Lessons in Digital, Navigating the NOW and Planning for TOMORROW

HVO Search brought together leaders in Fashion, Beauty, Luxury & Lifestyle to discuss e-commerce opportunities during this uncertain time. 

Covid-19 has dramatically changed how we do business and how we interact with one another. 

Needless to say this is bringing about a huge change in customer behaviour.

There is no “business as usual” right now. If you want to succeed, you must pivot your strategy to put e-commerce and digital at the forefront. 

 

In this article, we explore the key takeaways from the topics raised in our HVO Search Live discussion - Lessons in Digital: Navigating the Now and Planning for Tomorrow. 

The Questions We Explored...

During our discussion, we explored the following questions: 

 

There is no “business as usual” right now, how have your digital strategies pivoted as a result of Covid-19?

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically, how have you / your company adapted to this change?

What are the challenges and opportunities for e-commerce?

What are the most coveted digital skills right now?

Do you believe there will be anti-consumerism attitudes following this virus? 

Event Summary

There is no "business as usual right now, how have your digital strategies pivoted as a result of Covid-19?

Increased focus on athleisure and casual wear

Discounts during full price season

More frequent newsletters and social media updates

A focus on social commitments

A sense of urgency to find practical solutions adapted to the new reality

No more taboos of where to sell your products

after a couple of weeks of shock, customers came back to online purchases, mostly for essential and comfortable products

Reinforced online and phone support

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically, how have you / your company adapted to this change?

A new tone in communication. Less promotional, more personal and more caring

Building online marketplace partnerships 

Delaying some launches and new projects to priorities fund-raising and communications

Demand for hygiene and wellness products

Many people buying online for the first time

Shift in marketing to reinforce online presence as one much closer to customers

Social actions related to the Covid-19 emergency: helped government importing and paying products

 

What are the challenges and opportunities for e-commerce?

Managing your supply chain and protecting your employees

Managing increased partnership with online retailers

Balancing resources on stores and e-commerce

Translating elegance and experience of luxury products online

What are the most coveted digital skills right now?

Agile mindsets

Performance marketing

Content creation

Data analytics and management

Leaders with multiple skill sets (technical and business understanding)

Do you believe there will be anti-consumerism attitudes following this virus?

Shift towards environmental and sustainability mindset

Family-focused values

Going out will be seen as more of a special occasion

People will continue to look for discounts during recession

Possibility of a “less is more” approach. 

In Depth Write Up of the Discussion

There is no “business as usual” right now, how have your digital strategies pivoted as a result of Covid-19?

Matthew: Fully ignoring the situation with Coronavirus is a big mistake. But also, changing your strategy to such an extent that people don’t recognise your brand and your products is also a mistake. We’re walking the line between those two, trying to find the right balance.

 

Joel: With all of my clients, what I’m seeing is their need to rethink their strategy. Everyone is looking toward e-commerce as a place where they can make business. There’s a sense of urgency to find practical solutions that are adapted to this new reality. 

 

I also noticed the end of taboos, a lot of businesses never wanted to consider Amazon or never wanted to go to China, and then suddenly this is where they can do business, so a lot of conversations are opening up. 

 

Maria: Companies are thinking “how are we going to do this?” and there’s a real sense of emergency. This crisis has had an acute effect on focus, what we were previously thinking was ‘too risky’ or ‘too difficult’ is now a necessity and you leaders have to act fast. 

 

Nuno: In our case, I’d say that there have been three different buying habits during this crisis regarding digital commerce. 

Firstly, we had an initial couple of weeks of shock, where people were not purchasing anything other than health and food items. 

 

But after these two weeks, we started seeing customers come back to us online. Mostly, people are seeking essential and comfortable products rather than inspirational products which is a new shift in what we are used to. 

 

Right now, there’s been an increase in online purchases as people are adjusting and we’ve seen many new customers who are shifting into the online market as it is the only one available. As a result, we’ve moved people who worked in-store to online and warehouse supporting roles.

 

Ginny Hershey-Lambert, Founder of Mine Mine Kids asked Matthew

 

Are there tools available for salespeople to use the e-commerce site to digitally build their client-base and relationships? Because I do see a huge opportunity for sales teams to get into the personal zone of somebody’s life.

 

Matthew: Most of our store-associates are at home right now. Ideally, a great solution would be for salespeople to sell locally with customers in their local area. 

 

Eric Fergusson, E-Commerce Director at Liberty London added: 

 

We’re famed for having a beautiful department store with wonderful experts who advise customers. What we’ve done during this time is send out emails to our VIP customers, encouraging them to set up appointments with our best agents. And by nature of human relationships there are ongoing relationships with loyal customers. This means we can keep on communicating and selling to our most loyal customers.

Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically, how have you / your company adapted to this change?

Nuno: We are considering giving mobile phones to store associates so that they are able to receive phone calls from customers and also place these orders on the system. Because there are some customers who are not able to go online. 

 

We are also being much more present on social media - not just with fashion but home recipes, live video concerts - lots of daily activities that we were not doing before. We want to offer our network with a different connection with the brand.

 

We changed our slogan from “we stay together” to “we stay home together”. We are improving social actions and helping communities and governments by importing crucial PPE equipment. There is definitely a social responsibility that larger brands can take.

 

Matthew: I agree with Nuno. Another thing we’ve done is communicating with customers via newsletters three times a week instead of two. We didn’t see an increase in people opting out or a lower click-through rate. People are more open to communication.

 

We did alter the communications to less premium related to more everyday wear - with a focus on casual merchandise. We are also including social messaging in our newsletters and media channels.  

 

Joel: For my clients, what I recommend is to adapt merchandising to reflect what is doing well in beauty and wellness right now. For instance, there’s a new opportunity surrounding hair products and nail polish which people do at home. There’s also been a switch from luxury fragrance to more functional fragrance with a feel good factor. 

 

In terms of communication, I completely agree that we need to be more considerate and caring. This means less promotional and commercial and more emotional. To the point of delaying some launches which I don’t think customers are very receptive to at the moment. Brands need to communicate on purpose and care more than anything else.

 

Maria: Yes, it’s very difficult to push something that’s not completely appreciating what is going on and not addressing the topic. Everything has to be somewhat related to Covid-19 otherwise you are at the risk of offending people. There’s a conversation for another time on business ethics during this time.

What are the challenges and opportunities for e-commerce?

Nuno: The increase in online sales will stay after the crisis. Obviously not at the same level but to higher levels than before. 

 

I have also seen some marketplaces are increasing their presence on the market. And this will be a huge shift because right now you see people relying on the most well established operators like Amazon or Farfetch. So I see fashion brands moving online and into marketplaces. We will need to find the right balance between stores and department stores and online. A challenge for the future.

 

Matthew: We have a lot of different brands are considering working with these online portals that they haven’t worked with before. I think this is a great idea in terms of risk . If you had your items with other partners (Zalando Amazon), you remove some of the risk. At Amazon this was part of my sales pitch, asking -  asking them if they wanted to risk everything with a single warehouse, what if workers go on strike? Now we know that worse things can happen. 

 

I think with this, you need to watch out for two things. One, that your products are well represented on the website. And number two that the website reflects and shows your brand potential, for example, you are sending them good images. 

 

It’s a matter of also that you do the normal care and feeding, making sure that your product is in the right categories - it seems basic, but you’d be surprised how many brands don’t do this basic maintenance and as a result, don’t achieve their full potential. 

 

Joel: Short-term, managing your supply chain and protecting your employees is quite a challenge. I’ve had some mid to long-term discussions with my clients on what is the respective role of stores versus their e-commerce sites. Everyone has been talking omnichannel but in many cases, omnichannel was more an internet site complimenting their stores. 

 

With store phobia and social distancing  maybe there will be a reversal in some cases with online being a safer, better way of shopping and stores being a compliment to online. 

 

Maria: It’s easier for people to buy practical products online, you can even set up subscriptions for convenience.

 

I think that the luxury brands who will thrive in a post COVID world will translate the experience, atmosphere and elegance of their products online. This is a challenge for their e-commerce and content managers who need to communicate something that is traditionally done in person, digitally.

What are the most coveted digital skills right now?

Nuno: Right now, everyone needs a very agile mindset. We’ve moved quite suddenly from a strategic perspective into an operational one. 

 

In high fashion for instance, we used to have a strategic planning cycle and we are now moving into a practical cycle. Mindset has changed from long-term to what can we do right now to bring in revenue. Skills in e-commerce are obviously really in demand right now as we are facing this shift. 

 

There will be a high rate of unemployment - even on the technical side - I think online product managers and developers will be much more on demand in the technical field.

 

Joel: I believe performance marketing - at least in the beauty market - will be really valuable.  

 

We have seen a drop in CPA. A lot of big brands have pulled out their budget and this opens the door for more indie brands to grab the space. So a performance manager who understands how to wisely spend money is a good asset. 

 

Content creators that can do well with little and social media specialists who can entertain a community are also really valuable right now. 

 

Matthew: I agree with both of these points. I would also add that a professional with skills in data analysis and management is crucial right now. Especially related to CRM as we are gaining a lot of new customers. 

 

If we aren’t differentiating those customers and communicating with them in different ways to our other customers that have been buying from us for many years, I think there will be a big missed opportunity. 

 

We also need people who have a technical and business understanding. Those who understand the needs of the customers and can relate those well to the tech team who make changes to the website to accommodate them. 

 

Those people who have multiple skill sets will be really valuable.

 

Maria: I think this has always been the case especially for fashion businesses, because you are asking for two polar opposites. You need the understanding of the brand and the customer and you also need the understanding of commercial, data and marketing - the more technical skills. 

 

Combining the two has always been difficult. We keep this in mind when doing a search. 

 

Matthew: These are jobs of the future, ones that will be sought after forever. Right now you need to compromise.

Do you believe there will be anti-consumerism attitudes following this virus? 

Nuno: People will be changing. There will be an increase in environmental and sustainability mindset. There will be more opportunities for sustainable products. 

 

More family focused values will also be a conclusion of this. I think this shift in mindset and having people closer to home will stay for a long time.

 

On the downside, we will have a recession which will change our mindset. People will look for discounts and promotions and choose these options as they will live for less than before. 

 

Matthew: Going out and meeting your friends and others is going to be more of a special occasion, so I think that there will be a possibility that people will think of fashion as more sustainable and more special.

 

As a result, luxury products and brands might do well. I completely agree with Nuno’s point about sustainability, I think people will be paying a lot more attention to this.

 

Joel: It would be nice to think that this pandemic had changed consumer’s mindsets into thinking ‘less is more’, however, I’m not sure this is going to happen. I think necessity products will increase because of lack of income. 

 

In any case, to my clients I am saying that beauty is sometimes seen as frivolous and now is the time to approach beauty in a more holistic way, bridging beauty with health and wellness. 

 

Maria: I don’t think that frivolous is necessarily a problem. Products that make you feel good and take you away from drudgery (that are not expensive) tend to do ok in depressive times. Make them easily accessible and you might be onto a winner. 

 

People are demanding more because there is so much choice. Do you go for a brand you’ve always aspired to or do you choose a newer brand, like Joel said, that approaches beauty in a holistic way? 

 

Right now, so much is up in the air. We don’t know how long stores will be closed and when they do reopen, will they re-open fully? 

 

How many times will we have to go back or stay in our homes? 

 

On the philosophical side, doing more with less is seen as important. This inspires creativity. The creativity to reinvent ourselves, our work, our home and our communications. I want to see brands approach this in a caring, sensitive way. 
 

Pip Black, Co-Founder of Frame: I agree. A key result for us was being able to pivot and run an online studio within a week of lockdown. 

 

And it was successful partly because our whole ethos and purpose is about moving to uplifting your mood and making you feel better. Mental health is more important than ever. 

 

What we’re seeing - to echo everyone else - is this isn’t something that is going to go away. When we are able to open our sites, it will be different. 

 

Maria: Yes, agility is key. As is understanding how to incorporate the changes you make now into your long-term business strategy.

Our Panelists
Joel Palix

Joel Palix is a seasoned beauty executive with thirty years of international experience, both on the brand and retail sides.

 

Previous roles include CEO of Feelunique.com a leading beauty e-retailer, CEO of Clarins Fragrance Group, CEO of Thierry Mugler, MD Europe of Yves Saint Laurent Beauty.

 

Last June, Joel Palix started his own consultancy, Palix Unlimited, advising beauty brands, PE firms and VC funds on DTC and e-commerce strategies, brand positioning,  innovation, acquisitions and new ventures. 

 

More information on www.palixunlimited.com.

Matthew Dean

Matthew Dean joined Hugo Boss as the VP of Global e-commerce in 2018. 

 

Matthew has worked for over twenty years in e-commerce selling everything from PCs, Apparel, Tools and Grocery. 

 

He worked for Amazon for eight and a half years in Seattle and Germany and last held the role of European Group Category Leader for Apparel and Luggage.

Nuno Miller

For several years Nuno worked as a consultant and manager, at Deloitte. He then worked at Organtex and Parfois, where he performed several international top-management positions.

 

In 2011 he joined Farfetch on Luxury Fashion Products, as CIO. In this role, he built the whole technical team, with over 80 people.

 

For his work at Farfetch, Nuno was elected as European CIO of the year 2014 (Technology Driven, by CIOnet and INSEAD).

 

He worked in Paris as CTO and Managing Director at Videdressing, a french C2C marketplace for pre-loved fashion, and moved back to Portugal, heading Digital Channels at Sonae and now as Chief Digital and Information Office at Sonae Fashion.

Maria Hvorostovsky

Maria is the Founder and CEO of HVO Search - a specialist Executive Search, Talent Mapping & Advisory firm working at the intersection of retail, digital and technology.

 

She spent 7 years at some of the world’s leading consumer and fashion Executive Search firms before founding HVO Search in 2012 with the mission to make hiring the best people simple.

 

At HVO Search she developed a unique in-house methodology based on applied Behavioural Science. Its purpose is to streamline the executive search process and provide additional data points to enhance decision making.