A decade ago, trends had a longer life cycle. As per the fashion trickle theory, trends ‘trickled’ down from couture to high street, starting from the rich and famous. Think of it in a pyramid form. A trend would be adopted as it slowly moves its way down to designers, contemporary and high street. By the time the trend reaches the bottom, the rich and famous would have moved on to another trend. Fast forward to the present, however, it is clear that the dynamic has shifted. Trends are no longer derived from a single source and can be generated across all verticals. They are also moving at an increasingly faster pace, which means that holographic dresses could be selling well today, but piled up in warehouses by next week. In an already saturated fashion market, it can be tough for retailers to stand out. This is why comparison shopping is crucial for any business.
Comparison shopping is essentially a type of market research. Gauging on what competitors are stocking up on, as well as the strategies utilised, gives a clear overview of the current market. Buyers are typically in charge of this, and conduct comparison shopping each season, as inventories are refreshed by a new cycle. The usual key areas to take note of are:
If the comparison shopping is done in a brick-and-mortar shop, the number of sales assistants and the shopping environment are taken into account. According to authors of Mastering Fashion Marketing, Jackson and Shaw, comparison shopping can be done via a table format, as shown below:
Adapted from Jackson and Shaw (2001)
Comparison shopping comes in various forms. The traditional way is to visit the competitors’ store. More recently, social media is an alternative way used to gain online insights. While the goal is the same, both of these methods utilised are not the most effective in our technological-driven world.
Visiting Brick-and-Mortar Stores
Before digitisation, buyers would visit their competitors’ stores to conduct comparison shopping. The buyers would generally visit each aisle, look through the items hung, folded or displayed. If necessary, they will talk to the sales assistant. Any interesting piece of information can be documented with a notepad, and cameras are brought along. Since most of the transactions back then were mainly made in stores, this method was the most popular. In retrospect, it is also the most expensive. Travel expenses, especially if the buyer is required to study an international market, are costly.
It is also seen as a time-consuming activity. If the brand has three competitors, the buyers would need to visit all three stores, and repeat the same procedures for each one. In an era where online shopping is the new norm, the time spent travelling to and browsing the store is not justifiable. Additionally, since most stores are moving online now, the stocks in-store may not be of the latest season, and the buyers will have to revisit.
Scrolling Social Media
Social media has spurred the growth of online shopping, so it is natural that brands and retailers conduct comparison shopping via social media. In our previous Instagram Fashion Sellers article, we noted that Instagram can be used to study the market. Scrolling through competitors’ feeds and noting down which products were promoted is one way to do it. With the popularity of hashtags, the process of comparison shopping is made easier. As most brands have their own unique hashtags (for example, #AsSeenOnMe for ASOS and #babesofmissguided for Missguided) that consumers will ‘tag’ in their post, going through what real consumers have purchased and worn gives an idea of what is selling well.
However, trends on social media are volatile. Something that went ‘viral’ has the possibility of just staying online. In other words, high engagements do not translate into sales, and it takes a lot of guesswork to determine the market. For example, some brands spend on ads to boost their posts, which explains why an Instagram post could garner 50,000 likes, but not the same amount of sales.
How Data Fills The Gap of Comparison Shopping
In a market where one wrong move can cost the entire business, ensuring the company is a step ahead is not only favourable, but crucial. Its importance is even more paramount in a digitised era. Of course, both methods of comparison shopping can be utilised to get the job done. However, with the current market that is ever-changing, both methods simply do not get the job done well enough.
This is where data can assist.
Comparison shopping through data not only gives a market overview, it also allows you to watch your competitors through a macro lens and predict future trends. In just a few clicks, the real-time market can be studied and evaluated. The insights garnered is then made actionable, where brands and retailers can make the next decision – one that has data validation. In fact, all of these can be accessed in one sitting, thus saving cost and increasing efficiency.
To better illustrate, Pomelo Fashion will be used as an example. Buyers can conduct comparison shopping on the direct consumer label – that has four different markets in Southeast Asia – with just pure data. The markets are Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and data can show what each market stocked up on, as well as what sold out the most.
Determining Category Assortments and Bestsellers
For both Indonesia and Singapore’s market, the top five assortments for Pomelo Fashion were tops, dresses, earrings, pants and leggings, and skirts. For Singapore’s market, however, jumpsuits and playsuits sold out more than skirts, even though the former was stocked up less. This showed a missed opportunity: Singaporeans were buying more of the jumpsuits and playsuits, and therefore it could be stocked up more. For both markets, while tops was the most highly-stocked category, it was earrings that were the bestsellers. The images below show three of the most popular earrings for both markets.
Image sources: Pomelo Fashion. From left: Embellished Baby Flowers Link Drop Earrings, Circular Plate Stud Hoop Earrings (Gold), Double Metallic Circular Plate Drop Earrings
As for Pomelo Fashion Thailand, earrings were also the bestsellers here. The market also preferred jumpsuits and playsuits over pants and leggings for its fifth category, which is similar to the Singaporean market, where jumpsuits and playsuits had a higher sellout as well. In fact, the very same category was also the second most out-of-stock category, and actually had a higher replenishment rate than earrings.
Image sources: Pomelo Fashion. From left: Floral V Neck Ruffle Romper, V Neck Belted Jumpsuit, Belted Polkadot V-Neck Jumpsuit
Through data, a product’s life cycle can be determined too. In the month of May alone, the Belted Polkadot V-Neck Jumpsuit (pictured on the right) went out-of-stock five times and was replenished six. The grey V Neck Belted Jumpsuit (shown in the middle), on the other hand, faced a stockout four times and was replenished in the same amount too.
Just like the Singaporean market, the Malaysian crowd favoured jumpsuits and playsuits over skirts too, even though the latter category was stocked slightly higher. The best-selling category bore no resemblance to the rest of the markets, as it was dresses that had the highest sellout rate.
Image sources: Pomelo Fashion. From left: Side Wrap V-Neck Mini Dress, Textured Pinstriped Tie Waist Shirt Dress, V Neck Oversized Shirt Tunic
The dresses above were a few most popular examples. The Side Wrap V-Neck Mini Dress in black (left), as well as the V Neck Oversized Shirt Tunic in pink (right), went out-of-stock for a total of three times in just a month. The yellow Tie Waist Shirt Dress had a higher popularity, as it went out-of-stock a few days after being replenished.
Gauging In-Demand Colours
Besides category assortments, colours can be evaluated with data as well. Colour palettes are an important factor, as shown by the dominance of Millennial Pink. With data, the most out-of-stock colours can be established, hence giving brands and retailers an idea of what they could potentially stock up on next.
To determine the best-selling colours, what data does is that it computes the sellout rates for each item. For example, a retailer releases three colours – red, blue and black – and data shows more red items selling out. This indicates that red is a popular colour for a particular brand. In Pomelo Fashion’s case, the top five colours for Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand were in the order of white, black, grey, pink and blue.
While monotone colours were still the consumer favourites in Indonesia, this country had a slightly different ranking. Instead of black, grey came in close as the second most in-demand colour. Some examples of grey shades that went out-of-stock were medium grey, dark grey and light bluish grey.
Setting Pricing Strategies
The price architecture is arguably one of the most important criteria when it comes to assortments. Brands and retailers need to grasp the balance of the right price for the right product. If a good quality product is undercharged, profits will plummet. Vice versa, if a bad quality product is overcharged, the company will be reputed for swindling. Comparison shopping via data is an efficient way to look through how much competitors set their prices at. This is even more beneficial for those studying international markets since different markets will have various financial standpoints.
To study the pricing architecture of Pomelo Fashion, all prices have been converted to MYR for clarification.
For Pomelo Fashion Indonesia, most products were priced at the RM50-100 range. This includes sportswear, bags and caps. Anything above RM200 was under the ‘premium’ selection, with nothing over the 10 SKUs mark. This served as an indication that perhaps, the Indonesian market is price-conscious.
Interestingly, pricing strategy for the Indonesian market is in contrast with the rest of its neighbouring countries.
A glance between the two charts and a discrepancy is obviously seen. Price-wise, there were more selections for the Malaysian market, with the range extending to RM600. Most of the products were dispersed in the first four ranges of RM0-200. The common price point was higher than the Indonesian market, with most products priced at the RM100-150 range.
Pomelo Fashion Singapore and Indonesia may have similar top five assortments, but it is Singapore and Thailand that had similar market price architectures. Both markets had a higher range, even though it was less extensive as Malaysia’s. The highest price point was RM500, which is RM100 lesser than the highest amount in Malaysia.
Still Not Convinced?
Most brands and retailers still prefer conducting comparison shopping by walking in stores and scrolling Instagram accounts. Nonetheless, in a cut-throat competition that is fashion, it takes more than just intuition to do the job. Data is more effective because it directly tells you the answers, all in one spot.
“Data removes your worries, aligns your goals and confirms your gut feeling”
As shown in the examples above, you can find out how Pomelo Fashion strategised across four different markets. Similarly, you can find out how a brand operates in South Korea, to how a brand managed to sell out all their stocks in the United States of America. All that is left to do is just applying these strategies into your business. Data removes your worries, aligns your goals and confirms your gut feeling. In other words, data excels in helping your business, so that your business can, in turn, excel even further.