Every February, thousands of brands and fashion-related business professionals from across the globe flock to Las Vegas to source materials, place orders, and ultimately gain insight into -- if not fall in love with -- the latest fashion trends at MAGIC. During the three day event, known as the largest exhibition of women's apparel and accessories in the fashion industry, over $600 million worth of orders are placed; and brands both new and old face-off to meet the demands of the world's largest retailers.
As the Vice President of WWDMAGIC (the women's show) and three of UBM Fashion's other top shows including AccessoriesTheShow, FAME, and POOLTRADESHOW, Kelly Helfman is an industry leader with nearly two decades of experience under her very fashionable belt. The industry, for all of its seemingly superficial hype, ultimately provides a unique lens through which we can examine larger business trends - from how customers interact with and promote brands to where and how they shop.
I caught up with Helfman on the first day of the show, where she was busy launching GLAM, a new area at WWDMAGIC catering to the Millennial consumer. Our conversation illuminated three pivotal trends to watch in 2018, all of which have far reaching implications for the fashion industry and beyond.
Trend #1: Brick and mortar retailers embrace digital transformation
We often read headlines about online retailers burying traditional brick and mortar business. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce still accounts for less than 10 percent of overall retail sales. This means consumers are still doing much of their shopping in places that have walls, ceilings, doors, and floors; but not necessarily because that's their preference.
Helfman acknowledges that shifting consumer preferences are a huge challenge, particularly for smaller, in-store sales driven brands: "There is no doubt that online will continue to grow very rapidly. If you have a brick and mortar, you also need to have your product available for online store purchasing, in addition to selling on Instagram and taking advantage of Facebook Live to move inventory."
Instead of treating the Internet like the enemy, physical retailers (from fashion to food) need to make online and mobile touchpoints an integral part of the customer experience. "It really goes beyond just being able to buy a product online," add Helfman. "It starts with how customers interact with your website and social media feeds, and then how the brand engages with them post-purchase."
Whether they're shopping at a major outlet or a tiny boutique, consumers want the ability to browse inventory on a store's website and find accurate information about prices, product availability, and events. Helfman aptly points out that any business can take advantage of a digital storefront, regardless of its size: "If a small store doesn't have the budget or access to start their own online store, there are plenty of e-commerce platforms to sell through like Etsy and eBay."
The digital transformation, fueled by mobile and automation, has also fundamentally altered the way consumers pay for goods. Helfman says cashless payment options (whether allowing consumers to use their Visa card, tapping to pay with a mobile phone, or accepting Apple Pay) have become ubiquitous among large retailers, which puts pressure on small businesses to offer the same service: "Small stores have access to cashless payment opportunities through large finance companies and cannot be afraid to start looking into it. All the larger retailers have started to accept cashless payments, so the smaller shops will need to eventually make the move."
Trend #2: Increasing adaptation for Millennial consumers
By increasing their online activity and mobile-readiness, retailers will also become more attractive to one of the most significant consumer demographics: Millennials. In 2016, Millennials eclipsed Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation in the United States, and by 2020 they're expected to spend $1.4 trillion per year (which would account for around 30 percent of total retail sales). Millennials are just now entering their prime working years, and their share of the economy will only continue to increase in the near future.
According to Helfman, the typical Millennial female is "using an average of 13 products on her face a day." This is why she says "traditional apparel retailers need to jump on that bandwagon and add beauty products to their lineup if they have not already." It's also why this year's WWDMAGIC launched GLAM, showcasing the fastest growing beauty brands (think nail polish, lip color, lashes) as Millennials see products as an extension of, or inspiration for, their fashion choices.
Helfman explains that Millennials refuse to be confined to the big brands when it comes to beauty products: "With Millennials obsessed with makeup influencers and watching YouTube tutorials, it is all about indie beauty brands."
This trend highlights two of the most important words for Millennial consumers: "choice" and "mobility." It's not necessarily that they're fickle, it's simply that they are accustomed to fluidly moving from one place, product, or person to another. Beyond just fashion choices, these priorities are reflected in the way Millennials work and live, from their willingness to change jobs more frequently than members of other generations to their widespread participation in the gig economy.
Trend #3: The growth of influencer marketing
Successful influencer marketing increases loyalty and exposure - vital assets for any business. While social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are particularly useful for fashion retailers (and businesses in any other design-oriented industry), when Helfman says "social content will push shoppers to the store," she isn't just talking about makeup tutorials on YouTube.
At the end of last year, Linqia released a survey of 181 marketers that found vast support for influencer marketing: 86 percent of respondents said they had used influencer marketing in 2017, and 92 percent described it as an effective strategy. Moreover, 39 percent of respondents said they planned to increase their budgets for influencer marketing in 2018.
The popularity of influencer marketing is surging because it has the ability to break down barriers due to the relatability and seeming accessibility of the influencer. A 2017 study conducted by Collective Bias and Inmar found that "influencer content significantly outperformed control groups" on metrics ranging from return on advertising spending to foot traffic. For example, when researchers exposed a group of consumers to influencer content that promoted a retailer, almost 50 percent of them visited the store within four days versus 29 percent in the control group.
These are all reasons why Helfman says businesses should work with local influencers to promote their shops - a process that can be streamlined and expanded online.
"There's a good chance that 2018 fashion trends, which include the color lavender (check out Diff eyewear), checkered patterns (Moon River leads the way) and big florals (Line & Dot gets it right), weren't popularized by an A-list celebrity or Kate Middleton," she remarks. "Whether brands want to embrace it or not, you may be better off identifying an online personality or local market fashionista to push your sales."
If current fashion industry trends tell us anything on a larger scale, it's this: whether you're a big business or a small one, consumers (particularly Millennials) are integrating their online and offline lives like never before; and they are seeking familiar, trusted and forward-thinking sources to illuminate them about the must-haves. Ultimately, we want to be part of the fashion process, not relegated to the sidelines; and we want to connect with brands and retailers throughout the entire experience.
Welcome to 2018.