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Begin Again

The dawn of a new year is like a fresh canvas, a period of reflection, planning and cleansing.

The dawn of a new year is like a fresh canvas, a period of reflection, planning and cleansing. It’s the time to drop bad habits as well as learn from previous mistakes. It’s the time to resolve to make changes, put ideas into action and commit to following them through. It’s the time to begin again.

On the heels of 2017, the year of the Retail Apocalypse, we could all use a fresh start! While this year will likely be fraught with more disruption—it is the new black—at least we are familiar with the new status quo. Expect the unexpected. Accept that change is fast, often vast and takes no prisoners. Business has never been for the faint of heart. Those that take (calculated) risks and act quickly and convincingly stand the best chance at reaping the rewards.

Plenty of opportunity is on the table for brands and retailers to grab a meaningful share. I take great comfort in the fact that clothing isn’t going the way of your local video store. How it’s being made, shipped, sold, merchandised, etc. is all changing rapidly, but the market remains as relevant, vibrant and full of opportunity as ever. If we ever approach a form of fashion singularity, my optimism might be crushed—same goes if a one-retailer (Amazon) scenario were to ever unfold. While it might seem like we’re closer to the latter industry dystopia, the press tends to hype matters. Studies show that more than 80 percent of retail transactions are still done in brick-and-mortar locations—in all sorts of formats and tiers. Variety is the spice of life. We humans don’t all want to dress exactly the same, nor do we all shop the same way or in the same places. We’re always on the hunt for something new, different and better. We’re always receptive to a fresh concept. If we weren’t, the Sears catalog would still be the retailing Bible.

The rewards need not strictly be monetary or market share gains either. Connecting with consumers beyond a sale can be far more rewarding over the long term. A growing number of consumers want to care about the brands they purchase and the stores they shop. They want to share similar values. Of course, product features and benefits, quality and value are still key elements—just like selection, service and convenience matter paramount in a shopping experience. But the difference maker today may have more to do with a company’s corporate responsibility resumé than whether Kim Kardashian is posting a picture of North sporting one of its items on Instagram to her millions of followers.

Perhaps there’s no better poster child of this do-good movement than Patagonia, a company that has for more than 40 years built a reputation on fighting for a broad range of environmental causes and incorporating sustainable manufacturing practices. Patagonia encourages recycling and repair of its products, which is likely at the expense of sales. In 2011, it even launched a “Buy Less” marketing campaign that urged consumers to avoid over-buying its apparel to address the rampant waste in the fashion industry. (Who does that?!?) The company is also willing to stand up against President Donald Trump and his recent plans to drastically reduce the size of several national parks. Lisa Huang, product line manager of Patagonia’s kids’ division and the subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 12), says that’s just how they roll. In fact, the company’s first-ever national TV spot didn’t pitch products, rather it featured founder, Yvon Chouinard, making a plea to protect America’s public lands.

So Jane Public needs to buy Junior a new winter jacket. She checks what’s available online, and she also goes into a few stores to touch, feel and have him (or her) try-on a few items. If the price, quality and styling are all relatively equal, and the store has it in the size and color preferred, what might the final decision come down to? Will it be a run-of-the-mill brand or the one that is trying to save the planet—literally?

The fact is we live in a world where the consumer has the power to shop whenever and wherever, and can compare prices at the touch of a smartphone. They also can instantly research what type of companies they may be buying from. What’s more, in the age of social media, it’s a reputation—good or bad—that can spread like wildfire. The decision to buy which item, from whom and for how much will increasingly come down to who you really are. Nothing like a new year to resolve making upgrades in that area, too.

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