The marketing and digital strategy needs a refresh, argued retail consultant Robert Burke. “I’ve found the marketing is a little old, the styling is speaking to an older customer and it’s still in this in between area (between big designer brands like Balenciaga, and the new cheaper Instagram-friendly competition),” said Burke. “They should consider lowering their prices, upping their social media presence and converting to a more fashion-led brand.”
“I’m not sure it has so much to do with the designers themselves as much as the industry as a whole taking a lot of very sharp turns,” said Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates.
While there has long been a contemporary price point in department stores, these products generally did not offer enough of a fashion quotient to compete with the looks served by big designer brands. But retail consultant Robert Burke summarized the strengths of the new midprice category of brands, noting: “These bags are very distinctive, very Instagrammable, and for many of the consumers satisfy a need for an updated fashion bag.”
While most of America’s high-end department stores are not immediately threatened by bankruptcy, they are all pushing up against fundamental changes in consumer behaviour that have forced them to rethink their models. “The whole concept of the department store is outdated,” said Robert Burke, a retail consultant.
"There was a time when you had a designer customer, a contemporary customer, a sale customer — people stayed within these boundaries," Burke added. "Today, there are no rules. The customer wants and demands to cross-shop all of these areas."
“The department-store customer has changed enormously, but the department store itself, not so much,” says Robert Burke, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive who runs his own retail consultancy. “There’s always a risk the investment doesn’t pay off, but you have to do new stuff.”
“I think for a company the size of Calvin to give over complete creative control is a huge leap of faith, especially without guardrails. There was also so much anticipation and the expectation level was so high. When we look at certain brands that have had a major turnaround such as Gucci, it kind of happened organically. This was a major manufactured turnaround or change. People were raving the first season, but it quickly started to lose its shine and seemed to be kind of troubled from the very beginning,” Burke said.
“Turning around a company the size of Calvin takes a certain type of creative person, a significant amount of time, and an enormous amount of money. Calvin wasn’t built in a day or 18 months,” said Robert Burke, of the luxury consultancy, Robert Burke Associates. “Having an impact on a brand the size of Calvin is a very delicate and complex challenge. It seems that this task was more than either party expected. ”
“There are major strains in our political relationship with the Chinese government,” said Robert Burke, a luxury consultant in New York. “It doesn’t put them in the mood to come to the U.S. to spend their hard earned dollars. They do have the option to buy in mainland China.” Burke estimates that as much 30 percent of luxury goods sales globally are made to tourists from China.
Fashion industry consultant Robert Burke summarized the movement: “It wasn’t that long ago, people used to discuss what’s appropriate for day and night. All of that is obviously out the window now.”
Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of consultanty Robert Burke Associates, sees the benefit to the concession model to a brand like Chanel. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen more of the brands go to concession models. Chanel is probably one of the most coveted brands by the consumers as well as the retailers and department stores. As a result, Chanel knows the value they add to the overall brand lineup in a department store, and I’m sure that they’ll negotiate accordingly.”
“End isn’t eclectic just to be eclectic. Its credibility as a first-mover allows for strong relationships with e-commerce eschewing streetwear brands, which provides it with a competitive advantage against other retailers when it comes to product,” explains Robert Burke, founder and chief executive of retail consultancy firm Robert Burke Associates. “[Meanwhile] luxury brands look to End as a platform to elevate their own brand through sharing a stocklist with cult streetwear brands.”
“One of the challenges with a large format store like Selfridges is keeping it intimate, keeping it highly curated and not just a series of shops-in-shop for major brands — they’ve done both,” added retail consultant Robert Burke. “They’ve really nailed the importance of having a variety of brands: new brands and young brands, and fantastic pop-ups,” he continued. “They have not created a luxury ghetto, meaning that it is not just one big luxury brand after another.”
“Gone are the days when stores told the customers what they were going to buy,” said Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive of Robert Burke Associates, a fashion consulting firm with clients like Chloé and Vera Wang. “The customer is now highly educated about the brands. The customer drives the experience and that experience is not entirely transactional.”
“The fashion industry’s always concerned with the millennial consumer and the next wave of consumers and I think they’re pretty firmly planted ‘anti-fur,’ ” said Robert Burke of the luxury fashion consulting firm of the same name. “The last thing fashion likes is feeling dated or old.”
“Versace has struggled with its accessories business, and Michael Kors could help them with that,” said Robert Burke, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive, who is now a consultant.
“The consumer has changed enormously and then retail has changed. I think designers are doing exactly what they did 10 or 15 years ago. That could be one of the issues — that the consumer has changed at a much faster rate than the designer has. The consumer today is so educated and so demanding for newness. Prior to [now] it was all in a very nice, little food chain that went from fashion shows to magazines and editors…and fed down to the consumer. Magazines would say, ‘These are the 10 handbags you have to have, and the five designer outfits you have to have.’ All of that got wiped away basically because of the Internet, and because the consumer started calling the shots, not the industry. Today, in many ways, it doesn’t matter what the fashion industry says or speaks to each other about. It’s really ultimately the consumer’s decision. That’s relatively new.” — Robert Burke, founder, Robert Burke Associates
Don’t base a collection on the product, base it on a concept. If you become well-known for a super-soft v-neck t-shirt, focus on what makes that t-shirt special: its soft fabric. “Own your key characteristics,” said retail advisor Robert Burke. Alessandro Michele’s Gucci, for instance, had an early hit with the creative director’s interpretation of the Italian house’s classic loafer.
“Product is product, and buying items becomes the basic expectation,” said Robert Burke, chief executive at advisory firm Robert Burke Associates. “Being able to have a custom item no one else has — that raises the bar.”
Robert Burke, chief executive of luxury goods consultancy Robert Burke Associates, views drops as an improvement on the “see now, buy now” concept.
Basically, streetwear is fashion today,” said Robert Burke, of luxury-goods consultancy Robert Burke Associates. Prices range widely, such as $155 for Nike Air Force high-top sneakers and $575 for a logo hoodie by the label Off-White.
But streetwear alone won’t draw younger consumers. Stores have to mix up the selection, offering high-fashion options, too. Traditional retailers’ practice of compartmentalizing brands and categories “is not appealing today,” to millennials and Generation Z, Mr. Burke said.
“Well, everyone loves a comeback, and now the dust has settled,” said Robert Burke, founder of the luxury consultancy that bears his name and former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman (which sold, and continues to sell, Marchesa).
Yet, Mr. Burke said, “It was smart of Georgina to start with the Met instead of the Oscars, as the Met is really an event for the fashion world; it’s a kind of safe space for her.”
“I think that [Ssense] has been extremely smart and laser-focused in their approach to attracting this customer,” said Robert Burke, founder and chief executive of retail consultancy firm Robert Burke Associates. “They’re not trying to be everything for everyone.”
“Today, the customer expects content over straightforward advertising,” said Robert Burke, the CEO of retail and fashion consultancy Robert Burke Associates. “What these retailers can offer, that no one brand can, is industry context. That’s why content sounds fluffy, but is so critical.”
“Claudio has been very disciplined and measured on how he has grown Brooks Brothers, focused on where the brand will go, upping the quality, not going for the quick sales and not opening too many stores,” Mr. Burke said. “He’s elevated Brooks Brothers without deviating from its heritage and tradition.”
“The big question for investors is, 'How long can a business that’s made up of a single shoe last?'” asked Robert Burke, chief executive of advisory firm Robert Burke Associates. “Can they go beyond what they’ve done in the past or is it a one-trick pony?”
"What this offers is more control on the quality and timing and product," said luxury consultant Robert Burke, who has counted Canada Goose among his clients. "The risk is to ensure you buy [a facility] that's big enough for future growth but not cumbersome."
“They want to own the brands and own the sourcing. That’s important to them,” says Robert Burke, who consults for designers such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang. “The problem is that building a fashion brand takes a long time, even for Amazon.”
While the ultimate goal is to remain full-price for as long as possible, “What we see happen more often now is that brands are being selective about what products they put on sale,” Burke said. If a piece has sold well, it will be kept at full price. Take, for instance, Balenciaga’s Bazar Python Shopper XL, which is reduced by 50 percent on the brand’s site, while Graffiti and leather shoppers remain at full-price. The brand did not immediately respond to a query regarding the differences in markdowns.
According to Robert Burke, the chairman and chief executive officer of retail consultancy Robert Burke Associates, as well as being a clever marketing tool, these installations give brands a chance to feel out the market and the appetite of connecting with an artist without launching into a major collaboration globally.
“I think brands are always looking at how to collaborate with art and artists. We’ve seen many good collaborations lately, such as Gucci, and the art world is a natural connection to the fashion world, so it makes sense,” he said. “There is money to be made, but primarily this is about elevating the brand and distinguishing it from another.”