The Price of Retail Irrelevance...
An article in the Styles section of The New York Times today about the fired Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers suggests a fascinating hypothesis for the decline in retail sales: “In magazines we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So, we cajole, bully or encourage people.” If this is true – and I believe it is – we need to explore it.
Thought One: Lucinda Chambers says fashion has become “irrelevant.” It seems to be true as judged by declining sales in luxury goods in multiple categories. The term “Vanity Capital” has been used to describe the type of luxury brand expenditures showcased in the pages of Vogue, as high net worth individuals use price tags as scaffolding to facilitate construction of self-confidence.
Thought Two: We’re seeing that confidence (self- and otherwise) becoming vested elsewhere, e.g. number of Facebook or Twitter followers, photos showcasing investments in experiences rather than the thinginess of things is fueling a loss in the joy of shopping, exacerbating the nose-bleed drop in the sense of personal significance gained through acquisition. Thus, the commitment to conspicuous consumption becomes, well, irrelevant.
Thought Three: Consider some recent stats.
· Only three percent of high net worth feel the quality of goods purchased is worth the expense.
· Only 25 percent of high net worth individuals enjoy the shopping experience.
· Most high net worth report the sales staff is not knowledgeable: about the goods, the inventory or the world in which they live.
Thought Four: When fashion is irrelevant at the highest reaches of quality design, fabrication and service, the downward slope gets increasingly slippery. Imagine the trickle-down theory implications for items created for the lower echelons of the retail ecosystem.
The challenge for retail is the same as the challenge for shoppers. Putting meaning back into the calculus: Relevance matters. Apple has figured it out. Why can't other brands?
What say you?