Over the last month, the Coronavirus has become a global pandemic, with over 900,000 people contracting the virus in more than 190 countries, causing large scale shock to the global economy. With most sectors facing grave financial challenges as a result of the global health crisis, the technology industry stands out as one which has thrived amidst global and economic uncertainty.
As communication remains a vital means for businesses to operate and function during the COVID-19 crisis, technology has continued to be a booming industry, by providing businesses with digital solutions to keep staff in contact with one another as well as virtual solutions to encourage customer engagement and drive sales.
Currently, companies across the globe, including fashion retailers and houses, manufacturers, and publishers have instructed employees to work remotely (where possible) as governments worldwide order lock downs and self-isolation measures in order to limit the spread of the virus.
This has resulted in temporary closures of fashion businesses, stores, production facilities (some are being repurposed to make medical masks and gowns) and headquarters; Nike’s London offices and Farfetch’s London headquarters, Condé Nast’s New York offices, and Amazon in the Netherlands, are among those to have been temporarily closed.
Tech platforms offering face-to-face digital solutions such as tele conferencing, group video calling and messaging, and online classrooms have become increasingly popular as a result of enforced remote working. Video conferencing tool, Zoom is one platform which has seen especially high demand in the recent weeks.
The company has seen its stocks rise significantly whilst global markets crash. So far, no other software firm provides anything like what Zoom offers. Zoom’s market capitalisation is a whopping $30 billion and has become a go-to conferencing tool for many fashion businesses, along with other industries and individuals.
In addition, workplace communication tools such as Slack have also been used recently by a large number of companies. The instant messaging platform is “a single place for messaging, tools and files” which has helped a vast range of industries continue to operate amid the global health crises. The company that owns it has been valued at more than $20 billion.
Although Slack and Zoom have rapidly grown in the last few years, lockdowns across the globe have meant many businesses may be using virtual meeting apps for the first time. According to specialist recruitment company, Robert Walter, just 47% of UK employers have embraced virtual meeting applications, and even less (21%) use company-wide messaging apps.
A number of fashion brands have also moved to digitise their wholesale process amid the Coronavirus outbreak. Founded in 2010, Joor is an online marketplace for luxury labels such as Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Marni, The Row, Golden Goose, and Loewe, and connects them to retailers including Harrods, Shopbob, Neiman Marus and Forty Five Ten.
Joor allows brands and retailers to digitise their wholesale experience through giving them the options to buy and sell directly through its software as well as accumulating sale trends and reducing duplicate orders.
In 2019, the companies’ gross merchandise volume was $12 billion. This represents a small percentage of the overall fashion wholesale market as the majority of the fashion industry still chooses to carry out wholesale business in person. However, this could possibly change in the foreseeable future as the epidemic continues to disrupts traditional business practices within the fashion industry with trade shows and Fashion Weeks increasingly being cancelled for the SS21 season.
Another technology which has been helpful for fashion retailers during the global health crisis has been live-streaming. In particular, technology company which connects sales associates to customers, Hero, has been increasingly popular amongst the retail industry.
This platform allows brands to connect customers to store associates via a livestream app, and is used by leading retailers such as Nike, Levi’s and Harvey Nichols. Brands which have had to close their stores due to lockdowns and social distancing policies are using the Hero app to have store associates sell to customers through the Hero app.
Other fashion organisations, brands and institutions have begun testing and trialling digital and virtual solutions to keep customers engaged throughout lockdown periods. Recently Walpole, trade body for the British luxury industry launched a campaign in which it will work collaboratively with more than 250 of its luxury members to establish a “virtual Bond Street.” The trade body has taken this step to help high-end brands increase online sales amid the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK. The campaign promotes luxury retailers’ online stores across all its platforms.
In addition, the V&A museum is offering a range of online content, including virtual tours and blog posts, whilst social distancing measures are in place in the UK. Online options include behind-the-scenes access to the museum and its collections and archives, as well as educational resources, virtual tours, blog posts, interviews, on the V&A channel on YouTube.
German sports giant, Adidas has rolled out free virtual workouts amid the crises to keep its customers engaged and healthy/fit while at home. With individuals confined at home for indefinite periods of time, this has proved to be a prime opportunity for businesses to trial out digital solutions which could be successful in the foreseeable future.
The urgency to bolster online sales during the health crisis has also been a major concern for some fashion brands, who in response are choosing technology enhancements to drive sales. In the past few years, retailers have increasingly resorted to using technologies such as 3D imaging and “try before you buy” options, with many powered by augmented reality softwares to boost conversion rates.
During the pandemic, platforms providing such tools will definitely be at an advantage as the fashion industry will be quick to introduce such features. Since the outbreak of the virus, luxury brands such as Gucci have worked with tech companies like Ordre to increase online sales. Ordre is a virtual showroom expert which focuses on 3D imagery of fashion collections using machines, which look similar to airport security scanners, to do on-site image capturing at brands.
Before the outbreak, luxury British brand, Burberry launched a new Augmented Reality shopping tool, powered by Google technology in February. The AR tool allows consumers to visualise Burberry products in the environment around them, with the aim to enhance consumers online shopping experience.
In January, Pureplay fashion etailer, ASOS was trialling a new tool that enables shoppers to view products in different sizes on different body types. The See My Fit tool aims to help shoppers make more informed purchasing choices, by better showing how products look on models that more closely reflect individual customers.
Companies which had taken the initiative to trial these new technologies before the global outbreak of COVID-19, in particular, are likely to succeed with these new digital initiatives. ASOS, for example, is the first retailer in Europe to trial the AR technology, and so stands to have a much bigger advantage over companies and brands which are having to adjust in response to the pandemic.
Rather than having to encroach into new territory ASOS, and other companies making early moves into the technology industry, have been able to examine the successes of different digital fashion platforms before making the more significant changes to their modes of operation in response to the pandemic.
Although fashion and other creative sectors can been seen as somewhat well-suited for remote working with the help of technology, many processes in fashion world are still largely conducted in person. Tasks such as garment fittings on models, photoshoots, and fashion weeks require human contact and interaction. This relates to great numbers in the fashion industry — from manufacturers to creatives — work location-specific jobs, whether that is in factories or design studios.
Consequently, home working policies and government enforced social distancing measures can severely affect their ability to complete daily tasks. According to recruitment company, Robert Walters, almost 50% of UK businesses are not set up to accommodate remote working.