The Fashion Retail Tug Of War

While the line between online and offline commerce continues to blur, there has remained at least one retail category that appears to be safe from ever losing a brick-and-mortar element entirely: apparel.

As no digital innovation has yet to emerge that can adequately replace the experience deemed essential by so many consumers who shop for clothes (particularly items that are more fashion-centric than utilitarian) — trying them on before they buy them — it has long been presumed that apparel retail will, by its very nature, have to maintain a presence in the physical space.

That doesn’t change the fact, however, that technology will persist in infiltrating the retail fashion sector (as it will every other sector). Those in the industry are left with a choice now: Either do what they can to keep offline locations a foundation of the apparel shopping experience, while using digital elements to positively augment it, or bet the house that online will one day become the be-all and end-all of the vertical and focus all of their efforts in that one direction.

Herein, we present two current examples of those divergent tactics.


Cadillac Drives Into Retail Space (No Injuries Reported)

In the retail world, there’s online, there’s offline … and then, there’s way offline — as in, not having a dedicated business on either of the two traditional channels.

Auto retailer Cadillac and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) are aiming to help fashion designers who might find themselves in the last category with the companies’ announcement yesterday (April 6) that they have partnered to launch Retail Lab, a program intended to provide designers with the skills to make it in the retail business.

That education — for the designers talented enough to earn acceptance into the program — covering areas such as business development, marketing, public relations and logistics, will take place in a custom retail shop located on the ground floor of Cadillac’s New York headquarters.

Given that it will be a brick-and-mortar space, much of the focus at Retail Lab will be on how to pull digital elements into the physical world of retail.

As Steven Kolb, president and CEO of CFDA, told Digiday: “What’s great about the retail space that’s being built is there’s a lot of technology being integrated into that, so I think there’s going to be a lot of ways to communicate brand messaging with different mediums.”

Melody Lee, director of brand strategy and planning at Cadillac, shared with the outlet her observation that the continued advancement of technology is compelling a model shift in the retail industry, indicating that “designers have to be very nimble” in order to maintain the viability of physical retail — the tried-and-true framework of the particularly tactile vertical of apparel.

On the other hand…


Amazon’s “Look But Don’t Touch (And Just Buy)” Approach To Fashion Retail

Tactile, schmactile appears to be Amazon’s view on apparel shopping, as the eCommerce giant is making efforts to pull fashion retail in the complete opposite direction that Cadillac is — from offline to very much online.

After quietly launching its own (long-rumored) clothing line back in February, Amazon has, in the time since, successfully gotten a number of established fashion brands — including Nicole Miller, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade, Lacoste and Levi Strauss — to sell directly to it, shares The Wall Street Journal.

It’s an impressive feat, given apparel retail’s aforementioned longstanding association with in-person shopping, as consumers have historically preferred to be able to touch and try on clothing items before making a decision to purchase.

But that’s all changing, as last year clothing became the top-selling category in eCommerce for the first time ever (according to comScore data), and Amazon is obviously keen on keeping that trend going.

A key factor in the company’s efforts therein is Amazon’s Prime membership, which — in offering free, two-day shipping — minimizes consumers’ perception of risk, notes WSJ, associated with buying apparel online.

That benefit, along Amazon’s ever-growing selection in the clothing category, has the digital retailer on track to overtake Macy’s as the number one U.S. apparel retailer by 2017.

And who knows? If Amazon can find a way to somehow digitize the practice of trying on clothes, that timeline might get even shorter.



The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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