May 24, 2018
From a semi-formal gathering for high school graduates, to becoming a season on its own: prom season is alive, well and kicking. Prom, short for promenade dance, is a highly-anticipated event all around the world, predominantly in the US and UK regions. The annual occasion is perceived to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ moment, which explains why the average total cost for prom is more than $600 in 2017. This includes car rentals, food, extravagant ‘promposals’ and the star of the show: prom dresses.
While prom season usually falls around April to July, the search on Google for prom-related keywords can be as early as February or March. For females, prom dresses are somewhat of a household tradition. In 2018 alone, the retail sales are expected to reach 1.5 billion dollars, with an estimation of 5 million prom dresses to be sold. Naturally, this gives brands and retailers a good reason to maximise this opportunity. Boutiques, bridal shops and luxury houses cater to this demographic, offering custom-made dresses. Even ultra-fast fashion players released collections for prom season.
But the question is, is this something ultra-fast players will thrive in?
The possible upside is that ultra-fast fashion is known for its quick adoption of trends. Just like any other clothing, prom dresses have a specific popular style for every decade.
Prom in Cloyne, Canada in the 1950s. Image Source: Yahoo
For example, ‘frilly ruffles’ and ‘waist-whittling tea-length’ dresses were the most preferred style in the 1950s, while the teenagers from 1980s opted for ‘ultra-pouffy details’. Naturally, the dresses from the 21st century would have their own trends too. Since the cycle for ultra-fast fashion is just under a fortnight, they can bring the latest styles earlier than most traditional players. This works in favour of the consumers as well, since the search can take months.
Nevertheless, the downside to this is the overall perceived notion on prom dresses. The idea behind “the perfect prom dress” opened up a niche market, which is why there are boutiques that specially cater to prom. In fact, research has shown that individuality is a huge factor. A dress that showcases a distinct personal sense of style, especially in the social media age, is something worth considering. Author of Prom: The Big Night Out, Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge, stated that “there’s no prescribed way, like there used to be, in terms of how things have to look at a prom, how people have to look”. Ultra-fast fashion does not fit into this mould. The whole idea of fast fashion is it repurposes the latest trends into apparels that can be consumed by the masses, not just an individual.
Regardless, in the dawn of a new era where anything and everything – even wedding dresses – can be bought online, three ultra-fast fashion retailers jumped on the bandwagon. ASOS features a prom collection from ASOS Designs and Chi Chi London, while Boohoo (Boohoo Night & Boohoo Boutique) and Missguided each have a specific section for prom. Did three of the biggest retailers hit the right notes during prom season?
First Things First, The Popular Prom Dress Trends
Image Source: From left – ASOS (ASOS DESIGN 3D floral lace bandeau scuba prom midi dress), Boohoo (Boutique Arabella Open Back Lace Maxi Dress), Missguided (Red Lace Plunge Fishtail Hem Midi Dress)
Lace was a popular stocking choice for all three retailers. Of course, its popularity is expected. Not only does the delicate fabric adds an elegant touch to the dress, it fits the event well too. Three of the dresses above were a few of the bestsellers for lace prom dresses. Since March 2018, the ASOS lace prom midi dress (pictured far left above), went out-of-stock seven times, and replenished 10 times. Similarly, from late March to April, the red dress from Missguided’s Winter 2018 collection (far right) also went out-of-stock three times.
#2 Off Shoulder
Image Source: From left – ASOS (ASOS Bardot Pleated Waist Scuba Midi Prom Dress), Boohoo (Ellie Off Shoulder Panelled Midi Skater Dress), Missguided (White Foldover Bardot Maxi Dress)
The second burgeoning style is shoulder-revealing. This covers a wide range of terms, such as bardot, off shoulder and cold shoulder. The green dress from ASOS (far left) was so immensely popular, it went out-of-stock a total of 13 times from December 2017 to April 2018. It was also constantly replenished after each stockout. The red dress pictured in the middle was replenished four times in the span of three months from January, eventually going out-of-stock by April.
#3 Skater Dress
Image Source: From left – ASOS (Chi Chi London Petite Mesh High Neck Mini Prom Skater Dress With Floral Metallic Embroidery), Boohoo (Beth Sateen Floral Print Skater Dress), Missguided (Red Lace Skater Dress)
Traditionally, the length of a typical prom dress reaches the floor. For this year’s prom season, however, skater dresses are on a rise. Both ASOS and Boohoo stocked more skater dresses than maxi ones. Missguided still had more stocks of maxi dresses, but the rising star still isn’t that far off. The skater dress with red floral prints (pictured in the middle above) was replenished 10 times within a month, and was out-of-stock twice. The stock for the bright red skater dress (on the left) exhausted twice in between April and early May.
Besides the usual maxi and midi dresses, all three popular styles above were stocked up by ultra-fast fashion retailers. Combining all five styles, what were the most popular colours this year?
Top 5 Colours for This Year’s Prom Season
As shown in the pie charts above, the colour palettes showed more similarities than differences, albeit in different percentages. Common colours between all three were black, red and blue. More specifically, burgundy and navy blues were popular stocking choices.
For the differences, the colour ranges were pink, grey, white and brown. ASOS and Boohoo stocked more of the colour pink, while Missguided preferred a monotone range of greys. On the flip side, ASOS and Missguided both had the colour white, while Boohoo went for brown. What’s interesting is that ASOS and Missguided’s colour palette were quite evenly distributed, even though the rankings were different. For top colours, it was blue for ASOS and black for Missguided. Boohoo chose to stock up 75% of the colour black, leaving only less than 30% for the rest.
For ASOS and Missguided, the best-selling colours were in the exact order as pictured above. Boohoo, on the contrary, had a different outcome.
A quick glance at the charts above will show a few discrepancies. Black, blue and pink remained in the same position, while red and brown shift places. Red was actually Boohoo’s second best-selling colour, while grey made fourth place, replacing the colour brown. The slightly misaligned direction in colour stocking from Boohoo may seem trivial, but in a world of ultra-fast fashion, every business strategy counts.
Prices: Mostly Under USD 100
As reported by Racked based on a study done by Visa Inc., the cost for a prom dress goes from USD 799-1,393, depending on the families’ income levels. The study also suggested that the lower the income level, the more expensive the dress will be! ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided, in contrast, went on a different route.
Most of the dresses in Boohoo and Missguided were priced at an average of USD 0-50, while ASOS set the price tag slightly higher. This is a huge difference with the average cost of USD 700 and above. For the ‘costly’ spectrum, the range of USD 100-150 was surprisingly at a minimum: 30.2% of dresses for ASOS, and only 1.74% for Missguided. For Boohoo, again, the dresses do not have much of a range. Not only were most of the colours in black, but 95.6% of them were priced at USD 0-50. In fact, the retailer did not offer any pieces above USD 100.
The Golden Question: How Did The Dresses Perform?
After knowing the stocking, colours and prices, the final part of the equation is the performance. For easier reference, the retailers are broken down into three separate charts, and discounts were included to see if they were motivating factors.
For ASOS, a range of 35-63% of discounted SKUs were utilised throughout the months, with January seeing the highest number. Nonetheless, the amount decreased gradually. Sellouts and replenishments saw an increase in February, leading to a spike in March. Of course, this is not surprising, since the dresses are usually bought in advance. Overall, the performance of ASOS was good, as there were relatively high sellouts and replenishments without any form of discounts.
The numbers for Boohoo differed vastly. The amount of discounts increased after February, going through the roof at a 94.5% in April. While discounts are usually an enticing method to garner more sales, the practice did not work for this retailer. Sellouts continuously dropped after January, and the only bright spot was that replenishments grew during April. In comparison with ASOS, Boohoo lost out.
As shown in the series of images above, all three retailers bore almost no resemblance. Still, if placed on a scale, Missguided and ASOS had the most similarities. Both sellouts and replenishments increased, but the surge was in February for this retailer. It dropped slightly when March came, before rising again in April. An interesting point is that the sellouts and replenishments were the highest when discounts were the lowest.
“A crucial key to note is that participating in a market does not equate to competing”
Between all three retailers, only Boohoo had a fallout in terms of sellouts and replenishments. One may question why, since there were bestsellers from Boohoo, and the retailer did stock up on trendy dresses. Perhaps, a crucial key to note is that participating in a market does not equate to competing. Looking back at its colour and pricing assortments, it can be deduced that the lack of choices may have steered consumers away. Most of the dresses were black and majority of them were priced USD 50 and below. This may have set a different perspective for consumers. After all, most dresses have a hefty price tag of USD 799… thus buying a dress that costs USD 50 may give off a new meaning entirely.
Verdict: More is More for Prom Season
For basic apparel, ultra-fast fashion knows what they’re doing. When it comes to special events like festivals, the strategies were also executed well. Prom dresses, on the other hand, are a totally different segment. Trends and styles may still prevail, but everything else is a new experience. Teenagers are willing to spend thousands for a dress, even if it is just for one night. Discounts do not really matter. They want more options, preferably with their own individual style and personality shining through.
Breaking through this market is a risk, and it paid off for ASOS and Missguided. Of course, the sellouts and replenishments may not be outstanding, but it does seem like consumers are slowly buying into mass-produced prom dresses. Here, Boohoo missed the mark by not expanding on variety. While the retailer is doing well on its own, this is one of the few key areas that they may have overlooked.
For every prom season, retailers need to understand the entire history behind it. To an average teen, prom dresses are an Instagram picture that will garner likes, a night to remember, an ode to high school and most importantly, it is not just an average dress.