Fashion Shopping during This Extraordinary Time

Fashion shops and outlet centres may re-open with restrictions on their shops. How is the mood? How are the customers reacting? And to where will this still lead us?

Probably none of the fashion retailers have cast off all their worries because the challenges of this current time are still immense. The sales have fallen quickly and drastically and show little indications of recovering. The shops are indeed open, but the buyers aren’t coming back.

Fashion is Currently Not the Top Priority

Thus, probably the sole accessory that goes well with everything at present: The face mask. Could be sold in large quantities, but unfortunately nobody can supply them. What has already become evident: The face mask will become a big fashion theme whereby the first brands have already revealed themselves. If we are already not allowed to reveal our face, at least the face mask must look chic.

Otherwise, the need for fashion has gone down drastically – above all because there are practically no more public events anymore and most remain primarily at home in a compulsory fashion. This contains the enthusiastic wish for a new outfit for the spring or summer.

An additional factor: Because many people currently find themselves in a short-time work condition or even unemployed and the others also don’t know precisely what will happen going forward, people are tending to hold onto their money and not spend it.

A Shopping Experience Becomes a Shopping Adventure

At present, the shopping experience means standing in the queue, wearing masks in the shop, using gloves and disinfectants and following social distancing rules.

The store operators are responsible for ensuring that only a certain number of persons are allowed to come into the sales areas and many additional rules must be followed. Otherwise, monetary fines loom. If personnel must also be deployed in order to monitor adherence to the rules, this also constitutes an additional burden. Moreover, the necessary physical modifications are not only unattractive – e.g. sneeze guard glass panes – they also crease an undesirable distance to the customer.

Good consulting is now even more critical

An empathetic manner which helps to lessen the effects of the social distancing is needed. To advise customers in a targeted manner, with good insight into human nature, an attention to detail and good fashion knowledge and ultimately to recommend the right clothing items and, at the same time, to seek out the right size: This reduces not only the unnecessary interaction of the customers with the goods – keyword: virus transmission – but rather also reduces the risk of returns.

Trying on Clothing Items – Permitted or Not?

Trying on clothing is a precarious theme. My own modest research revealed that actually a few retailers are currently not permitting the customers to try on their clothing items. Justification: The clothing items would then need to be disinfected whereby they could be damaged by the disinfectants used.

Conversely, most shops are permitting their customers to try on their clothing items. In this regard, it appears to be the best practice to establish the following procedure: Clothing items which have been tried on, but not purchased, must initially be “quarantined”. In this context, such clothing items must be stored in an intermediate storage area for 24 to 48 hours which is separated from the remaining assortment before they may once again be made available for sale.

In addition, many clothing shops are disinfecting the clothes hangers, clothes rods as well as the floors and other areas of the sales floors upon a daily basis.

How Long do Viruses Survive on Textiles?

Indeed, there are still many unanswered questions: How long do viruses cling to textiles, to other goods or boxes? Does an infection also occur by merely trying on clothes?

The researchers still have no definitive answers to such questions. Both the German Institute for Risk Assessment and the Fashion Association of Germany have provided fashion shops with no concrete recommendations for action.

In particular, it is not definitively known how long the pathogen survives on textiles. And the recommendation to clean textiles at a minimum of 60 degrees in the washing machine in order to be safe doesn’t really help clothing shops so much.

There are also lots of question marks regarding the customers’ concrete behaviour in the changing room. Customers take off their masks, but have perhaps been sweating in them beforehand. Perhaps once wiping the sweat from one’s face and one has possibly already disseminated the viruses in the changing room, on the clothing item and on the clothes hangers.

It is also an unclear situation for the employees. Anxiety is thus a constant companion – both for the employees as well as also for the attentive customers.

Team Motivation is Priceless

For many people, their nerves are already frazzled. Additional stress thus afflicts the team and the shop management. There are many reasons for this – not only the sales figures must be reached. It is also necessary to deal attentively with the customers.

In this case, not only social competence is required, but rather also emotional intelligence – including when dealing with the sales team.

Motivation is currently not a given. Many are irritated, frustrated, and afraid. Some simply call in sick.

This all places special challenges on the shop management. Teams want to feel appreciated and are thankful for transparent communication. Not absolutely clear answers are expected – who can even provide clear answers at present? However, understanding and listening are currently also highly-regarded values.

The current situation will probably still be with us for a while yet. It provides such challenges which can bring team members closer together and create a sense of community among them.