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Retail Report: The Changing Face Of How We’re Shopping For Fashion Now

The way we shop has changed significantly in recent years. As retailers and designers continue to work on delivering better experiences both physically and digitally, how we shop for fashion now is a reflection of the times. From a heightened need for casual clothes to a focus on supporting local
brands, a small and considered panel of retail and consumer behaviour observers share their thoughts.

One of the most valuable propositions of Viva is its immediacy and how this translates to what actually sells on the shop floor.

As a weekly publication, one of the things we hear often from retailers is that when customers and clients see something in Viva on a Wednesday in print, they’ll drive across town just to buy it. Designers will also time their release to coincide with a Wednesday. Working closely with designers and retailers on their release dates is something that I enjoy, as it allows me access to the way retail is continuously evolving, to canvas opinions, and to listen to the pain points of running a fashion business in New Zealand.

The same sentiment goes for people perusing our shopping edits online, deciphering every day of the week what’s out there and what to look out for when you’re out looking for something specific to buy. Regardless of whether you’re an avid print reader or a loyal digital subscriber, we know you like to shop.

We’ve seen first-hand the retail closures and casualties that haven’t been able to recoup the losses made during the pandemic. We’ve also reported on and seen the steady growth in the resale and vintage economy. For some discreet luxury shoppers, a direct line to buyers means they don’t need to worry about what to buy or wear next season. Speaking recently with Constance Cummings, the co-founder of luxury emporium Faradays, the boutique’s large customer base of local Chinese shoppers require a different approach to selling beyond the shop floor and on popular apps such as WeChat, with sales staff often on their phones on the floor communicating directly with specific customers on the high-ticket international luxury goods Faradays sells.

Despite the changes in the market, retailers with multi-channel strategies and a customer-centric approach are maintaining market share, adapting quickly and nimbly to consumers’ changing buying habits.

When it comes to fashion, we’ve always been advocates of buying less, choosing well, and making it last.

If you’re on a budget, we’ve offered guidance on how to make some of those chain store buys last. But as clothing retailers recalibrate sales strategies to keep pace with the digital transformation we’re seeing with e-commerce, shifting customer demand has seen an uptake in sales at discount clothing retailers and in luxury jewellery. Along with a growing demand for luxury goods, continued demand for sustainably made and ethically sourced clothing is still a major influence on how we shop.

Several brick-and-mortar stores are struggling against inexpensive online-only and overseas retailers. But physical stores remain critical to customer experiences, with retailers increasingly revamping shopfronts to better showcase brands and products and creating unique customer experiences.

Pop-ups are still an essential testing station for fashion, with several limited-time-only retail experiences taking place recently to ensure customers can connect in person, and try on garments with designers on hand to help with fit and answer questions around make.

Retail NZ’s Carolyn Young said the retail outlook was going to be very challenging, as reported by Alka Prasad for the New Zealand Herald. “Interest rates are high, [there’ve been] no Reserve Bank interest rate cuts, spending will be diminished — it will make it a tough year for retail,” says Young, who added that surviving the year means focusing on customer service, price and product.

“Knowing your customer is critical to success.”

With closure afoot for some local brands, we ask those with a close eye on the retail beat how they view shopping for fashion now.

“Retailers are telling us that customers today are much better informed,” says Carolyn Young.

The last item of fashion I purchased … while it seems too early to be talking about winter, I recently purchased a new work outfit (trousers, blouse and jacket) for winter.

I am the sort of person who likes to get a complete outfit, so if I am out shopping I am looking for something that I know will work on its own and then additionally be able to mix and match with what is already in my wardrobe.

In terms of style, I tend to go for timeless classic with a touch of fashion-forward — well, I try to. I am anticipating [if] I can wear it to work, but also change it up for functions and separately for casual. Being able to wear it in lots of different ways adds to the value of the purchase.

My approach to shopping for fashion is … probably pretty old-school. I enjoy going into the store, having that interactive experience, and getting to touch and feel the products, fabrics, colours, etc. But like everyone else, I do get a lot of emails from retailers that provide me with thoughts and inspiration of what I want to look at when I head into town to shop.

We are all time-poor these days, so online research and inspiration enables me to utilise my time well when I do get into town.

The consumer trends and behaviours I am noticing right now … consumers are much savvier in 2024 than they were even pre-pandemic.

Consumers have done their research online about what products they are looking for, comparing features, price, reviews, warranties, etc. Retailers are telling us that customers today are much better informed.

“Learn about the composition and care of the garments. Be bold,” says Christian Harmes.

Christian Harmes

The last fashion item I purchased was … a suit separate ensemble from New Zealand brands Gibson and Joe Black — largely because we recently opened a new suiting business in-store carrying those brands.

My approach to shopping has evolved … certainly a lot more research is conducted online as this became almost habitual during the pandemic. In terms of actual garment selection, it has become more casual which is also reflected in consumers’ behaviour too.

Online shopping or in-store? Given my role as a buyer, I’m very much an in-store shopper due to being a bit fickle when it comes to garment composition and construction. Plus, it’s an opportunity to experience how other stores operate.

The consumer trends I’ve noticed lately … speaking on behalf of menswear, this category seems to be quite buoyant at the moment. There’s an old wives tale that says men tend to transition their spending to smaller items like clothing during tough economic times, as opposed to big-ticket items. However, retail is a little promotion-driven currently as consumers seek value. We are still yet to see a full return of the tourism dollar. As we operate in the department store sphere, we tend to attract a healthy tourism spend. The vast majority of consumers are also seeking quality — so well manufactured, internationally recognised and limited-distributed brands that also have a sound business ethos.

When it comes to investing in key workwear items … don’t rush. Enjoy the experience and ask questions. Learn about the composition and care of the garments. Be bold. Some outfits that make you feel the most uncomfortable are the ones that will get you the most positive feedback.

“Higher interest rates and the cost of living are really hurting people right now,” says Madison Reidy. Photo / Dean Purcell

Madison Reidy

Madison Reidy is a senior multimedia business journalist and host of Markets with Madison at the New Zealand Herald.

My last fashion item purchased was … a pair of black, patent high-heeled pumps. I’m a heels girl. They elevate every outfit and, more importantly, make me feel powerful. After walking up a few flights of stairs in six inches, you really can do anything.

I tend to buy cheaper heels now because I wear through them so quickly — they’re probably not the wisest attire for hiking camera gear around offices to interview CEOs! I bought them a few weeks ago and have already had them reheeled.

More exciting, non-work related, purchases recently are two pairs of jeans — one dark indigo, wide-leg pair from Cue and another lighter wash, loose-fitting pair from Rag & Bone in the US. My first job was selling jeans; I’ll always have a weak spot for denim.

My approach to shopping for fashion now … oh, I was doing a lot of online shopping during the pandemic. I may have single-handedly caused that demand shock to the economy.

I was much more of a sucker for trends then, which may have been a result of spending so much time online. Now I have to envision a piece fitting in with other items in my wardrobe to justify purchasing it. I don’t force myself into trends that don’t suit me; I know what I like and tend to stick to it.

Online or in-store? In-store! I enjoy the experience.

I was in Aje recently and a woman was trying on dresses for an event. I helped her narrow it down to two options ― it was so fun! I hope she went with the black mini, she looked amazing in that. I typically shop online to find things I like initially, then I will head in-store to try it on and purchase it in person. I’m also very impatient, so I need the instant gratification of taking the item home with me immediately.

The consumer trends I’ve been observing at the moment … I’ve noticed shops are much quieter, which is expected given the state of the economy. Higher interest rates and the cost of living are really hurting people right now. Lower-value stores like Zara and Glassons seem to be winning in this environment. It helps that their ranges are the best they’ve ever been.

When it comes to shopping for workwear investment items … don’t go for anything trendy. Workwear is your uniform. Find what works for you, what you’re comfortable in, and don’t stray from it.

I bought a silk, floral blouse last year with the intention of wearing it to work. Not at all my style. It’s only made it out of my wardrobe twice. I’ve decided fitted, high-neck tops, paired with pants, are my uniform. Also, never listen to anyone who says there’s such a thing as too much black. It’s my favourite colour to wear.

“I invest in tautoko Māori, Pasifika and indigenous makers within the fashion and clothing industries.” – AJ Fata

AJ Fata

AJ is a mixed media artist and the store kaitiaki at Moana Fresh, a multi-brand retail and gallery space in Avondale that spotlights Māori and Pasifika artists and designers.

The apps I use for shopping include … Trade Me, Facebook Marketplace, and Instagram. I use these for purchasing, selling and just being nosey.

My shopping habits have changed post-pandemic … by trying to keep my money in a small circle. I invest in tautoko Māori, Pasifika and indigenous makers within the fashion and clothing industries. My approach has shifted in that way, moving away from corporate and commercial ways of shopping and leaning into what is closest to me. I purchase from people I know, or just make something myself. I reckon it’s more interesting.

What I have noticed with how consumers shop now … most of my mates around me want to support a kaupapa. It’s that conscious consumer thing, right?

“I prefer bricks-and-mortar for a tactile experience,” says Mark Knoff-Thomas.

Mark Knoff-Thomas

The last fashion item I purchased … was before Christmas, but I bought a pair of Rollas from Service Denim on Osborne Street. I’d seen a photo of myself wearing jeans that were way too skinny, and my inner voice was saying “Mark, it’s time to let them go”. So having complete faith in the Service team, I bought a pair of looser, baggier jeans, and I absolutely love them. I probably had a pair very similar in the 90s.

My approach to shopping is … I’m a bit old-school. I prefer bricks-and-mortar for a tactile experience.

I have bought shoes online from time to time, however. Generally speaking, I like to try things on — mainly because over the years I’ve bought enough stuff to know that not everything I like looks good on me. In years past I had a wardrobe full of things I’d never worn.

My approach to shopping for fashion has changed … I used to be a suit guy and did have a mild Boss obsession. These days I’ve ditched the suit entirely and I’m a lot more casual — with jackets, pants and casual fitted shirts. I tend to buy fewer pieces, but what I do buy needs to work in multiple outfit combinations. Less really is more.

Consumer trends I have noticed recently are … people are definitely dressing more casually. New Zealand has always been on the more casual end of the scale, but we’ve seen the rise, and rise, of the sneaker— in everything from work wear to event wear. I think there is an ongoing push towards sustainable fashion and mindful purchasing. This used to be driven by some forward-thinking designers, but now more and more consumers are demanding it.

“I can appreciate good design and love what clothes can represent and mean and the way they can transform you,” says Lily Montana.

Lily Montana

The last thing I purchased … was a pair of Lululemon high-rise Align shorts. I booked in for a Sweat Hot HIIT Pilates class after work but forgot to pack my gym gear … thankfully, working at Commercial Bay, there is anything and everything your heart desires all in one centre (dangerous, really). While the intention with these leggings was to have them on hand for all the recent gym classes I’ve signed up for (new year, new me), they’ve somehow ended up being my go-to uniform when I’m not in the office. I know it’s not so glamorous and yes, I’m leaning hard into the #momcore stereotype, but my priorities have changed over the years and as a result, I haven’t bought myself anything in a very long time.

My approach to shopping is … I think that decades of working in the fashion industry have almost had the reverse effect on me. I can appreciate good design and love what clothes can represent and mean and the way they can transform you, whether it’s a bold-coloured sandal, a plush new pair of socks or a fresh white T-shirt. Essential items like this don’t have to break the bank, but can have the power to make you feel brand new.

“I have developed a stronger inclination towards supporting local businesses, as I believe in contributing to the growth and vitality of my community through my shopping choices.” – Megan McKee

Megan McKee

Megan Mckee is a buyer and concession manager for Ballantynes.

My last fashion item I purchased was...I have been on the look out for the perfect work shoe and fell in love with and purchased the Deadly Ponies Cheval Loafer. I considered my current wardrobe and the perfect shoe profile that can work with suits, dresses and denim, knowing I was selecting a style that would stand the test of time and a heel height that would work no matter what the day would bring.

In the post-pandemic era…I have come to appreciate the value of engaging in sensory and interactive shopping experiences, which add a social element to the occasion. Moreover, I have developed a stronger inclination towards supporting local businesses, as I believe in contributing to the growth and vitality of my community through my shopping choices.

Online or in-store?…I love to research online and shop in-store. I’m a tactile person and look for quality garments that will stand the test of time so I love to touch, feel and try on before I buy.

The consumer trends I have noticed recently…We are seeing more and more of our customers buying into the capsule wardrobe concept and buying versatile quality pieces that fit well to add to what they currently have.

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