Forget dictating the trends, these days brands are throwing the ball into the consumer’s court. Crowdsourcing – allowing your audience to decide on your product via social media, forums, and high-tech web customising programs – has become the buzz phrase in fashion.
This month, for example, New York luminary Derek Lam will launch a new collection via eBay. The affordable line will be unveiled with a runway show during New York fashion week and designs will be put to the vote on eBay.com in a three-stage process. (Only the favourites will go into production.)
Then there’s Burberry. This year the company will launch a new mass customisation website allowing any fan to customise a classic trench coat in any number of colours or fabrics, embellish it and add a monogram. They can then show their style to friends, who will be able to order it too. This follows Burberry Prorsum’s January men’s wear show in Milan, which was screened online. Viewers were able to click and buy instantly from the runway, receiving their products two months later, several months ahead of the usual autumn deliveries. Customers visiting the site could get instant advice with “click to chat” or “click and call” options, meaning staff were on hand to answer queries immediately.
Never before has the consumer had so much control over what, how, and when products are available.
Talking of the eBay tie-up, Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann, Derek Lam’s chief executive, said: “We wanted the consumer to participate and to have an open dialogue with them about it. It’s such a smart way of doing things. We’re testing the water so we know up-front what people want. You’re not throwing mud at a wall and seeing what sticks.”
Indeed. Derek Lam is using eBay’s 90m-strong global community as a way to trial the brand’s diffusion line later this year. “It’s a prelude. We know lots of people love Derek Lam’s aesthetic but, through eBay, we can find out what they want [from a contemporary line],” says Schlottmann.
At Burberry there are similar hopes for instantly knowing what styles and designs are popular. Imran Amed, founder and editor of the website www.businessoffashion.com, says: “My instinct is that it [clicking to buy] is not a huge driver of volume. But it’s a powerful additional data point, like a mass focus group that helps to determine orders for the regular retail channels down the road.
“One of the biggest challenges brands face is deciding how much to produce, and of what. In the past they’ve usually relied on a combination of gut instinct and previous seasons’ sales to decide but even the best merchants make mistakes. Using the wisdom of crowds, some customers say what they like in advance.”
Levi’s has already used the web to democratise its campaigns. This month, for the second time, its poster girl will be chosen from a competition on Facebook. Contestants can enter by uploading their details and a final five will be chosen by the company before being voted on by registered users of Levi’s website.
Crowdsourcing is also used by those seeking advice. Launched in 2009, www.fashism.com, a social shopping site backed by celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, now has 40,000 registered users offering advice on fashion buying choices.
But all this interactivity does not appeal to everyone. “I think among many luxury consumers there’s a fatigue of choice,” says Ilaria Alber-Glanstaetten, chief executive of Provenance, a consultancy that is part of global advertising agency M&C Saatchi. “For every consumer who wants to design their own bag, there’s another who just wants to be told what to buy.”
The question is whether that traditional consumer will become a minority. Threadless, a US-based crowdsourcing company launched in 2000 selling T-shirts created by designs submitted from users, has reported revenues of $38m. Groupon, a buying site that allows groups of customers to apply collectively for discounts, effectively guaranteeing a store demand for its products, has rejected a takeover offer from Google reportedly valued at $6bn. And last month Burberry reported a 26.3 per cent increase in third-quarter sales to £480m, partly due, it said, to younger customers attracted by its digital marketing. Which makes it hard not to think that when it comes to crowdsourcing, both companies and consumers are buying into the idea.
www.dereklam.ebay.com (from Feb 16)