The Fashion Pandemic

We’re speaking to a nationally representative pool of US citizens to find out how they are feeling about a range of topics in these unprecedented times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pretty much affected everything we know, and the fashion business is no exception.

Shopping is a regular pastime for most. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, nearly three-quarters of our sample (72%) typically bought new clothes, shoes and/or accessories at least every 3 months, with younger people buying more frequently than older people. You’d be excused for assuming that the pandemic may have forced the (designer) purse-strings of the fashion conscious to tighten, but, rather surprisingly, it hasn’t deterred them as much as you may think –  over half professed to be purchasing clothes just as frequently (44%) or even more frequently (10%) than before.

So, whether it’s for your weekly Zoom quiz (yes, another one), a virtual FaceTime catch up with friends, an important work-related Skype call, or simply for your sofa’s sake, there is clearly still the desire to look and feel good in lockdown. And while the stores remain closed, practically all retail therapy must come in digital form.

Back in the good old days (of the past 12 months), when we were gifted with choice, online and physical shopping appeared to be tied in terms of popularity. Both online marketplace platforms and large retailers/department stores were the most used methods, with 53% using each. When buying directly from brands, a third did so online and from physical stores (36% respectively) and for second-hand clothing, 20% bought from online resale platforms, with the same proportion buying from physical second-hand, thrift or market stores.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on shopping habits has been significant. Unsurprisingly, online methods have seen an increase of more than a third, while physical methods have experienced decreases of 58% or more. The largest online increase was for shopping via a brand’s social media page, with nearly half who had previously purchased this way reporting an increase during the pandemic (49%).

This online shift seems like it may be here to stay, for a while at least. Even if physical stores were to dust down their rails and re-open their doors in the next 3 months, most (65%) indicated that they would continue to shop online. Despite the majority (45%) of these shoppers preferring the traditional alternative, they simply would not feel safe enough to do so at the current time. This is a powerful message for brands. Now, more than ever before, brands must focus on their digital presence and resilience. It goes without saying that a seamless e-commerce experience is of utmost importance in this day and age, but there are many more virtual avenues to be explored while Madison and 5th are out of bounds. For example, over half of our sample were interested in the prospect of virtual stores (55%) and malls (51%), in which they would be able to browse through digital stores and aisles in a similar way as they would in reality, and a sizeable portion (42%) were interested in the idea of livestreaming fashion shows or new products, as are already popular in China.

Prior to the pandemic, sustainability was the hottest topic in fashion. For now, though, it seems to be taking a bit of a backseat for consumers, while responding to the crisis appears to have taken priority; half of our sample would feel more positively about a brand if it was seen to have handled its response to COVID-19 well, compared to 38% who would feel more positively if the brand was taking steps towards becoming more sustainable. Further to this, 31% would pay more for a brand whose response to the pandemic was seen to be suitable, whereas 27% would pay more for a sustainable brand.

Just before the pandemic really took hold of the US in March 2020, however, over double the amount (76%) said they would feel more positively about a brand if they were seen to be sustainable, and a quarter more (52%) would have paid more for a sustainable brand.

As things (slowly) begin to return to normal, or “the new normal” as the recently coined phrase goes, important matters will undoubtedly become important once again. So, while not necessarily top of mind at present, brands must be careful not to push sustainability too far back on that burner. In fact, now that the world has been forced to slow down, and Mother Nature has been permitted to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it might just be the perfect time to shift focus back onto these efforts to ensure we take advantage of the encouraging environmental effects that the pandemic has, inadvertently, had.

At present though, reacting to the situation at hand is clearly the priority for consumers and companies alike. We are keen to find out what consumers really want to see from fashion brands during this time, and exactly what it is they consider to be a good reaction to this new reality we all find ourselves in.

Source: AudienceNet. Base n= 1,963 US residents. Dates: Mid April/Late March 2020