We’re back with another installment of our Covid-19 & Retail – 1 Year On series, where we’re looking back on the past 12 months with some of our customers and seeing the impact that the pandemic has had on their business, as well as how it is shaping their strategy for the future.
The past year has forced so many retailers and brands to pivot in a direction that hadn’t been on the agenda previously. That was certainly the case with Italian occasion footwear and accessories brand, Fabi Boutique. We spoke to eCommerce Manager, Alessio Berdini about the effect of Covid-19 on the online and offline business.
How has Covid-19 changed your business? In what ways did you have to react/adapt to restrictions over the past 12 months?
Covid -19 has changed the world as no other thing has done in the last 30 years probably. So inevitably it also changed many things around our company. I manage eCommerce and I can say that sales increased during the last year, despite the fact that we sell products tied to ceremonies or “office life” that were missing in 2020. We increased our online business, while the wider company, as many other fashion companies, lost part of its business, with closed shops during the pandemic crisis.
During the hardest months of March, April and May, we accepted that the first worry of our customers was health so we tried just to be close to them, asking them how were they, and encouraging them to stay home. So we “accepted” not to sell, but we chose to be totally honest with our customers. We also started to produce face masks, and this was very appreciated. Once the situation got better, we saw customers coming back to buy from us, and they wrote to us thanking us for what we did during the pandemic. It was great. Now our retailers are opened, but we have still difficulties as people don’t go into the physical shops so we are trying to attract them with always new activities online.
eCommerce will have to become one of the main channels of the company if we want to increase again.
Tell us about your customers. The pandemic has certainly affected the fashion, footwear and accessories industry in that people having to stay at home for a large portion of last year have purchased more casual/loungewear items rather than occasionwear. Has the pandemic had an impact on your product catalogue?
Yes, sure. As I said previously, our core business is made of ceremony shoes and “office” shoes. During the last years, we tried to become more and more fashionable, following the trends that were powerfully investing in fashion systems. I’m referring to sneakers trends and fitness trends. So in the last years, we started producing sneakers, not sporty, but a hybrid, which means sneakers with particular soles you can wear also to go office or to go to important meetings. During 2020 we put sporty styles at the centre of our communication, and this helped us to increase our business. We pushed on comfort with these kinds of shoes, as that was the character people were looking for. If it was 2019 or previous years we were selling 70% classic shoes and 30% sneakers, in 2020, we had the exact opposite.
Finally, in December we launched a special collection, called “home collection” made by special slippers to stay home, a product we never made in the past. They were very appreciated and most of them went sold out in a few days.
Do you think the pandemic has permanently changed your own customers’ shopping behaviour? If yes, in what ways?
Yes sure, we will probably see a powerful acceleration of eCommerce. Probably many people started to buy online during the few last months, even if they were sceptical before. If they found good service, they will probably continue buying online. This was predicted to happen in 10 or 15 years, Covid 19 made it happen in 1 year. I’m not sure customers will now go back to their old habits. Some will probably come back to physical shops, but numbers will be strongly different from past years.
Then we can also talk about the new needs of customers. They won’t look for the same products as in 2019 or previous years. They are staying home for more time, they are going out to take a walk more frequently, they have changed their habits. So they will also change their shopping habits: they will more and more be looking for things to feel comfortable, and companies have to be good at providing things according to the new needs of customers.
Is there anything you plan on changing as far as your business strategy goes when the pandemic ends?
Surely the company will review something about strategy, as they will probably play more on digital channels, trying to be in step. Also, the company will change what they produce: hybrid sneakers and home collection showed that even if we are known for other kinds of products, our brand awareness let us change our business and let us propose customers different products, always staying credible.
For what concerns eCommerce, finally, we will find much more competition than before. Many players are entering, and those that were already online, are enforcing their strategies. So we will have to be always more careful in what we communicate, in making always new offers, in being imaginative to try to stay always the more attractive as possible.
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