Clothes rail retail

Like many reading this, I’m always intrigued by the small business owners I meet across the world, many running generations-old boutiques selling one-of-a-kind treasures. These shop owners, with their warm welcomes and time-honored craftsmanship, can quickly endear themselves to even the most casual shopper. A storefront with a history or an intriguing story can quickly turn a browser into a loyal customer, as has been my experience time and time again.

This sort of personalised experience has always been the key to success for small retailers in the fashion and luxury goods sector.

However, with the worlds of fashion, luxury and media recently descending upon New York, Paris, Milan and London for Fashion Week, these experiences and transactions seem increasingly quaint and inconsequential. Amid all the dazzle, glitz and glamor, one can be forgiven for thinking that high fashion continues to be the realm of global retailers and big-name luxury brands.

Yet remarkably, more and more fashion retailers are starting to embrace being ‘small’ as a strategy for success and growth. Increasingly easy-to-use technology has enabled smaller retailers to speak and deliver to their niche customer sets across all channels with the same voice as they would in a shop in London. So what is driving their success?

They’re tech-savvy

E-commerce growth is projected to double the retail industry average until at least 2017 and half of all shoppers now discover new products when searching with smartphones. What’s more, with smartphones already accounting for 9 –18 percent of ecommerce transactions in the U.K., Germany and France, and that number steadily increasing, it is no wonder that small retailers are realising that they need to be as tech-savvy and flexible as their customers. That means engaging and delighting shoppers on mobiles, social media and online channels.

They’re highly personal

Technological advancements and the democratising power of the Internet have allowed retailers to scale up without sacrificing intimacy and personal service. As customers no longer think about retailers’ brands in a silo, neither does the small retailer. They analyse insights from website visitor traffic, social media interactions, and newsletter click-through rates to better understand their customers. Any retailer with a social media page can now easily discover that their average customer is, for example, female, aged between 16 and 24, and listens to pop music. By using this data to precisely tailor their sales and marketing strategy, they can more effectively engage and delight their customers.

They look for ways to cultivate and engage a community

It is much more profitable to sell to loyal customers than to constantly look for new ones. A Bain study showed that just a five percent growth in customer retention could boost profitability by 75 percent.

Small retailers are starting to use this insight to build loyal online communities, which do the selling for them. No wonder a brief web search on the words ‘e-commerce’ and ‘social media’ turns out 101 million results, with articles such as ’12 Social Media Tactics to Drive Traffic to your E-commerce Site’ being the most visited. Another way is through loyalty programs, which 30 percent of independent retailers are planning to implement in 2016. This is on top of the quarter of independent retailers who already have a loyalty programme in place.

They find the right support

Finally, one cannot ‘grow small’ without a reliable network of business partners, whether it’s like-minded companies to cross-sell services and expand the product offering, or other companies to provide operational support in areas where expertise is lacking.

One example of this is logistics. According to a recent FedEx study, about 70 percent of consumers surveyed listed shipping-related factors as the most influential in their decision to buy from online retailers in other markets. That is why small retailers look to third-parties for their expertise and capabilities in potentially complex areas, such as the implementation of a policy that allows customers the option to return items purchased online to a physical store.

#fashion is a game changer

As global product availability is almost a non-issue these days, smart small retailers in the fashion and luxury sector need to constantly rethink their strategies, find ways to stand out, grow, and engage their customers without compromising the essence of their appeal.

By Raj Subramaniam, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing and Communications, FedEx Services