The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global disruption across various industries that needs immediate attention and introspection. The unprecedented situation calls for a paradigm shift in every aspect of human lifestyle to which fashion is not an exception. However, the fashion industry has always leveraged an unfavourable situation as a creative opportunity and is trying to overcome the present challenges as well. In fact, if ever there was a time for fashion to reinvent itself, it is now.   Smart casuals are back A 2017 report by Boston Consultancy Group and Facebook predicted online fashion sales for a relatively young business to reach a valuation of $30 billion by the end of 2020. However, the prolonged lockdown, which restricted online fashion sales and bought fashion e-commerce to a halt in India, acted as a turning point. Now that lockdown restrictions have been eased and consumers spend more time online, only ‘fashion therapy’ is thriving. As more customers turn to e-commerce to shop their everyday needs, the habit is bleeding over into fashion purchases as well, pushing more fashion brands to embrace e-commerce. Fashion has also evolved as a way of life, as an expression of work-life integration. Work from home is here to stay and more and more people will prefer smart casuals like pyjamas. Direct-to-consumer e-commerce brands can definitely seize the advantage as they control the value chain and can communicate strongly online.   E-commerce the most sustainable option Historically, fashion brands have overcome many big crises through innovative spirit and adaptation. The prolonged lockdown has taught a big lesson to all. For fashion brands, it has been a lesson in agility and resilience.   E-commerce has become the core of every brand’s business and growth plans. High-end fashion brands, which have traditionally been dependent on brick-and-mortar and experience-driven sales and slower to move online than mass fashion brands, have also started moving online. According to a 2019 report by RedSeer Consulting, the fashion market in India is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11 per cent, with online fashion growing at a CAGR of 32 per cent. Before the pandemic, many fashion players in all categories were looking at e-commerce as a growth engine. The pandemic further accelerated the shift. Online commerce will play a much more vital role-from digital payments to fashion choices and the final purchase. It is important for fashion companies to have a compelling value proposition to offer online. This includes augmented or virtual reality experience, lucid designs and personalisation. Practical, cost-effective, affordable fashion would be the need of the hour and online will have a big influence on every part of customer journey. Virtual showrooms can be accessed digitally everywhere.   Fashion brands are now opening up to a new reality where things are very different from how they used to be. As companies navigate through the new normal, they are discovering a major shift in shopping behaviour of consumers. E-commerce, which has always been a priority for many brands, has seen an unprecedented response during the current scenario. The most convenient option for consumers to shop continues to grow very fast.
The way forward The crisis has driven a lot of companies to finally make a foray into e-commerce. Many brands have either already shifted or planning to. However, crucial will be to adapt all changes of the e-commerce value chain-digital payments, agile designs for new customer taste, production-on-demand and sharp customer analytics. Also important is to reduce the end-to-build cycle of fashion designs. The coronavirus outbreak and the relentless support of the e-commerce sector have made both brands and consumers realise that the sector has the potential to expand and flourish manifold.   Post pandemic, the fashion e-commerce market is expected to be more dynamic. For brands incapable of opening their dedicated online platform and also, the big established brands, omni-channel operations will continue to be the most viable option. As business operations get back on track, safety and hygiene will remain the biggest priority. Additionally, communication and consumer interaction become more important to ensure higher brand recall and brand connect.