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Fashion’s Key Takeaways from Mary Meeker’s Coronavirus Trends Report

In her influential annual forecast, the analyst turned venture capitalist predicts that many of the technologies companies have used to weather the coronavirus pandemic will have staying power.
Clients of the wholesale retail platform Joor. | Courtesy
By
  • Chavie Lieber
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States— Covid-19 is changing the way people work and shop to a degree not seen since World War II.

That’s the starting point for the latest iteration of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report, the annual guide to the year ahead that is treated as gospel in some corners of Silicon Valley, and beyond.

Meeker, a former Wall Street analyst-turned venture capitalist, focused this year’s edition on the changes wrought by the pandemic, and how companies can recover faster. Her vision of the post-pandemic future includes permanent gains for remote working and same-day delivery.

Fashion companies that weren’t putting digital tools at the centre of their strategy — both for how they operate internally and how they interact with customers — must do so now or risk falling out of step with a changed world.

Here are some of the main takeaways for the fashion industry.

Remote working will outlast the coronavirus

The mass closure of offices and stores were a "big experiment" in remote working. Many companies have discovered they can operate just as efficiently — sometimes more so — than before, thanks to tools like Slack and Zoom. That realisation "will likely change the way lots of office work is done," Meeker wrote.

Fashion brands have already begun turning to digital tools like virtual showrooms and e-commerce enhancement platforms. Brands that learn to adapt and thrive in a digital office will come out ahead.

“While most companies already had teams working remotely, most believe – after the experience of forced remote work – they will shift to more distributed work,” Meeker wrote.

Technology will help companies recover quicker

Companies must also have a healthy external digital footprint, as their relationship with consumers goes remote as well. Even after lockdowns lift, brands must be “easily discoverable online,” including a robust social media presence.

Meeker said companies must have a resilient digital customer service team so that they can “seamlessly help consumers.” Supply chains that are digital-focused are also important so that products can get to customers efficiently without contact.

Meeker also believes companies that invest in technology and can lean on e-commerce experiences when retail is closed will fare better. This applies to all industries, from doctors that are pivoting to telehealth, to restaurants that have shifted from dine-in to takeout. Meeker pointed to furniture retailer Restoration Hardware, which sets up virtual appointments with customers using Zoom and FaceTime.

The on-demand business model will grow

While some companies in the on-demand economy like Uber and Lyft have been suffering during coronavirus, others, like delivery apps Instacart and DoorDash have seen a surge in usage.

Meeker believes that customers will develop a strong taste for on-demand and door-to-door delivery, and will want the service across all categories, even after the coronavirus subsides.

“We believe on-demand and to-the-door delivery services may be gaining permanent market share in these unusual times,” Meeker wrote. “In many regions around the world, especially Asia, on-demand services are more pervasive and advanced than in America.”

We believe on-demand and to-the-door delivery services may be gaining permanent market share in these unusual times.

Shoppers have been ordering home goods and food to their doors for years, but in a post-coronavirus world, they might come to expect same-day delivery for fashion and beauty products. That level of service is currently rare outside the luxury space.

Brands that invest in fast delivery technology, or set up distribution centres that enable same-day delivery in major cities, could come out ahead.

There will be new job opportunities

Even as millions of people are thrown onto unemployment rolls, there are jobs opening up in fashion — though they aren’t particularly glamorous. Job postings for warehouse handlers surged 699 percent in March, while warehouse attendant jobs rose 324 percent and truck drivers rose 999 percent, according to the online job marketplace ZipRecruiter.

While every corner of fashion and retail has announced layoffs and furloughs, the retail giants with vast supply chains and warehouses are hiring in droves. Walmart said it would be hiring 150,000 employees in May for its stores, fulfilment centres and distribution centres. Amazon is also hiring 175,000 employees to work in its warehouses and to help with deliveries.

The rise of eSports could provide clues for how to engage with customers

With hockey, basketball, and nearly every other professional sport on pause, fans are finding new ways to get their fix.

Twitch, the Amazon-owned platform for live-streaming video games, hit an all-time high of 4.3 million daily active users in March.

Many of these viewers aren’t die-hard gamers, Meeker pointed out.

During the pandemic, “esports and gaming have provided a medium for users to engage in competition (via live games or streaming competition), virtually connect with friends, other gamers across the globe and help players learn and improve skills through streaming,” she wrote.

Meeker believes the easy pivot of casual sports fans to live streaming can be a lesson for how other types of businesses can evolve, in order to foster brand loyalty.

Fashion brands have already begun to dabble in live-stream technology via platforms like Instagram Live. Meeker believes live streaming will fuel future in-person fan opportunities.

We believe fans will always covet in-person experiences and competition, as long as they feel safe and can have fun.

“We believe fans will always covet in-person experiences and competition, as long as they feel safe and can have fun,” she wrote.

The coronavirus could bring a future where information is shared on a mass level

The difference between today’s plague with previous ones that devastated humanity is the world’s “real-time global connectedness,” Meeker wrote. Already, over 3,000 public papers about Covid-19 have been published and widely shared, which is 20 times the amount of published research about infectious diseases that had previously been released. There’s also been a record 5 million clinical trial participants.

“This type of global collective technology-assisted rapid response to a health-related problem has never happened before,” Meeker wrote. It could mean that our future could bring a new level of transparency and willingness to share.

The fashion and retail community could follow the example of the health-care community to share information and band together to support each other after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

“We entered this time at business highs, but social lows and deeply fragmented as a society,” one business entrepreneur told Meeker. “And yet, Covid-19 does not discriminate, and its response requires complete unity – public, private, neighbours, employees, healthcare workers, strangers... What if we exit as a more united people and world?”

We’re tracking the latest on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global fashion business. Visit our live blog for everything you need to know.

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