Fashion & Apparel Industry Index 2021
For much of the fashion world, the coronavirus pandemic wrought a heap of challenges. A world on indefinite pause at once halted much-anticipated live runway shows, in-person exhibits, and the frequenting of boutiques. More than anything, it highlighted the need for the fashion industry to innovate.
If fashion brands were considering investing more in their digital strategies before the pandemic, they most certainly are now as we inch closer to the post-corona era. The dramatic push towards sophisticated digitalization was, of course, in part due to the extraordinary circumstances experienced around the world.
But the consumer shift had already been becoming increasingly more prevalent online than ever before; the pandemic only accelerated the need for brands to digitize their channels.
In the case of the fashion industry—which had been notoriously hesitant to adopt much, if any, digital strategy out of fear of eroding their aura of exclusivity—fashion executives and CMOs surveyed report a heightened focus on boosting their omnichannel strengths. Now, the question among industry leaders has shifted from “Should we invest into digital competencies?” to “What digital strategy will serve our fashion brand the best?”
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The New Fashion Playbook: Global Industry Trends and Analysis
A year living through much uncertainty for fashion brand executives only reassured them of the need to augment their omnichannel strategies. Amid unprecedented record lows in pandemic-induced sales, foot traffic, and interaction, top-level decision-makers prepare for a better-connected, more technologically savvy, and socially conscious era. These objectives have even fashion executives at the best performing fashion brands reconsidering just how to effectively navigate through 2020’s crisis and the years of acceleration it brought with it. With insights revealing consumer behavior has taken up shopping online more than ever before, expectations of fashion brands moving forward will be that of exceptional service delivery and engaging experiences.
The brands best positioned to reap the rewards of an attentive and loyal audience are those whose playbooks fruitfully reshape their business models and streamline their performances all-around for consumer behavior. Not to mention, conclusive research in the fashion industry reports that consumers actively seek brands whose value propositions largely align with their own: that of sustainable innovation, social empowerment, and superior quality in both product and interaction. And while economic reports may have signaled a dismal future in recent months, the reality is that consumer spending will return. By the end of 2022, analysts predict consumer spending will begin to not only rebound but eclipse 2019 earnings despite the fashion industry’s 93% drop in profits in 2020. Still, the winners of the fashion space will have taken the early initiative and excel in adopting the kind of strategy that draws consumers in and offers a point of differentiation with experience-driven relationships.
Given that the eCommerce strategy adoption and digital innovation landscape in the luxury fashion space are still in a nascent stage, it’s expected that most high-end names will have an uneven distribution of essential features consumers look for in brands today.
Themes and Trends Among the Top Performing Luxury Fashion Brands in 2021
There are, however, a few brands which, for reasons later explained, have performed better than their competitors. Before we begin unveiling why our selected ten top-performing luxury brands and top innovative fashion brands are among the best in the industry, we think it is worthwhile for readers to understand the insights and similarities we’ve found in common with their best-performing cohorts. Chief among them is whether brands have been able to adapt to and manage the uncertainty of the pandemic’s effect on our lives. Whether a brand chose to provide flexibility, convenience, and speed to its consumers tells us whether it would succeed in following metrics.
Of course, no brand can expect to see its economic figures improve during a recession; almost no brand has been untouched by the affliction of this global pandemic. The fashion brands we’ve gathered and rendered as the best, most innovative performers of their space have all shown the initiative to pivot or completely change their strategies, pending the opportunities this worldwide circumstance has brought.
When it comes to consumers, shifts already underway only hastened the need for brands to embrace more personable experiences. Again, the best performing fashion brands are those that had already been proactive or quickly made the shift to plan for more ways to enhance the shopping experience. The ability for consumers to interact with a brand through live streaming, contact virtual customer service, or, most expectedly, shop with incredible ease paved the way for fashion brands to step up to the moment.
Also perceptive were CMOs and fashion executives from brands who recognized consumers need more than social platitudes. In 2020, consumers craved real differences and action behind words. Whether it be improving social conditions for the ateliers and other supply chain workers who make the products we know and cherish possible or calling for effective change in response to social injustice, consumers vote their confidence in brands with their dollars. And it is ultimately clear that brands who understand the world demands more dignity for their workers and communities will come out on top.
This call for social responsibility also extends toward sustainability action. Consumers today value brands that take an active approach to reduce carbon emissions and employ renewable practices. This parallels brands’ desires to minimize square footage of in-person retail stores, now realizing that physical presence alone will not attract customers like before. Instead, fashion brands understand that today, taking a demand-driven approach tethered by uplifting and interactive experiences will rally audiences.
While these themes may present an entirely different perspective towards strategy, it reflects the present moment and the shifting consumer need. Time and time again, we have seen the most innovative brands with the most robust digital strategy and digital performance share these themes in common. We hope that shining a light on their digital strategies and outlining what these top-performing luxury fashion brands have done to earn their mark on G & Co.’s Innovation Index encourages more brands to recognize the necessity to evolve.
Initially opposed to anything digital, Louis Vuitton has indeed come into a world of its own as it reigns supreme with the first place on the top of our luxury Innovation Index. In the last few years, the French maison has invested heavily into internal search and navigation features, as well as native content to encompass a brand-wide eCommerce overhaul. Louis Vuitton also enjoys a strong level of engagement across the most pervasive social media platforms, boasting a following of more than 24 million people on Facebook, 43 million on Instagram, and over half a million on YouTube.
Louis Vuitton’s success is also helped by its parent company’s launching of 24 Sèvres, its multi-brand online retail store for in-house labels. While small, the platform shows initiative on LVMH’s part to contribute to the overall customer experience. 24 Sèvres already offers customers the ability to consult with Parisian stylists one-on-one—something never before done in the fashion world.
One can argue that the degree of time and resources allocated to building Louis Vuitton’s digital infrastructure came at no better time than last year when the worldwide crisis plagued economies and brands with uncertainty and consumers turned to online means to connect and engage with brands.
Gucci is no stranger when it comes to digital innovation. As one of the earliest luxury adopters of eCommerce, Gucci’s digital strategy has arguably been one of the most enviable in the industry. That preemptive espousal of online channels has provided the Italian luxury house with an unparalleled product and search visibility. In an age where digital channels influence roughly 60% of all luxury purchases, Gucci commandeers relevance; on search, Gucci gets three times as much organic visibility on non-branded searches as any other brand.
Besides its performance in attracting user attention through search, Gucci has done a commemorable job of integrating storytelling narrative and content in its eCommerce experience. Such portrayal complements the Kering fashion house’s social competencies, which like Louis Vuitton, boasts followers in the millions on Facebook and Instagram.
3. Tiffany & Co.
Tiffany’s dominance on this list is helped immensely by the impressive amalgamation of online and offline marketing strategies; where most brands, luxury especially, mistakenly treat these two approaches separately, Tiffany has perceptively combined the two in what it calls an “integrated partnership.”
Tiffany leadership is wise enough to understand that visibility leads to greater levels of consumer interaction. But Tiffany goes further than to perform on the non-branded search visibility front strongly. While the pandemic may have meant a downturn in active projects or live events for the luxury industry as a whole, Tiffany seized the moment by generating bountiful amounts of content. This push for generated media earned Tiffany high marks for admirable social engagement rates when competing luxury brands did relatively little posting compared to pre-pandemic quarters. Tiffany earns extra points for much-needed breaks in reality through repurposed campaign content and entertaining video releases.
For years, Burberry has been recognized as one of the foremost digital performers in the luxury fashion space, and for a good reason. The British brand has long been a wholehearted embracer of eCommerce and a savvy dispenser of digital marketing strategy. Their early adoption of these tools has paved the way for this moment, where consumers actively seek brands that not just offer a convenient way to shop and receive esteemed items but who excel in their service delivery. As one of the first innovators of the pick-up in-store feature among others in the high-end eCommerce landscape, Burberry continues to dominate the luxury industry with its digital competence—and all signs point to an even greater period of prosperity.
Burberry is one of the most covered brands in the press and draws adoration from some of the most iconic influencers today. And with recent and targeted demographic innovations through B-Series and its monogram capsule, Burberry consistently redefines expectations of what it means for brands to read the pulse of consumers and adapt to ever-changing needs.
5. Kate Spade
Kate Spade is a product of its parent company Tapestry’s investment in digital channels. Citing the need for immersive customer experiences across eCommerce and social platforms, chief executive Joanne Crevoiserat announced it would go forward in further ensuring its brands met customer expectations and evolving environment.
What that meant in particular for Kate Spade was an upgrade to its social interaction approach and a plan to revamp its North American website, which brought state-of-the-art video streaming capabilities, online purchase and in-store pick up features, and the ability to schedule in-store and online appointments. Such additions assured Kate Spade’s position as a brand responding to current consumer demands.
Additionally, Kate Spade’s investment in its visibility has only spurred the effectiveness of its updated digital infrastructure. Thanks to a handsome increase of 20% in year-on-year social engagement, Kate Spade has been able to attract more than a quarter million new customers in North America in its fourth quarter alone, signaling it has now firmly established itself as a digitally capable luxury brand.
Chanel is perhaps the only luxury brand on this list that earns the distinction for having one of the best digital strategies without having much of an eCommerce structure of its own.
Despite Chanel’s aversion to offering its fashion lines online, the French luxury house maintains its position that it only sells its collection of fragrances, cosmetics, skincare, and sunglasses to be a boost for its brand.
While that may seem contradictory to the purpose of this luxury digital strategy index, the real heart of Chanel’s digital operations lies in its partnerships and fortifying of customer experiences through shopping experiences. For one, Chanel’s decision to take a minority stake in Farfetch shows some certainty in the long-term approach to digital innovation. It shows the brand is well in line with thinking at the top, with Chanel’s fashion president Bruno Pavlovsky stating, “There are alternatives to eCommerce. Pure eCommerce is not an end per se. Service is much more important.”
Chanel’s content production arm also shows its proficiency in engaging consumers. Sofia Coppola’s partnership with Chanel has brought fans a look at their 2019/20 Métiers d’art show, full of star-studded fashion icons like Gigi Hadid, Vittoria Ceretti, and Mona Tougaard.
Another Tapestry brand to make the list, Coach arrives at the seventh slot thanks to its commitment to a significant digital and omnichannel experience overhaul. One of the most exciting new features of Coach’s investment in its online strategy is the launch of CitySole on its native eCommerce site, a 3D and augmented reality experience allowing customers to design incredibly personalized sneakers. Add that to Coach’s stream of new content, such as its Dream It Real podcast, and you have a brand whose read on the world of fashion is one that’s driven by experiences and personable interaction.
But what truly makes Coach a fashion brand to keep an eye on is its capacity to attract younger customers. In December 2020, Coach chief executive Todd Kahn revealed half of new customers acquired through digital channels were Gen Z and millennials.
Despite significant cuts during the crisis last year, Dior has notably remained highly visible owing to its Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2020 collection commissioned by Matteo Garrone. The thinking behind this was to help the LVMH fashion house rebound faster as the world inches closer to recovery, with Dior being top of fashion consumer minds. As a commemorative touch, the film embraced relics of a pre-pandemic era as a signal of what the brand hopes to do more of in the future: runway shows before a live audience and extensive museum exhibits.
Even in a down market and consumer spend in decline, Dior still reigns supreme in the world of haute couture. Dior’s collaboration with Nike Air Jordan sent the fashion social media world on a frenzy following its launch. And with the beauty division at Dior working ever so closely with the namesake fashion house, it will be a treat to see just how well the brand’s social media and eCommerce build into even stronger components of an already impressive company.
9. Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent has taken a particularly innovative direction with its online strategy. In testing its Y male fragrance, YSL opted to tap into niche marketing by calling on micro influencers the brand felt embodied the essence of the modern, vogue man.
After the success of its ultra-targeted campaign, Saint Laurent enjoyed a 70% growth in follower count on Instagram and almost 28,000 mentions. Figures like that only further encouraged the French fashion house to utilize what it calls social ambassadors to promote the brand directly to niche followings, rather than mainstream channels that may gain more exposure to consumers but less engagement and sales. That personalization has done wonders for Saint Laurent demonstrates the kind of utility brands have at their disposal in making every moment of engagement with consumers a relevant one.
10. Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren earned a position on this list through its eCommerce experience overhaul. The Ralph Lauren Corporation had laid out a strategic initiative last fall to “digitize the product journey” to augment consumer experiences. Sure enough, Ralph Lauren delivered.
The New York-based fashion brand marked the 2020 holiday season with the unveiling of its virtual store experience. Last winter, Ralph Lauren offered consumers the ability to shop from its iconic retail locations worldwide right from their screens. In addition, its partnership with Snapchat for augmented reality experiences only furthers the brand’s push to engross consumers wholly. The first serious initiatives to create a more digitally relevant shopping experience from Ralph Lauren put this brand on a bright path forward.
What went into selecting the top-performing luxury fashion brands of 2021?
G & Co. took note of what every research report and key insight published in the last few years have reiterated: consumers demand authenticity, convenience, and exceptional experiences from the fashion brands from whom they choose to buy. While some of the most recognizable names may have had an edge in years past, eCommerce fashion industry analysis has shown that relatively latent names have used the last year to springboard into action.
What does it mean for a top-performing brand to be recognized as such?
In 2021 and beyond, a top-performing luxury fashion brand must understand that consumers want streamlined experiences across every interaction. Whether it is through a digital approach, an offline strategy, or a mix of both with an omnichannel playbook, the state of fashion brands today relies heavily on ensuring customers can easily shop their catalogues and enjoy the same degree of quality experiences as they generally expect from the best names in the industry.
What was the motivation behind publishing this market and research report and selecting top-performing brands in the fashion space?
The world of fashion is ever-evolving. And with 2020 being a year like no other, fashion executives and CMOs needed to take stock of their own performance and evaluate the trajectory of their playbooks amid seismic changes to consumer behavior. This report was created to outline the state of fashion as it currently stands and the trends we foresee becoming a critical part of a brand’s digital and omnichannel strategies thanks to CMO surveys, global fashion industry analysis, and market research. By spotlighting the best performing, most innovative fashion brands in the industry and gauging what earned them a spot on our Innovation Index®, we acknowledge the successes and the risks brands take to stay relevant and earn their customer’s adoration.
What should CMOs and other c-level executives consider as part of their luxury fashion playbook moving forward?
CMO surveys, core research insight reports, and global fashion indexes done in the last few months point to a few key things: consumers want brands that take an active role in sustainability efforts, work to provide a state-of-the-art shopping experience, and better connect with them in more relevant ways. In sum, consumers expect fashion brands to personalize their approach and become role models for the industry.