What will retail look like 40 years from now? Can it survive? It’s in such a funny spot right now. One used to shop – in stores and online – more often than not to fulfill a specific need. With the introduction of flash sale websites, if I am any indicator at all, the proportion of impulse buying has skyrocketed. We (I?) shop more, spend more, have more stuff, have nicer stuff for which I’ve paid relatively bargain prices, but prices which are none the less higher than I would have considered spending before jumping on the flash sale bandwagon. The irony is, that even while consumers may be spending more, in absolute terms, the flash sale sites inevitably dilute the full priced retail market and it seems like they’ve got to hurt manufacturers in the long run. When they were first introduced, they opened up to manufacturers a great channel for clearing left over merchandise at the end of the season. The danger is that they have trained consumers to expect to pay on average 30-60% off retail. There went the profit margin. ’poof.’ It doesn’t seem particularly tenable. If you add in the burgeoning business of fast fashion, where everything is disposable and costs pennies, there is little place left for your average apparel manufacturer to maintain a viable business over the long term. I’m just not seeing it. If that weren’t bad enough, the fast fashion chains figured out how to cash in on the impulse buy aspect of flash sales by adding limited time designer collaborations. Why buy the real Versace at 40% off retail when you can get Versace for H&M at prices comparable to 90% off retail?
And as if it weren’t enough of a mess, in which no one is willing to pay the prices that it actually costs to produce clothing under anything other than highly problematic manufacturing conditions, the whole picture seems to be jumping yet another level. So far January has been one hell of a month for affordable fashion.
1. Due to the tremendous success of the Rue La La brand, the company (which offers limited time flash sales targeted toward high-net-worth consumers) is shuttering the SmartBargains.com site and consolidating all of its business into Rue La La.
2. Fab.com, a flash sale site focussed primarily on design — and largely on giving exposure to smaller brands and producers — acquired FashionStake. Fashion Stake, an e-commerce site for emerging designers, will be folded into Fab.com which will branch out into fashion.
3. In perhaps the most significant development, Target has unveiled a new concept called “The Shops at Target”. This is – if you ask me – the most bizarre mutation of the flash sale/designer collaboration yet. Target Corp. states that it will continue offering designer collaborations (such as Jason Wu for Target opening February 5). The new concept, however, is based on the notion of store within the store. For one thing, Apple shops will open in 25 of its stores. That part makes sense more or less. But the additional stores will be mini boutiques modeled on successful shops around the country which are carefully selected by the Target team. The proprietors of these small local shops will, in conjunction with the Target design team, design a selection of products based on the offerings in their stores but to be produced by Target and sold at Target prices. It is similar to the designer collaboration model, only this time the individuals at the heart of each store are not designers. They are shop owners who have built successful shops around their skills in selecting and merchandising products which they select from a variety of manufacturers. They then suddenly become designers for Target, working along side the Target designers to envision a product selection that mirrors what they buy for their stores.
Really, it might be successful, but I’m awfully skeptical. It sounds more like a poor excuse for a bunch of knockoffs. With Go International and Target’s prior collaborations you are talking about brilliant and talented designers who create lines for Target which complement their standard collections. Presumably, the quality of the materials and workmanship is not what it is in the ready to wear collections, but the underlying vision and design talent is the same. Proprietors, however well they curate merchandise for their own shops, are not designers. What they create for Target is their attempt to reproduce the spirit of someone else’s design. If the Target designers are good enough, what they create might be good. But it is still, at its core, a knock off. (Unless I am somehow misreading the entire concept, which is obviously possible).
The concept will begin with five shops which will open on May 6 in all Target stores and online. The five stores behind these initial Shops at Target will be:
The Candy Store (in San Francisco)
Polka Dot Bakery‘s dog accessories (in Boston)
Privet House, a home product store (based in Warren, CT)
The Webster, a luxury boutique offering extremely high end designer brands (in Miami)
Take, for example, the Webster. The Miami store carries Balenciaga, Balmain, Celine and Yves Saint Laurent. The Webster shop at Target will sell items designed not by the designers behind Balenciaga and Balmain, but by Target’s in-house design team in conjunction with the owners of the Miami store, based on the style, decor and spirit of that store and the tastes of its owners. I’m not sure I’m buying. Certainly not with the fervor with which I tried to buy Missoni for Target. To increase the sense of exclusivity and desirability, the shops (at least this first round – the time frame may change) will be open for only six weeks. You’ve got to act or you’ll miss out. But in this case, is it really worth it? Then again, I understand my spending habits, but I’m not sure I understand the spending habits of the vast bulk of Target shoppers, so maybe they’ll surprise me.