Sixty-nine years ago, my fellow Frenchman Christian Dior rocked (or as we say today - disrupted) the world of fashion by creating the “New Look”. This New Look style presented a utilitarian-dressed, war-weary public with ultra-feminine, glamorous fashion — helping reflect, if not usher in, a lift in public morale and consumer confidence. Dior’s collection debuted with impeccable timing on two fronts. First, after the austerity of WWII, the environment and public morale were ripe for change. Second, there was also a need for change in the fashion industry as European designers had been pronounced as a dying breed by American fashion media, such as Vogue. Yet it was an American journalist who snapped up the phrase to christen the New Look era and it was the American public that quickly embraced the revolution, soon helping make the house of Dior responsible for 75% of Paris’ fashion exports.
All it took for Dior to revive a suffering industry was a fresh vision.
Dior knew that change was needed and the time was right. WWII may have ended, but its memory lingered in the everyday — most obviously in clothing — and he knew he could offer something to help lift people out of their gloom. Who would have thought that a fresh, new fashion trend could affect morale in such a way? Dior did.
It should be no surprise that all it took for Dior to revive a suffering industry was a fresh vision. When something isn’t working, you try a different approach. Not so far removed from his world of fashion is the world of retail, which comes with a sort of war of its own today: that of brick-and-mortar stores trying to stay relevant. Although I was an established European businessman, I had always been drawn to the U.S. market by its sheer size. I knew that to make an impact here, meant having an impact everywhere. The market offers the chance for any type of retail company to flex its muscles not only because of the number of physical stores, but because it is such a consumer-minded society. Retail sales are a vital part of the economy and the public is ever willing and able to buy. Yet despite all this, the retail sector struggles. And with the U.S. being so much bigger than any country in Europe, its challenges and consequences of its decisions are proportionately greater.
The time and environment is right for change in retail.
With an abundance of growth-minded retail companies in the U.S., it made sense as a SaaS company to be there to help them. Before establishing the American arm of our company in San Francisco, however, I took a long, hard look at the state of retail in this country. The friction between online and in-store sales had already become a recurring topic in industry publications, but a major factor behind retail’s woes can arguably be pinned on business-as-usual… or more specifically, the difficulty of turning away from business-as-usual. It’s the bane of progress and in the Dior scenario, the part is played by drab, utilitarian clothing.
Retailers sentiment according to RSR Research data
Being a growth-minded founder of One2Team, I decided to embrace the challenges of coming to the U.S. where I knew I could offer a fresh look, something that can spark great creativity, ideas, and of course, revenue. Much as it was like for Dior, the time and environment is right for change in retail. So much so that the topic of in-store technology and retail was on everyone’s lips at the recent National Retail Federation Big Show. The technology is available. The consumers want it. Survival demands it. All that’s left is for business to embrace it. This is more easily said than done because change is always difficult to implement and, sometimes, it takes someone from the outside — a newcomer, like Dior — to help people see that their fashion, or way of doing things, is out-moded.
No one has come up with the solution, no one has a blueprint.
There are two issues that face retail and need to be addressed in order to take full advantage of this “new look”. First, business challenges today are more complex than ever. They demand quick resolution to a whole host of issues such as becoming omni-channel, evolving store aesthetics, and building relationships with millennials. And yet, no one has come up with the solution, no one has a blueprint. Companies are forced to experiment more, run faster, become more agile in a way that exposes an organization’s limits of its execution ability.
Second, paralysis in adopting technology. Retail has been circling around technology as the answer to its woes, but it's still a relatively new world to retail and given the first issue just mentioned (and many other factors), it's easy to see how the prospect of adoption and integration is daunting. It's a long road ahead for retail. The challenge is to take the first step. Change is difficult not only because it involves a mental change, but also a change in the processes and tools that create the conditions for change to take place effectively.
Retail agility according to Christian Davies of FITCH
So what does the “New Look” mean for U.S. retail? It means omnichannel technology and digital stores and data-driven consumer experience design and more, sure… But it also means that retailers must take a new look at technology in order to execute at a pace more akin to the digital age, to orchestrate complex undertakings with maximum agility. Luckily for retailers, tech companies live and breathe “fresh air” and are used to using innovation in order to solve problems.
Photo credit: Daphne Lu/Flickr