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The crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic hit the fashion industry especially hard. Online shopping surged, but not enough to erase the damage done by store closings and economic worries, which caused people to curtail spending on nonessential goods. Industry revenue this year could drop by more than one-third, the equivalent of up to $640 billion in lost sales.

Countries are now beginning to reopen their economies, and companies and people are gradually returning to work. But fashion won’t—and shouldn’t—return to what it was. The behaviors, preferences, and shifts in mindset that people have adopted during the pandemic will lead to permanent changes, including bifurcated spending, accelerated adoption of e-commerce, and increased demand for purpose-driven brands and sustainable fashion.

For brands, the trends and the dramatic drop in sales will contribute to substantial retail overcapacity. It will lead companies to adopt a new shape of P&L, accelerate the shift to digital and omnichannel distribution, embrace data analytics for decision making, and, for those with cash, pursue M&As when they have the opportunity. The sooner brands come to terms with this new reality, the sooner they can take the steps needed to rebound and succeed. It is time for a reset, not a restart.


More than four in ten US consumers say that they expect brands to offer discounts or other promotions once stores reopen.

The pandemic is reshaping the fashion industry. Consumer behaviors and sentiments in the US exemplify what’s happening. Shelter-in-place orders affected 300 million people and led to a sharp decline in use of public transportation and an increase in nesting. According to BCG and other research, 81% of US consumers believe that the pandemic will lead to a recession, and more than half worry about their personal finances and plan to spend less on fashion as a result. An increased focus on value is already evident—more than four in ten US consumers say that they expect brands to offer discounts or other promotions once stores reopen.

Around the world, more people are shopping online and ordering merchandise online to pick up in person—trends that are expected to continue. COVID-19 lockdowns also have led to an uptick in first-time e-commerce shoppers—14% of consumers in the US and 17% in China bought fashion online for the first time because of the pandemic. In that respect, it’s similar to what happened during the SARS epidemic, when e-commerce spending increased and remained at the new level after the outbreak subsided. The COVID-19 crisis has made people more conscious of sustainability and the environment, and it has piqued interest in spending on health and wellness and essentials such as casual apparel, skin care, and home products.

Shifting consumer sentiments and behaviors have major implications for fashion brands:

  • Consumers will shop less, and be choosier when they do. Although overall spending will decline, interest will increase in casualwear, activewear, home categories, and beauty products, at the expense of such categories as handbags and formalwear. Instead of conspicuous consumption, think inconspicuous spending.
  • Channel shifts will accelerate. Sales through digital and social media—especially mobile—will hit overdrive, with digital channels in key markets accounting for a larger portion of total sales. To grab customers’ attention, brands will need to strengthen their online presence through customization, community-building, and superior online-shopping interfaces and deliveries.
  • With more people shopping online, retail stores’ role will change. Flagship locations will remain for brand image purposes, but the majority of physical locations are likely to be smaller, sell merchandise that’s customized for the area, and be set up to fulfill online orders. Some will also serve as hubs for community activities.
  • Shifting preferences will squeeze midrange brands. In keeping with past economic contractions, more consumers worldwide will either trade down to lower-priced goods or trade up to premium brands they may perceive as providing more value than they did previously, leaving brands with midrange price points to feel the pinch.
  • Demand will accelerate for sustainability and purposeful brands. More than ever, consumers will favor brands with a purpose, and sustainability will become a minimum requirement. Brands must ensure that they operate in ways that are environmentally and socially responsible.
  • Consumers will expect more. People will want convenience, including an intuitive online shopping experience and fast deliveries. As consumers gravitate to social media and more individualized forms of communication over mass media, companies will need to provide shoppers with messaging that is more timely, relevant, and personalized.
Brands Must Declutter and Invest to Prepare for Fashion's New Reality
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