Re-thinking the Business Models of the Fashion Industry Post the COVID-19 Pandemic


An Investigation of the Future of UK’s Fashion Brick and Mortar Stores

Nowadays, e-commerce is progressing rapidly with the development of multiple new channels for marketing purposes. This surge has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic where it has been reported that more than half of the non-food retail sales took place online in the UK during the pandemic. The case is quite similar to the retail and fashion sector. The UK’s online apparel market sales are projected to increase by 60% in 2025 showing the greatest projected increase across Europe. With such a shift towards e-commerce, the rumours of traditional retail’s death have been greatly exaggerated. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the greatest decline in actual visits to clothing and footwear stores in Europe is expected to occur in the UK. Accordingly, this research aims to identify and analyse consumers’ behaviours towards physical stores in the UK fashion industry in an attempt to forecast future trends that would determine their fate; thereby, aiding in informing future strategic decisions that would assist in enhancing the overall performance of fashion stores. The results of this study revealed that consumers’ preference for brick and mortar stores is higher than their preference for online shopping. Despite this, it was evident that the customers’ visit frequency to brick and mortar stores had decreased post the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, it was concluded that physical fashion stores in the UK would still persist in the future, albeit in lower numbers. Further recommendations on how fashion retailers could ensure the survival of their brick and mortar stores are provided.

1.1 Background & Overview

With the advancement in information technology and the wide acceptance of e-commerce, retailers have shifted toward hybrid business models, what is also known as brick-and-click or click-and-mortar business models (Aksen and Altinkemer, 2008). Thereby, allowing them to serve a wide range of walk-in and online customers. As stated by Aksen and Altinkemer, (2008), “In the second era of e-commerce, which is said to commence in January 2001, many firms began to use a mixed ‘‘clicks-and-bricks’’ strategy, combining traditional sales channels such as physical stores, order-by-phone and printed catalogues with online efforts.” (p.554).

 

In fact, nowadays, e-commerce is progressing rapidly with the development of multiple new channels for marketing purposes (Hewei and Youngsook, 2022). This surge has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic where the global e-commerce market witnessed a 17.9% increase in two years (Keenan, 2022). This increase is projected to reach 24.5% in 2025 revealing how e-commerce is evolving to be a profitable option for online retailers (Keenan, 2022). The UK specifically is leading the e-commerce market in Europe with total revenue of  693 Billion GBP as of 2019 (Coppola, 2022). This growth has further been driven by the pandemic where it has been reported that more than half of the non-food retail sales took place online in the UK during the pandemic (E-consultancy, 2022).

Figure 1: E-commerce sales in the United Kingdom (UK) from 2014 to 2019 (in billion GBP). Source: (Coppola, 2022).

 

The case is quite similar to the retail and fashion sector. It has been evident that Europe’s fashion and clothing industry has undergone a profound transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of commercial services and outlets and movement restrictions have caused significant changes in consumer demands and purchase behaviours (Reformat and Opitek, 2021); thereby, causing fashion retailers to quickly adapt to these changes by putting an extensive focus on e-commerce channels. In fact, a recent study shows that the greatest decline in actual visits to clothing and footwear stores in Europe is expected to occur in the UK  (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

 

Figure 2: Consumers across all European markets expect to visit apparel stores less frequently. Source: (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

 

Moreover, the UK’s online apparel market sales are projected to increase by 60% in 2025 showing the greatest projected increase across Europe (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

Figure 3: Online penetration rates for apparel by the European market. Source: (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

 

However, the successful survival of e-commerce is under perpetual threat (Cuellar-Fernández, Fuertes-Callén and Serrano-Cinca, 2021). This is primarily attributed to the several limitations in e-commerce channels as compared to physical stores which include the lack of assistance from staff (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018), the intangibility of goods and services (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005), privacy and security issues (Fernández-Bonilla, Gijón and De la Vega, 2022), and other technical issues  (Cheba, Kiba-Janiak, Baraniecka and Kołakowski, 2021). In addition, physical stores still offer consumers unique and valuable features such as the ability to make pre-purchase evaluations of tangible products (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005) while maintaining their cognitive perception of the quality (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

 

With the ease of restrictions post the COVID-19 pandemic, fashion retailers are encountering an unprecedented urge to reimagine their business models and critically evaluate the role of their physical stores (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021). This urge has further been exacerbated due to the fact that consumer preferences vary extensively based on multiple factors such as age, affluence, and technological proficiency (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021); thus, causing shopper types to diverge between digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.

Figure 4: Four key shopper types that have emerged over the pandemic in Europe. Source: (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

 

Despite this, a recent study shows that the greatest decline in actual visits to clothing and footwear stores in Europe is expected to occur in the UK  (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021). Thus, creating an urge to further investigate and analyse the future role and significance of physical stores to customers in the UK’s fashion and clothing industry.

Figure 5: Consumers across all European markets expect to visit apparel stores less frequently. Source: (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021).

 

1.2 Research Gap

From an extensive review of the literature, several gaps emerged. To start with, comparisons of both traditional and internet-based retailing have been conducted for decades (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005; Aksen and Altinkemer, 2008; Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020; Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018). However, the significant turbulence caused by the pandemic necessitates revisiting and re-evaluating consumer preferences and behaviours, specifically in the fashion industry.

 

Secondly, in doing so, most of the identified literature was concerned with evaluating different e-commerce strategies that were adopted in response to the pandemic (Reformat and Opitek, 2021; Ogunjimi, Rahman, Islam and Hasan, 2021). It has been acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to operate exclusively in either physical stores or e-commerce channels in today’s competitive environment (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). However, there is a lack of research that focuses on consumer behaviours towards brick and mortar stores, specifically in the fashion industry; thereby, neglecting their significance and their role in the overall performance of retailers. This is supported by Formánek and Sokol, (2022) who state, “Despite all disruptive changes brought to retail shopping by the advances in information and communication technology, traditional selling channels keep their important role for most products in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector.” (p.1).

 

Thirdly, the few identified research that tackles physical stores were primarily focused on their modernisation and digitalisation. Thus, causing a wide momentum to investigate the role of novel technologies such as VR, AR, and AI in the provision of similar customer experiences in virtual environments (García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020; Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). As identified by Xi and Hamari, (2021), such a role has been extensively researched specifically in relation to fashion and clothing as purchase objects. However, again, there is a lack of research that reveals the extent to which the fashion industry could entirely give up on its physical stores post the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, creating an urge to investigate customer preferences towards brick and mortar stores in the fashion industry along with their future fate.

 

1.3 Research Question

What is the future fate of physical fashion stores in the UK post the COVID-19 pandemic given the significant changes in customer behaviours and preferences towards e-commerce?

 

1.4 Research Aims & Objectives

Accordingly, this research aims to identify and analyse consumers’ behaviours towards physical stores in the UK fashion industry in an attempt to forecast future trends that would determine their fate; thereby, aiding in informing future strategic decisions that would assist in enhancing the overall performance of fashion stores. Thus, the research objectives are as follows:

  • To conduct an extensive review of the literature on the evolution of consumer behaviour towards both online and offline fashion stores.
  • To investigate and analyse consumer behaviours towards physical fashion stores in the UK post the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • To provide recommendations that would inform future strategic decisions in relation to the existing physical stores of fashion retailers.

 

1.5 Research significance

With such a shift towards e-commerce, the rumours of traditional retail’s death have been greatly exaggerated (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). However, there is a lack of evidence that validates this claim, specifically in the fashion industry. The aforementioned discussion shows an increasing need to re-assess whether the consumer purchasing and online preference patterns that emerged during the pandemic would persist post the pandemic (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021); thus, this research would allow business executives to re-evaluate consumers’ behaviours to better align their efforts and business models with such behaviours. This research would assist fashion retailers in taking early strategic decisions that would ensure their sustainability, profitability, growth, and prosperity.

 

 

2.1 Introduction

It is evident that the fashion industry holds a significant part of the global economy; however, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has been forced to re-evaluate its existing business models as a result of the massive shifts in consumer behaviours (Mckinsey & Company, 2022). The following paragraphs provide an overview of the significance of traditional stores, e-commerce and the simultaneous capitalisation of both means as identified from the literature.

 

2.2 Brick and Mortar stores

Traditional brick and mortar stores operate two types of facilities namely, warehouses and physical stores. Goods and products are directly shipped from the warehouses to the physical stores and are purchased by walk-in customers (Aksen and Altinkemer, 2008). The following paragraphs shed light on the significance, limitations, and modernisation efforts of traditional fashion stores.

2.2.1 Significance of Brick and Mortar Stores in Fashion

To start with, Traditional fashion stores are widely known for the unique experience that they offer to customers (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). This is primarily attributed to the cues and interactions with the physical environment in traditional fashion retail. As stated by Ainsworth and Foster, (2017), “Extant research consistently demonstrates the important role cues from physical settings play in evoking various consumer states.” (p.27).

 

To illustrate, Ainsworth and Foster, (2017) found that atmospheric elements that are displayed in physical stores, such as music, shop layout, colour, and consumers’ familiarity, play a vital role in providing consumers with a comfortable retail experience; thereby, allowing retailers to offer consumers a hedonic and utilitarian shopping value through a multi-sensory experience (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

 

 

 

Figure 6: The effects of atmospheric elements on consumer hedonic and utilitarian value in physical shopping environments. Source: (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

 

The physical interactivity in the physical store is another primary factor to be considered in offline retail shopping. Such interactivity and interaction limit the evaluation difficulty and perceived risks to consumers which aids in enhancing their trust and eliminating any forms of uncertainty (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005). Other benefits are realised from the sense of comfort that emerges from physical stores include greater commitment, reduced risk, and the development of trust (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

 

From a psychological construct perspective, brick and mortar stores offer consumers a sense of ease and peace of mind during their shopping experience (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017) which contributes to their satisfaction, and brand commitment levels (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018). This is attributed to the sense of comfort and assurance gained through physical shopping which not only elevates consumer satisfaction but also strengthens their relationships with the brand (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).  In addition, external factors, such as atmospheric elements including the music played at stores, their layout, design, and their familiarity with consumers, also play a crucial role in enhancing the performance of retailers in physical shops (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

2.2.2 Limitations of Brick and Mortar Stores in Fashion

However, brick and mortar stores are not easily accessible at all times as compared to e-commerce channels as they are often restrained by external factors that are beyond control and which have direct effects on consumers’ convenience and comfort levels. To illustrate, Badorf and Hoberg, (2020) found that the weather conditions could have a significant impact on businesses’ daily operations. This is because bad weather conditions could adversely affect the consumers’ convenience, and comfortableness along with inducing other psychological effects (Badorf and Hoberg, 2020). Besides, physical stores are often associated with higher overhead costs, maintenance costs, and insurance costs which are also among the main cons of brick and mortar stores (Tach, 2009).

 

Accordingly, physical stores require a lot of consideration to a multitude of factors (Badorf and Hoberg, 2020); these include location, proximity to users, accessibility, levels of competition, costs, visibility, traffic, and store’s interior and exterior designs among others (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018). Besides, it has been observed that choosing the most successful location is dependent on multiple geospatial and socio-demographic factors and considering these factors significantly affects the volume and structure of sales in the fashion industry  (Formánek and Sokol, 2022). Not only would the consideration of the aforementioned factors allow physical stores to maintain their value and offer a convenient experience to customers but also, they would ensure that retailers are running in the most cost-effective manner (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018).

2.2.3 Modernisation of Brick and Mortar Stores in Fashion

In an attempt to preserve the existence of traditional physical stores, massive efforts are being exerted toward the modernisation of the brick and mortar stores in the fashion industry (Pantano and Servidio, 2012). Traditional stores are increasingly leveraging novel technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to streamline and digitise their physical store experience (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). To illustrate, Ogunjimi, Rahman, Islam and Hasan, (2021) proposed the use of innovative technology, such as the smart mirror fashion technology, to enhance the quality of service provided to customers in brick-and-mortar stores.

 

This is further supported by the fact that several emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), show huge potential for providing customers with experiences that are similar to the ones offered in traditional stores (Pantano and Servidio, 2012). These are achieved by addressing aspects such as immersion, realism, enjoyment, perceived value, usability, interactivity, and other social factors such as the presence of shoppers and sales assistants (Xi and Hamari, 2021).

 

Thus, these technologies could substitute traditional stores’ utilitarianism and hedonism value (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020), while maintaining high levels of experiential value for shopping (Xi and Hamari, 2021). Besides, such technologies also play a pivotal role in enhancing customer satisfaction levels (Pantano and Servidio, 2012; Ogunjimi, Rahman, Islam and Hasan, 2021) which has a direct impact on customer loyalty and commitment levels.

 

2.3 E-commerce in Fashion

The impacts of digitisation and e-commerce on consumers’ purchasing behaviour and patterns, specifically in the fashion industry, cannot be denied. As stated by Ogunjimi, Rahman, Islam and Hasan, (2021), “The proliferation of e-commerce and digital businesses is not only changing the rules of business but disrupting them by introducing new possibilities, especially with the integration of new technology.” (p. 1); thereby, putting brick-and-mortar shops under unprecedented challenges. The following paragraphs shed light on the benefits of e-commerce along with its critical success factors.

2.3.1 Benefits of E-commerce

In contrast to brick and mortar stores, E-commerce is of significant importance to the fashion industry. To start with, e-commerce allows fashion stores to offer 24-hour accessibility; thereby, allowing customers to purchase clothes at places and times that are most convenient to them. E-commerce also plays a significant role in the identification, acquisition, and retention of customers; this is because it facilitates marketing and selling through the integration of cost-effective online marketing strategies and techniques (Choshin and Ghaffari, 2017).

 

As compared to physical stores, online retailers could easily implement quick and cost-effective strategies that promptly absorb any shocks and shifts in their highly competitive market environments (Formánek and Sokol, 2022). Accordingly, e-commerce emerged as a significant cheap tool that retailers could easily utilise to effectively track demand and supply patterns (Heuer, Brettel and Kemper, 2015). This is since the decline in preferences for specific products could easily be measured over time (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018).

 

Besides, the continuously evolving consumer behaviour, in response to variations in multiple factors such as firms’ pricing strategies, discounts, and market shares, could also easily be analysed and met using e-commerce channels (Heuer, Brettel and Kemper, 2015). This is of significant importance in the fashion industry since items get obsolete quickly (Heuer, Brettel and Kemper, 2015); thus, such tracking allows fashion retailers to better decide on their pricing strategies.

2.3.2 Critical Success Factors for E-commerce

Moving on to the critical success factors, it is apparent that there is a lack of consensus on a certain set of factors; rather, the literature is ample when it comes to discussing significant factors that contribute to the success of e-commerce. From an extensive review of the literature, Cuellar-Fernández, Fuertes-Callén and Serrano-Cinca, (2021) found that online trust, word of mouth, promotion, price, firm size and financial performance, and other environmental factors play a crucial role in the success of e-commerce platforms.

 

Whereas, Choshin and Ghaffari, (2017) identified four main factors that have primary impacts on the success of e-commerce namely, infrastructure, customer satisfaction, costs, and customers’ knowledge and awareness. These factors should be collectively considered to ensure having effective marketing and to provide customers with a comfortable and pleasurable user experience, at minimum cost to the retailers while maintaining the privacy, security, and trust of customers (Choshin and Ghaffari, 2017).

Figure 7: Main contributing factors to the success of e-commerce. Source: (Choshin and Ghaffari, 2017).

 

Similarly, Pappas, Kourouthanassis, Giannakos and Lekakos, (2017) identified that personalisation, leveraging novel technologies such as AI and machine learning, has a significant impact on consumers’ purchase intentions; subsequently, leading to the success of e-commerce platforms. In addition, e-commerce channels should ensure having a user-friendly interface that facilitates access to information (Choshin and Ghaffari, 2017). This is supported by Wang, (2008) who found that customers’ intention to use/reuse is dependent on both the perceived value and satisfaction levels which in turn are dependent on the quality of information, the system, and the service provided through the e-commerce platform.

Figure 8: Main factors that contribute to the success of E-commerce. Source: (Wang, 2008).

 

2.4 Brick & Click Stores in Fashion

It has been acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to operate exclusively in either physical stores or e-commerce channels in today’s competitive environment (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). Similarly, Cuellar-Fernández, Fuertes-Callén and Serrano-Cinca, (2021) found that combining both physical and e-commerce stores simultaneously enhances the resilience of business and reduces the rate of associated risks including bankruptcy risks. As stated by Cuellar-Fernández, Fuertes-Callén and Serrano-Cinca, (2021), “B&C business should be less risky than a pure-click dot-com because it is diversified” (p.13).

 

Moreover, it has been evident that combining both offline and online data could significantly contribute to the performance of fashion businesses. By doing so, retailers could have a comprehensive understanding of consumer preferences which could be leveraged through a recommendation system in the e-commerce channel to elevate sales  (Hwangbo, Kim and Cha, 2018).

 

Accordingly, online fashion retailers have been developing and implementing novel innovative business models that could allow them to capitalise on the strength of both means through hybrid business models. Hybrid models include both physical and digital stores where customers are provided with three primary options through which they could make their purchases, namely, walk-in, order online and pick the order up from the nearest store, or have the items delivered home (Aksen and Altinkemer, 2008).

 

Hybrid business models have witnessed an unprecedented surge during the pandemic with a huge momentum towards omnichannel fashion retailing. As stated by Reformat and Opitek, (2021), “fashion companies developed omnichannel communication, which allows unifying different channels of communication with customers, as well as integrate both offline and online sales. The aim is, regardless of the channel they use to access the product, to perceive a homogeneous shopping experience” (P. 2487).

Figure 9: A form of an omnichannel model developed by fashion retailers during the pandemic. Source: (Reformat and Opitek, 2021).

 

Likewise, there has been a wide momentum toward social e-commerce which combines the characteristics of social networks and e-commerce platforms. As stated by Hewei and Youngsook, (2022), “As a new concept of e-commerce, social e-commerce uses social media as a new popular online shopping platform. Users can now view, add to shopping carts, and purchase products in a single social media application” (p.1); thereby, facilitating access to information by consumers.

 

3.1 Introduction

A research methodology is of great importance since it lays the basis on which the research’s main aims and objectives are addressed and achieved (Kankam, 2019). The following paragraphs illustrate the methodology adopted in this research along with the rationale behind such choices.

 

3.2 Research Paradigm

To start with, it has been acknowledged that the study of human behaviour necessitates the adoption of a research paradigm with the objective of improving the credibility and generalisability of findings (Kankam, 2019). Two main research paradigms are used in business research namely, positivism and interpretivism. To start with, positivism was primarily developed as a truth-seeking paradigm; accordingly, this paradigm necessitates that scientists follow a rigorous scientific approach that is objective, quantifiable, measurable, and repeatable to construct credible and accurate new knowledge (Kankam, 2019).

 

Interpretivism, on the other hand, emerged from anti-positivist researchers who believe that social scientists should grasp the subjective meaning of social actions. This is based on a belief that there is neither a universal truth nor a worldview (Mertens, 2005). Therefore, it holds onto a subjective stance that necessitates the interaction, interpretation, and understanding of the researcher to construct new knowledge (Aliyu, Bello, Kasim and Martin, 2014). This is of primary importance when investigating unquantifiable aspects such as human characteristics, behaviours, and attitudes (Mertens, 2005). Since this research aims to have a deep and rich understanding of future customer attitudes towards physical fashion stores, an interpretivist approach is adopted.

 

3.3 Research Strategy

Two types of research exist namely, primary and secondary research. Primary research entails the gathering of specifically tailored information that addresses the specific aims and objectives of a research study (Clippinger, 2017); whereas, secondary research entails the gathering of second-hand information that has been collected for other purposes  (Clippinger, 2017). Although secondary research might be considered cheaper than primary research, it has its limitations in terms of the availability of data, its quality and reliability, and its relevance to the topic of concern (Streefkerk, 2018). Since this research aims to gather data in relation to the specific context of the UK’s fashion industry post the COVID-19 pandemic, primary research would be conducted.

 

3.4 Research Design

Primary research could entail the gathering of both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data allows researchers to gather numerical data in an objective and systematic process; such data could be then analysed using statistical methods to obtain value-free and unbiased conclusions and findings (Streefkerk, 2018). On the other hand, qualitative data is unquantifiable and is categorical in nature as it considers the context; thus, it is often analysed using descriptive analysis (Streefkerk, 2018). Based on the interpretivist approach that is opted for in this research, this research relies on the gathering of qualitative primary data to have an in-depth understanding of consumer perspectives, preferences, and opinions towards the future and fate of traditional fashion stores in the UK.

 

3.5 Data Collection

Primary qualitative data could be gathered through different means including interviews, open-ended surveys and questionnaires, observations, and case studies. As this research aims to gather the opinions and perspectives of fashion consumers, interviews and open-ended surveys are the most appropriate data collection means. To start with, open-ended surveys provide an excellent means for the gathering of data from a large sample size with minimum time and place restrictions (Houston, 2021); however, they often lack richness and depth due to the lack of interactivity with the researcher.

 

On the other hand, interviews are considered to be an excellent means for gaining rich and detailed contextual information that could further be complemented by additional questions from the researcher (Gill, Stewart, Treasure and Chadwick, 2008). Despite this, interviews are often criticised for the limitations in sample size and potential biases (Gill, Stewart, Treasure and Chadwick, 2008). However, since this research aims to have a deep understanding of consumers’ behaviours towards fashion stores, interviews will be conducted.

3.6 Sampling Techniques

As stated by Robinson, (2013), interview sampling entails four primary steps namely, 1. Identifying sampling universe;  2. Selecting sample size; 3. Devising a sampling strategy; and 4. Sample sourcing. To start with, the sampling universe/target population of this research is fashion consumers of both sexes and of ages 18+. Secondly, the sample size chosen is 5-7 interviewees. This is chosen based on 2 reasons; the former is due to practicality and time-limitations reasons while the latter is to be able to have detailed analysis of the obtained results. Thirdly, the sampling strategy adopted is a random sampling technique where customers will be chosen randomly. Finally, the sample sourcing would be done by reaching out to customers in physical stores and through advertisements in different social media platforms.

3.7 Data Analysis

Based on the data collection method, the qualitative analysis could be conducted using three different means which are descriptive, comparative, and exploratory analyses (Nassaji, 2015). As stated by  Thompson, (2009), the descriptive approach is the most appropriate data analysis approach when interviews are conducted. Within the descriptive analysis approach, thematic analysis is the most relevant and appropriate analysis type to analyse qualitative data gathered from one-to-one interviews (Smith, 2020).. This is since it allows for the identification, interpretation, and analysis of new trends, patterns and themes that emerge from the gathered data (Smith, 2020). Since this research aims to identify new trends in customer behaviours towards physical fashion stores, a descriptive analysis approach using thematic analysis is used in this research.

 

3.8 Ethical Standards

With regards to the adopted ethical standards, all necessary measures were taken to ensure that the best interests of the research participants were always protected. This research has considered the four ethical principles that were outlined by Bryman, (2015); these are harm to participants, informed consent, invasion of privacy and deception. In this study, only the participants who agree to participate in the research will be involved (Fleming and Zegwaard, 2018, pp.205-213). Also, all participants were informed about what they will be asked and how the data collected will be used. The participants were also informed that their confidential details, such as names, would not be revealed without their permission. Finally,  this research conforms to the Race Relations and Equality of Rights Acts to eliminate the risk of possible discrimination.

 

 

4.1 Introduction

As stated earlier, interviews were conducted with 5 random consumers to determine the changes in their fashion-shopping behaviours and to have a better understanding of their perceptions with regard to the future of the UK’s physical fashion stores. The following paragraphs shed light on the results obtained from the interviews along with a detailed discussion of such results.

 

4.2 Consumers’ fashion purchasing behaviours

4.2.1 Preference for brick and mortar stores

To start with, the consumers were asked about their current preferences in relation to their fashion purchase behaviours. Accordingly, they were first asked whether they prefer to do their fashion shopping online or in-store. Surprisingly, the majority of the respondents claimed that they prefer visiting physical stores rather than online shopping when it comes to clothing. These results are further supported by the fact that the majority of the respondents identified themselves as store reverters when they were asked to identify themselves with the following: digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists. Thus, it could be inferred that with the ease of the COVID-19 restrictions, the majority of the participants claimed to revert back to physical stores for their clothing and fashion shopping. Moreover, one of the interviewees identified himself as a shop loyalist; thereby, indicating that despite such restrictions, the interviewee maintained his stance and preference for walk-in clothing shopping.

4.2.2 Drivers of brick and mortar shopping

When the interviewees were asked about the main drivers of brick and mortar shopping, most of the responses were directly related to the benefits and satisfaction obtained from the shopping experience itself. To illustrate, interviewee 4 stated that “ I like the experience of being there”; whereas, interviewee 5 stated that “I take pleasure in shopping in stores. It’s like therapy, it frees my mind for a while”. These results conform to the findings from the literature that reveal that the unique experiences provided to customers through brick and mortar shopping along with the physical cues and interactivity with the external environment play a crucial role in consumers’ satisfaction and the provision of hedonic and utilitarian shopping value (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020; Ainsworth and Foster, 2017).

4.2.3 Significance of brick and mortar stores to the fashion industry

Then, the interviewees were asked about their opinions in relation to the significance of brick and mortar stores to the fashion industry. The majority of the respondents have acknowledged that they are of extreme importance to the fashion industry, primarily due to the pre-purchase evaluation opportunities that are offered to consumers. These include but are not limited to checking the size, evaluating the worth of purchase, ability to try the clothes and check their suitability to the variations in body shape and size. As stated by interviewee 4, “Personally, I am more aware of the importance of checking the quality of what I purchase, and how it fits. Whenever I buy something online, I am always disappointed (and I do check the sizes, measures of each product comparing them to my size, but sometimes the content of the product is false), thus my money is wasted”. Whereas, interviewee 3 stated, “ I look more at clothes online and I am also visiting the stores to check the items and try them personally”.

 

Similarly, interviewee 1 stated, “they are of great significance because when you order the item online you are paying for it before you try it on which is not the case in brick and mortar stores”. This is further supported by interviewee 2 who stated, “Changes in weight and uncertainty about clothing sizes make me have to visit stores to purchase clothes”. Again, these results conform to the findings from the literature that reveal which state that the ability to evaluate items decreases the perceived risks of consumers; thereby, eliminating uncertainty and enhancing the trust and commitment of consumers (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005).

 

Likewise, it was also found that the ability to get the feel and sensations of the items is another main factor that contributes to the significance of brick and mortar stores to the fashion industry. As stated by interviewee 2, “I like to feel the clothes before buying them”; while interviewee 1 stated, “Yes because I like to feel the material”. The aforementioned results conform to the findings from the literature as it was revealed that the high interactivity levels provided to customers in brick and mortar stores allow them to thoroughly evaluate the items before they make their purchases (Laroche, Yang, McDougall and Bergeron, 2005); thereby, increasing the consumers’ comfort levels and satisfaction with the items bought (Ainsworth and Foster, 2017). Thus, the consensus over the significance of brick and mortar stores to the fashion industry could easily be inferred.

 

4.3 Changes in consumers’ purchasing behaviour

4.3.1 Frequency of visits to brick and mortar stores

Subsequently, the consumers were asked about how often they used to shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19 pandemic. The response ranged from very often, to once every few weeks, to once per 3 months; thereby, shedding light on the variations in consumers’ purchasing frequency. As identified by Eze and Bello, (2016), there is a wide range of sociological factors that affect consumers’ purchasing behaviour within the clothing industry; these include age, clothing quality, income, funds, and their fashion taste in general. These factors could be playing a crucial role in the variations observed with regard to how often consumers used to shop for clothes.

 

However, when the consumers were asked about their brick and mortar purchasing frequency post the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of the respondents indicated that their visits to brick and mortar stores decrease post the pandemic. This is the case despite indicating that their preference for physical stores over online shopping still persists. Such preference for brick and mortar stores justifies why they have identified themselves as store reverters and not digital embracers nor digital dabblers. However, this revealed the existence of several mediating factors that play a role in such a decrease in the frequency of visits to brick and mortar stores.

 

4.4 Factors affecting the frequency of visits to brick and mortar stores

Accordingly, the respondents were asked about the factors that have attributed the most to the changes in their shopping habits, the responses varied among the interviewees. To illustrate, interviewee 1 stated that “I’m used to not getting out of the house so I think it’s Wanting to stay at home more”; thereby, indicating that he is an introvert by nature. Thus,  the facilitations provided to him through online shopping has made him prefer staying at home. Similarly, interviewee 4 indicated that he got used to online shopping during the pandemic which is the main reason why his visits to brick and mortar stores have decreased. Hence, the decrease in the visits to brick and mortar stores could be primarily attributed to convenience and ease rather than personal preference.

 

Whereas, interviewee 4 has indicated that the appealing advertisements over several social media apps is the main reason why their visits to brick and mortar stores had decreased. This sheds light on the moderating effect of the adaptation efforts, deployed by UK retailers during the COVID-19 pandemic, on the changing of consumer shopping habits. Such a change occurred despite the fact that the consumers’ preferences for physical stores still persist. These results may justify the findings from the literature that state that the greatest decline in actual visits to clothing and footwear stores in Europe is expected to occur in the UK (Eversheds Sutherland, 2021). It also justifies the findings of Eversheds Sutherland, (2021) which state that a huge part of the UK’s consumers (30%) identify themselves as digital embracers.

 

4.5 Future trends in fashion shopping

4.5.1 Consumers’ future trends

Subsequently, the interviewees were asked about their opinions as to the persistence of their current shopping habits. The respondents who reported a decrease in their visits to physical stores claimed that they expect a permanent shift towards online shopping in the future. As stated by interviewee 1, “Yes, because I like the convenience of ordering online”; whereas,  interviewee 2 stated that “ Yes, I expect to do more online shopping because I expect to be busier in the future”. This proves that the interviewees are forced to make their fashion purchases online due to the fast pace of life and the decrease in leisure and free time. Thus, it could be argued that despite the personal preference to visit physical stores, effective marketing campaigns, e-platforms, and a widely facilitated delivery and shipping experience have succeeded in leading to a permanent shift in the consumers’ final habits, attitudes, and behaviours to compensate for the lack of free time.

 

On the other hand, the rest of the respondents claimed that they still expect to visit physical stores in the future, albeit at a lower rate. As stated by interviewee 3, “Yes because it is more effective for me”, referring to the fact that visiting physical stores prevents him from wasting money on poor quality and not-to-fit clothes. This is further supported by interviewee 4 who stated that “ I do think that my shopping habits will last, although technology and Innovation will be highly present in our purchasing experience (for instance innovative fitting rooms, AI as advisors or else…). I usually say buy less but higher quality products”. Hence, again referring to the fact that walk-in purchases allow them to purchase higher quality clothes.

 

In the same context, interviewee 5 indicated his persistence to make fashion shopping through brick and mortar stores by stating that “Yes because I love shopping, it helps me take things off my mind”; thereby, shedding light on the additional benefit of stress relief and unwinding that is brought to consumers through the in-person shopping experience. This is often known as “retail therapy”. Recent studies have proved that brick and mortar shopping, even in the cases of window shopping, is associated with a wide range of psychological benefits (Tan, 2021). This is based on the fact that it plays a crucial role in the elimination of sadness, stress, and lack of control. Therefore, the distraction and increased social interaction levels brought through the visits to physical stores is capable of enhancing one’s mood, sense of happiness, gratification, and one’s sense of self-reward (Parker-Pope, 2015).

4.5.2 Perceived trends for UK’s brick and mortar stores

The interviewees were then asked about their perceptions of the persistence of brick and mortar fashion stores in the UK. There was a wide consensus that physical fashion stores would still exist in the UK, albeit with a lower number. As stated by interviewee 4, “ Indeed, for instance, fast fashion is one of the biggest sectors in terms of activity and turnover generated in the country, however with the emerging technologies, their expansion and development will be limited”. This is further supported by interviewee 3 who stated that  “Yes but Probably there will be fewer stores than now”. Whereas, interviewee 2 stated, “fashion stores will still exist, maybe less in number but they will still be there.”. These results conform to the findings from the literature which reveal that, despite the expected decrease in the number of UK’s fashion brick and mortar stores, they would persist and still account for 62.5% of the retail landscape (Spenser, 2021).

 

Similar trends are expected to be observed across Europe. Thus, it is expected that physical stores would account for 72.1% of retail sales; whereas, 27.1% of the retail sales would be attributed to online shopping (Joel, 2021). However, major changes are expected to be observed in the persisting stores. To illustrate, brick and mortar stores would be more open to embracing digital technologies (Joel, 2021). This is supported by the findings from the literature that prove a wide momentum towards VR and AR technologies (Siqueira, García Peña, ter Horst and Molina, 2020). Moreover, physical stores are expected to run leaner stores, offer a broader range of products, utilise their stores as digital hubs, and re-define their strategies and business models  (Joel, 2021).

 

4.6 Further recommendations

Finally, the interviewees were asked about their perceptions as to the needed interventions that should be implemented by retailers to ensure the survival of their brick and mortar stores. A wide range of recommended strategies emerged. However, it was evident that there is a general consensus and huge emphasis on enhancing customers’ experience.

 

To start with, interviewee 4 placed a huge emphasis on the personalisation aspect, which is better offered to customers through online e-platforms. Thus, he stated that “They should personalise the customer experience, enhance the quality of service, train the salesperson to create relationships with the customers allowing loyalty”. In fact, his opinion is widely supported in the literature as it was identified that personalisation, leveraging novel technologies such as AI and machine learning, is a critical success factor to e-commerce (Pappas, Kourouthanassis, Giannakos and Lekakos, 2017; Adhi, Davis, Jayakumar and Touse, 2022; ). This is since it is widely capable of enhancing the customer experience and influencing their purchase decisions. Therefore, it could be argued that having a similar personalisation level in brick and mortar stores would positively contribute to the consumers’ shopping experience; thereby, aiding in ensuring their survival in the long run.

 

Interviewee 5, on the other hand, necessitated the fact that brick and mortar stores should be reimagined to match the convenience levels offered to customers through online shopping. Accordingly, he stated that “To create an enticing and positive in-store shopping experience, fashion retailers need to embrace technology and reimagine their space. By doing so, retailers will undoubtedly be able to keep up with digital competitors and keep brick-and-mortar alive and well”. This is supported by Adhi, Davis, Jayakumar and Touse, (2022) who stated that physical stores should redefine the role of the store, reset store cost structure, prepare their workforce for the next normal, and optimise their stores based on the performance of their Omni channels.

 

Similarly, interviewee 3 emphasised that brick and mortar stores should exert more effort in listening to customers’ feedback and addressing them. In fact, it has been acknowledged that enhancing customer relationship management in brick and mortar stores is a primary factor that could effectively be leveraged to ensure their survival and growth. This is attributed to the fact that the physical interactions with customers along with the strong interpersonal relationships that could be formed with customers have a crucial role in establishing and maintaining strong customer relationships, commitment, and loyalty levels (Yang and Babapour, 2022).

 

Other recommendations included enhancing the aesthetics of physical stores to make them more appealing to customers, removing perfectly sized mannequins and embracing a wider range of body shapes, colours, and sizes, and adding special sales with good rates that are specific to their physical stores.

 

 

 

To conclude, this research aimed to identify and analyse consumers’ behaviours towards physical stores in the UK fashion industry in an attempt to forecast future trends that would determine their fate; thereby, aiding in informing future strategic decisions that would assist in enhancing the overall performance of fashion stores. In doing so, primary research, using interviews with fashion consumers in the UK was conducted. The analysis of the results revealed multiple mega-findings. To start with, it was evident that consumers’ preference for brick and mortar stores is higher than their preference for online shopping, with the majority identifying themselves as store reverters. This was primarily attributed to multiple factors, the most important being the shopping experience, the ability to conduct pre-purchase evaluations, and the physical interaction and sensations associated with walk-in shopping.

 

Despite these factors, it was evident that the customers’ visit frequency to brick and mortar stores had decreased post the COVID-19 pandemic, despite their higher preference for physical stores. This was mainly due to the enhanced convenience levels and ease of shopping that was attained amidst a busy and fastly-paced environment. This was further supported by the enhancing effect of e-platforms, the improvements in shipping and delivery services, and the augmented marketing strategies used in social media apps. These factors have caused consumers to be divided between the ones who would opt for their comfort shopping over their shopping preferences versus those who would still choose to shop in physical stores to ensure the quality of their purchases and to gain the satisfaction offered from the walk-in shopping experience.

 

Thus, it was concluded that physical fashion stores in the UK would still persist in the future, albeit in lower numbers. Therefore, it is recommended that fashion retailers who would like to preserve the longevity and survival of their stores should primarily focus on further enhancing the customer experience. This is done by re-imagining the role of their stores, enhancing personalisation levels, trying to match the convenience levels offered by online shopping, and listening to to and incorporating customer feedback. Other recommendations included enhancing the aesthetics of physical stores to make them more appealing to customers, removing perfectly sized mannequins and embracing a wider range of body shapes, colours, and sizes, and adding special sales with good rates that are specific to their physical stores.

5.1 Limitations & recommendations

  • The main limitation of this study is related to the sample size. Thus, it is recommended that future research include a larger sample size to confidently be capable of generalising the findings.
  • Secondly, this research included participants from England only; therefore, future research should target consumers from different countries within the UK to be capable of providing more accurate findings.
  • Finally, this research included random consumers without considering other crucial socio-economic and demographic factors that could affect the findings. Therefore, future research should consider the influence of other factors such as income, gender, age, education, etc. on consumers’ preferences for brick and mortar fashion stores.

Interview 1

  • Do you prefer to do most of your clothing/ fashion shopping online or in-store?

online

 

  • With which of the following do you identify yourself with the most and why ?digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.

Store reverters

  • How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Every 45-60 days

  • How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Not very frequently Every 3 months (if even that)

  • In your opinion, what has attributed the most to the changes in your shopping habits?

Im used not getting out of the house so I think its Wanting to stay at home more

  • Do you think that this shopping pattern would persist in the future?

Yes, because i like the convenience of ordering online

  • Do you think that the traditional selling channels through phsyical stores play a vital role in the clothing industry?

Yes because some people like to feel the material

  • What are the factors that drive you towards shopping for clothes in physical stores?

Time and commitment because when you order the item online you are paying for it before you try it on.

  • In your opinion, would brick and mortar fashion stores persist in the UK?.

yes

  • In your opinion, do you think that the retailer’s exclusive operation through e-commerce channels would benefit them?

Yes massively because of the reach it can provide for the brand

  • If your answer to the previous question is yes, what do you think clothing retailers should do to keep demand for their physical stores?

Take out the mannequins + have online option like express delivery

 

Interview 2

 

Q1.      Do you prefer to do most of your clothing/ fashion shopping online or in-store?

In store

Q2.      With which of the following do you identify yourself with the most and why ?digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.

Store reverters

Q3.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19      pandemic?

Most of the time ( very often )

Q4.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Not a lot, sometimes

Q5.      In your opinion, what has attributed the most to the changes in your shopping habits?

Changes in weight, uncertainty about clothing sizes and of course the habit of getting used to online shopping during the pandemic.

Q6.      Do you think that this shopping pattern would persist in the future?

Yes, I expect to do more online shopping because I expect to be busier in the future

Q7.      Do you think that the traditional selling channels through phsyical stores play a vital role in the clothing industry?

I don’t think so. In fast-paced environments, they play little to no role

Q8.      What are the factors that drive you towards shopping for clothes in physical stores?

I like to feel the clothes before buying them

Q9.      In your opinion, would brick and mortar fashion stores persist in the UK?.

I sure hope so, because many people would lose their jobs. Even though online shopping is very popular, fashion stores will still exist, maybe less in number but they will still be there.

Q10.    In your opinion, do you think that the retailer’s exclusive operation through e-commerce channels would benefit them?

yes

Q11.    If your answer to the previous question is yes, what do you think clothing retailers should do to keep demand for their physical stores?

I believe that there will always be demand for the physical stores, especially during sales or when seeking very popular items that might only be available in store

 

Interview 3

Q1.      Do you prefer to do most of your clothing/ fashion shopping online or in-store?

In store

Q2.      With which of the following do you identify yourself with the most and why ?digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.

Store reverters

Q3.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19 pandemic?

Every three months

Q4.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Same as before Every 3 months

Q5.      In your opinion, what has attributed the most to the changes in your shopping habits?

I don’t think my shopping habits changed that match I look more at clothes online and I am also visiting the stores

Q6.      Do you think that this shopping pattern would persist in the future?

Yes because it is more effective for me

Q7.      Do you think that the traditional selling channels through phsyical stores play a vital role in the clothing industry?

Yes because it is a display for people who like to see pieces in person and compare

Q8.      What are the factors that drive you towards shopping for clothes in physical stores?

I don’t know to be honest

Q9.      In your opinion, would brick and mortar fashion stores persist in the UK?.

Yes but Probably there will be fewer stores than now

Q10.    In your opinion, do you think that the retailer’s exclusive operation through e-commerce channels would benefit them?

yes

Q11.    If your answer to the previous question is yes, what do you think clothing retailers should do to keep demand for their physical stores?

Listen to customer feedback and maybe make it more aesthetically pleasing for customer retention

 

 

Interview 4

 

Q1.      Do you prefer to do most of your clothing/ fashion shopping online or in-store?

I prefer to Visit the store certainly, I can check the quality of the products, the conditions, try it on to make sure about the design, the shape, the size and how it fits on me. I can also get advice from sales assistants about How I could wear it and with which other clothes I could match it. They can provide their knowledge on crurent fashion trends.

Q2.      With which of the following do you identify yourself with the most and why ?digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.    Store reverters

Q3.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19 pandemic?    Twice in a month i would go shopping in shopping mall. Since Covid, i may occasionally, like one every semester, shop online because the ads are appealing, however it does not always fit well and as good as expected

Q4.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes after the COVID-19 pandemic?   Still twice a month, it’s has not changed

Q5.      In your opinion, what has attributed the most to the changes in your shopping habits?

Personally, I am more aware of the importance to check the quality of what I purchase, and how it fits. Whenever I buy something online, I am always disappointed (and I do check the sizes, measures of each products comparing them to my size, but sometimes the content of the product is false), thus my money is wasted. Shipping delay are sometimes very long, if it doesn’t fit, it annoys me to send it back, pack it again and so on… waste of time and money.

Q6.      Do you think that this shopping pattern would persist in the future?

I do think that my shopping habits will lasts, although technology and Innovation will be highly present in our purchasing experience (for instance innovative fitting rooms, AI as advisors or else…). I usually say, buy less but higher quality products

Q7.      Do you think that the traditional selling channels through phsyical stores play a vital role in the clothing industry?   Of course I do, generally most of the people going to physical stores do it for the same reasons as mines, or just simply for the pleasure of going out with family or friends, it allows to take a breath outside. Even if online shopping has emerged during the last decade, the customer experience is not the same, the biggest turnover is still made via traditional selling channels.

Q8.      What are the factors that drive you towards shopping for clothes in physical stores?

I like the experience of being there

Q9.      In your opinion, would brick and mortar fashion stores persist in the UK?.

Indeed, for instance fast fashion is one of the biggest sector in terms of activity and turnover generated in the country, however with the emerging technologies, their expansion and development will be limited

Q10.    In your opinion, do you think that the retailer’s exclusive operation through e-commerce channels would benefit them?            yes

Q11.    If your answer to the previous question is yes, what do you think clothing retailers should do to keep demand for their physical stores?

They should personalize the customer experience, enhance the quality of service, train the salesperson to create relationship with the customers allowing loyalty

 

Interview 5

 

Q1.      Do you prefer to do most of your clothing/ fashion shopping online or in-store?

Vist the store in person

Q2.      With which of the following do you identify yourself with the most and why ?digital embracers, digital dabblers, store reverters, and store loyalists.

Store loyalist

Q3.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes before the COVID-19 pandemic?   Once a month

Q4.      How often do you shop at brick and mortar stores for clothes after the COVID-19 pandemic?    Once every 6 weeks

Q5.      In your opinion, what has attributed the most to the changes in your shopping habits?

I cant think of anything but I don’t think It affected me that much ( shopping habits)

Q6.      Do you think that this shopping pattern would persist in the future?

Yes because I love shopping, it helps me take things off my mind

Q7.      Do you think that the traditional selling channels through physical stores play a vital role in the clothing industry? Yes they do because not everyone wants to shop online

Q8.      What are the factors that drive you towards shopping for clothes in physical stores?

I take pleasure in shopping in store. To be its like therapy, it frees my mind for a while

Q9.      In your opinion, would brick and mortar fashion stores persist in the UK?.

Yes they will

Q10.    In your opinion, do you think that the retailer’s exclusive operation through e-commerce channels would benefit them? yes

Q11.    If your answer to the previous question is yes, what do you think clothing retailers should do to keep demand for their physical stores?

The physical store should be reimagined in order to match the convenience of online shopping options consumers have grown to expect during the past year. To create an enticing and positive in-store shopping experience, grocery retailers need to embrace technology and reimagine their space. By doing so, retailers will undoubtedly be able to keep up with digital competitors and keep brick-and-mortar alive and well.

 

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