales of monitors, virtual private network services and wireless LANs.
Fashion may not be fully redundant, just yet, temporarily and creatively furloughed, you could say, but with so many things cancelled in the future, even months after lockdown finishes, fingers crossed, those occasion spending needs will take even longer to turn into wants.
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Recently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19 is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers.
Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.
Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth
Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and New Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.
Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration
The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life.
The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.
Read more from TheChicGeek Archive - Comment Fashion For Clean Air
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Between the ‘loungewear’ emails and the ‘we-give-a-shit-please-buy-something’ emails, some brands have been hoping to offset some of the losses of physical retail with online. Online has the potential to be many brands’ life support machines; keeping some form of cash flow ticking over and the lights on.
Left - Net-a-Porter has closed its American website & warehouse
Dixons Carphone has said sales surged by more than 70% as Britons rushed to buy laptops, games consoles and freezers to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Online sales in the UK and Ireland surged 72% in the three weeks to 21 March.
“There will be some recovery through online operations but overall the loss of sales will adversely impact our full-year profitability and cash position,” it said. The group said as a result it would still miss out on about £400m of sales between now and the end of its financial year in April.
Fashion has a lot less ‘need’ and as such will be harder hit. Fashion brands have huge amounts of stock sitting in stores, not going anywhere anytime soon. These shops have now become in-town warehouses, but they still need manning and this has become a problem for some brands. Many consumers seem to think that online and offline is separated, robotically picked and magically appears on their doorstep.
The family owned department store chain, Fenwicks said in a statement: "Our people, both employees and customers alike, are at the heart of our business... Therefore, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our website as well as our stores, to ensure the safety of our teams and customers.” Fenwicks only went online in 2017 and pick the items from in-store stock.
Schuh, the footwear retailer, too has closed its website. Chief executive Colin Temple said: “At this point in time, the UK government guidelines include that online retail should ‘still open’ and ‘is encouraged’ along with advice that if staff cannot reasonably work from home, they should continue to go into work.
“However, with the Schuh head office and DC operations based in Scotland and Scottish Government advice conflicting with UK government advice, Schuh management have made the decision to close their website, in addition to their stores that already closed from the evening of Sunday 22 March.”
He added: “A number of DC staff continue to indicate that they want to work within the warehouse to support the Schuh online business, along with other departmental employees offering their support also. However, Schuh management have confirmed that the website and stores will remain closed until there is updated UK and Scottish government advice.”
No doubt demand has fallen overall with many people tightening their expenditure and only buying what they need. But, what about the exclusively online retailers? Most surprising is Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter has closed its American business. Customers visiting the US site are now met with a message that reads: “In line with local government guidelines, and for the health and safety of our community, we have temporarily closed our warehouse. We hope you are all staying safe and look forward to welcoming you back soon.”
This is a nightmare for fashion brands selling products with a shelf life. The discounts have already started, and they’re big, Liberty of London went straight in with 50% off. Some retailers are doing okay at online, but even the best figures won’t replace physical retail, representing a 20/80 split between online and offline. To shift all this stock they will need to discount heavy, eating into profit margins, and consumers, used to a never-ending supply of ‘Just In’ will have to adjust to a new shopping landscape with less choice.
Update - Next, River Island & Moss Bros have announced their websites will close.
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When China sneezes, the world catches a cold. So, when China caught the new coronavirus, or COVID-19 virus, there was going to be major economic repercussions. With the world’s second largest economy on virtual lockdown, its effect on both domestic and international sales for fashion companies will be seismic.
While there is no way to predict how long it will take to runs its course, companies have already started to make tentative statements about how it is affecting their bottom line. Those companies heavily reliant on the Chinese market and high spending Chinese tourists will be particularly affected and be crossing their fingers that this is over quickly.
While it is hard to predict the length of the outbreak and its impact, we can look back at the last major virus outbreak, SARS, which originated in China in 2002. It's thought that this strain of the coronavirus usually only found in small mammals mutated, enabling it to infect humans in the same way as COVID-19 has. By the end of the nine-month long SARS outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting more than 8,000 people.
The current stats for COVID-19 are 71,499 confirmed cases and 1,776 deaths, that’s a 1 in 40 death rate compared to over 1 in 10 for SARS. In terms of stats it looks less serious, with many people being carriers and displaying no symptoms. The under reporting of Chinese authorities has been questioned and how they are trying to minimise the severity of the outbreak, but they seem to be taking swift action to prevent contagion.
The world in 2020 is very different from 2002. The Chinese are travelling much more and have become some of the world’s highest spending tourists. In 2005, there were 95,000 Chinese visitors to the UK, in 2018 that number had reached 391,000 and was continuing to grow. Chinese tourists make up the largest share of visitors to the UK (32%) and they have one of the highest average spends of any national group. In 2018, the latest set of statistics, the average spend of a Chinese tourist in the UK amounted to £1,373. They were only surpassed by visitors from Qatar and UAE.
In London’s West End, accounting for a quarter of all non-EU tax-free spend in 2018, on average, Chinese customers spent £1,630 per shopping trip, making them 59% more valuable than other international shoppers.
Hong Kong-based airline, Cathay Pacific, has already cut 90% of its capacity into mainland China and announced that overall capacity would be slashed by 30% as a result of falling demand related to the outbreak. British Airways announced that it would temporarily suspend its flights to mainland China, following the UK Foreign Office’s advice against all but essential travel to the country.
The most visited country in Europe was France with 2.2 million Chinese nationals visiting in 2018. Paris was already having to contend with transport strikes and gilet jaunes protests and now one of its most valuable visitors is staying away. The same could be said about Hong Kong; months of riots now followed by COVID-19 will have taken its toll on this important luxury retail location. The majority of the world’s major cities will be affected by the lack of Chinese tourists.
For British luxury giant, Burberry, Chinese consumers account for 40 per cent of revenues worldwide. Burberry Group plc released a statement at the beginning of February saying, “The outbreak of the coronavirus in Mainland China is having a material negative effect on luxury demand. While we cannot currently predict how long this situation will last, we remain confident in our strategy.” said Marco Gobbetti, Chief Executive Officer.
Currently 24 of Burberry’s 64 stores in Mainland China are closed with remaining stores operating with reduced hours and seeing significant footfall declines. This is impacting retail sales in both Mainland China and Hong Kong “The spending patterns of Chinese customers in Europe and other tourist destinations have been less impacted to date but given widening travel restrictions, we anticipate these to worsen over the coming weeks.” the statement said. Burberry was planning to hold a fashion show in Shanghai in March but that has been put on indefinite hold, while Chanel has cancelled its May Métiers d’Art show scheduled for Beijing.
Estée Lauder gave a recent update to the markets saying it it expects adjusted earnings of $5.60 to $5.70 per share in 2020, down from a previous estimate of $5.85 to $5.93 citing the coronavirus. Fabrizo Freda, Estee Lauder president and chief executive, said: “The global situation will also affect our financial results in the near term, so we are updating our fiscal year outlook. We will be ready to return to our growth momentum as the global coronavirus is resolved.”
Other brands who have focussed on growth in China will feel the effects. Luxury outerwear brand, Moncler, warned that footfall at its stores in China had plunged 80% since the coronavirus outbreak and it earns 43% of its total revenues from Asia. Michael Kors and Versace owner Capri Holdings saying it would take a $100m hit from coronavirus in China, where it was forced to close more than 150 stores.
Right - Off-White - Logo Print Face Mask - £65 from Farfetch
Kering makes 34% of its sales in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan. Kering’s chief executive officer, François-Henri Pinault, said - on the 12th February - the group - Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta - had experienced a strong drop in sales over the past 10 days. Many of the group’s stores in China are closed or running reduced hours. The company said it will halt advertising spend and postpone new openings in China in the near-term in a bid to limit the damage caused by the virus. Pinault said that planned product launches might also be reconsidered and is also shifting inventory to other regions to make sure stocks don't pile up in China. Without giving an estimate for any impact from the virus on earnings, he said online shopping was not really making up for the decline in store footfall. "The warehouses are shut. People can place orders but there are no deliveries," he said.
While being strong in China and in the Chinese market has been a boon for many years, this outbreak shows the danger of having all your eggs in the Chinese basket. Once a high growth area, this is a double whammy for brands; you have the domestic market closed and the free spending tourists are no longer shopping.
China’s growth was already slowing, but it was just about to come out of the trade wars with America. Even if this outbreak is over in a relatively short window of time, it’s the momentum it has lost that will take the longest time to get back. Getting those Chinese tourists to rebook their flights and travel plans, brands reworking expansion plans and product and consumers getting that feel good factor to spend will take months to correct. Many brands are downplaying the current impact to protect their share price. Hopefully, the epidemic will be over shortly, but the repercussions of COVID-19 will be felt by the fashion industry well into 2020.
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