Fast Fashion, unpredictable weather impact apparel seasonality

by | Jun 13, 2017

Retail buyers have operated on a fairly long and reasonably static buying calendar for years, without much change. For instance, buying for the early Spring shopping season usually runs from January through March, but the buying for it happened back in August – October of the previous year. Meanwhile, the late Spring shopping season runs from March through May, while the buyers were sourcing products from October through January.

But the shopping seasons aren’t flowing the way they used to. For one thing, up here in Minnesota, while we may be pining for the warmth of spring in January and February, we aren’t really going to see it until mid-April. So the last thing we’re thinking of buying are shorts and t-shirts, when we still want sweaters and jeans.

For another, the weather is not working the way we’ve come to expect it. Last year’s warmer-than-usual fall led to a dismal Q3 for many fashion retailers who were counting on sales of coats and heavy sweaters. And this past March was kind of wishy-washy when it came to warmth. The “is-it-warm-is-it-cold?” weather made it hard to decide what we needed to buy for the next few weeks.

While e-commerce has come in handy for shoppers when the weather is unpredictable, it’s been blurring seasonal lines for retailers. If the stores aren’t carrying warm weather fashion in the cold months, customers are going online to buy what they need. If the warm weather clothes are available but the temperatures are still cold, consumers are heading for the clearance rack. So for those who are leaving the cold weather for Spring Break at the beach, we’re interested in bikinis and swim trunks, which won’t be on sale until May through July. Additionally, retailers can maximize profitability by taking some of the clearance seasonal inventory off the sales floor and into the warehouse, making those items available at full price for people later. For example, the off-season swimsuits on your e-commerce site could be perfect for the cold-weather Minnesotans who take vacations in the middle of January to hot weather destinations Las Vegas, Florida or Hawaii.

Drop shipping directly to consumers isn’t the only flexibility that you have here, though. Say you have an abundance of cold weather items in the northwest where it’s unseasonably hot, and you’re sold out of these items in the southwest where it’s unseasonably cold. If you are using data analytics and are able recognize that this is happening, you may be able to affordably move the items to where they need to be for the maximum sales potential.

The cycle of apparel sales and retail fashion typically means on of two approaches. First, retailers with e-commerce stores stock up on items four to six months in advance — which means hopefully being able to predict what the desired fashions will be. The second option is to work with suppliers who can provide drop shipping fulfillment to satisfy consumer’s immediate needs, regardless of the weather. That way retailers can have the most seasonally appropriate items out on the floor, while still being able to sell products online that are technically out of season. A good strategy could also be a mix of both of these approaches.

Another disruptor to the old model is fast fashion, the wildly popular trend in the retail fashion world. Fast fashion follows a new model of short release cycles, about four to six weeks in duration. This flies in the face of the 12, 16, and even 26 week fashion calendar, which keeps the same fashions in stores for as long as six months before the newer fashions are brought in.

Fast fashion also tends to be cheaper than the clothing prices that we’ve been used to. Because they go so quickly from design to creation to sales floor, fast fashion has been labeled “cheap” and “disposable”. It reflects the latest trends, and as such might not last that long – literally and figuratively. The item may be less expensive than traditional fashions of the past, but the items not last season after season like they used to before they start falling apart at the seams.

That might not be a problem, though. In the world of fast fashion, customers are able to find something new in stock that better reflects the latest trends and styles. This means trend-driven shoppers will return to stores in order “to keep up with the Joan-ses” of the world, and constantly be on the lookout for something new. It also helps retailers better keep up with weather-related requirements.

Ultimately, the seasons for fashion have changed and the lines have blurred because of e-commerce and trickier weather patterns. It’s no longer seasonal for swimsuits and sweaters, you can buy them at any time of the year online, and shoppers expect a faster turnover of their in-store selections.

This means retail buyers need to rethink their whole approach to buying and sourcing new vendors and products. SPS Commerce can help with this. With our Retail Network, we can show you how to find new vendors who can offer the products you need, as well as those who can provide drop shipping functionality. We can also help you with POS analytics to understand your sales performance both in the short term and over longer history. To learn more about it, please visit the SPS website for a free demonstration, or to speak with an SPS representative.

Brandon Pierre