From Ann Taylor to Anthropologie to Macy's, retail sales are way down.
There's been a lot of theorizing about what's behind this drastic downturn. The Internet is changing how we shop. Malls are losing their anchor stores and shutting down. People are renting dressy clothes and wearing "athleisure" to work. Consumers are spending their hard-earned money on housewares, electronics, and travel. These are probably all contributing factors to the slump in brick-and-mortar sales.
Yet some brands, like Tommy Hilfiger, are thriving. In the first 24 hours following this year's Spring fashion show in London, sales on tommy.com increased by more than 150 percent versus September 2016, the month the program was launched, according to the company.
The company has an innate advantage: Casual wear has always been their stock in trade. But Hilfiger and his chief brand officer Avery Baker also took a decidedly untraditional approach to their marketing with a "see now, buy now" model.
The goal: Make every single look on the runway available in real time to shoppers all around the world. Few have the reach and resources of the Tommy Hilfiger Company, of course, but there's still a lot we can learn from their example.
Here are my top five takeaways for entrepreneurs from a recent conversation I had with Baker in London:
1. Inspire the leaders and rally the troops.
Reviving the entrepreneurial mindset at Tommy Hilfiger meant collaborating across silos, democratizing ideation, and embracing new ideas and technologies. "The vision of what you want to achieve has to be clear and understandable for everyone."
Baker cautions, "In order to get the whole company behind it, of you need one or two additional leaders to really endorse that vision. In my situation, having our CEO and Tommy behind me made a world of difference."
You can help your sales and marketing team succeed by leading and supporting new initiatives from the top down. Put the consumer at the very center of that thought process.
Creating customer-centered products is important regardless of the size of your company. If what you're making won't serve consumers now and in the future, it may be time to rethink your business model.
2. Multitask like a maniac.
The launch of the "see now, buy now" model was a huge logistical challenge: Hilfiger needed to have four million products, in hundreds of styles, produced and available to consumers around the world the same day, at the same time--all in six short weeks.
The company leveraged vendor relationships to launch his fast track production channel. Designing the clothes, planning their show and creating the marketing all had to happen simultaneously.
It's created new efficiencies: Marketing has led a process and organizational change that's apparently reverberated throughout the company. "We sell our collections now almost entirely through digital." Baker explains, "because we're trying to move towards a sample-less world as a way to speed-up the supply chain in order to be more ethical about consumption."
3. Explore new technologies.
Testing out new technologies was a critical part of the "see now, buy now" transition. "If we stand still," says Baker, "we are potentially going be meaningless to consumers because of everything we see happening around us." The company studied consumer behavior in the digital space.
They created a digital showroom and made all of their social media channels and live streams shoppable. They even partnered with Facebook and MSG-AI to introduce the first ever AI powered, conversational commerce chat-bot--something more and more businesses are relying on.
The bots can be trained to answer simple customer service questions through technologies like ChattyPeople, Smooch, and Meokay. Chat-bots could save businesses $8 billion annually worldwide by 2022, according to a recent report by Juniper.
4. Don't lose the soul of your brand.
Baker stresses the importance of picking a point of view and voice that reflect your brand essence: "If a consumer is going to choose your brand, they need to really feel connected to the values your brand stands for. That needs to be more clear than ever before."
Sometimes you may have to kill a great idea that just doesn't fit your brand. You want great metrics but, as Baker says, "You can't be, I think, a slave to the numbers and compromise what your brand stands for."
5. Stay restless.
The Tommy Hilfiger brand was strong and successful, but they had their eye on the future.
"We recognized that with all these changes happening in our industry with consumer behavior, with the pace of digital technology ... that we really needed to pick up the speed," Baker explains. "Some things might work out, and some might not. But our philosophy is we need to try. Because standing still is the greater risk for the future of the business and the future of the brand."