For ten years, retailers have faced the impending doom of the “retail apocalypse.” Stalwart retailers closed doors and filed for bankruptcy, while a new breed of digitally-native retailers started to evolve. Change was undoubtedly underfoot, but the pace was slow. Consumers seemed to be reluctant to leave the physical fully behind for the new frontiers of online-only retail.

While consumers were moving effortlessly between channels, brands and retailers tried to keep up with consumer expectations and predict a future of digital and physical convergence. Insights and analysis didn’t necessarily show the best path, and the full paradigm shift was still in the theoretical briefs of industry pundits.

No industry expert could have predicted that a global pandemic would be the catalyst to shift consumers quickly into the digital lane. Or that the channel shift we had spent years preparing for would happen over months and not years.

What does this mean for retailers and brands? Have the past ten years prepared us? How can we meet consumer expectations in a digital world while pivoting the organizational mindset and approach?

The Beginning Blueprint for a Digital Assortment

Regardless of where they are, consumers can shop most of the time from the palm of their hand. From the moment they wake up, consumers are served a perpetual stream of personalized ads, with an abundance of choice based on their preferences and validated by their peers. This shift created a monumental change in consumer expectations and shopping habits.

No longer do consumers wait with anticipation of an assortment showing up in-store so they can stock up for the season at a given time. The paradox of choice they face daily forces them to only purchase based on need, emotion, or price. Within the last few months, we have seemingly reached the tipping point of a digitally-led channel shift that will last beyond a post-COVID world. Changes in consumer behavior and expectations demand an evolution in how retailers deliver products.

As retailers evolve their approach, three key strategies converge: Buy Now, Wear Now, Inventory Lifecycle Management, Audience Development & Management. The beginning blueprint focuses on these critical areas to allow retailers to meet consumer needs in a digitally-led marketplace.

The idea of seasonless has been frequently discussed in a pre-COVID world as trends emerged in the data. While still novel a few short months ago, retailers had started to dip their toes into modified assortments, however, with hesitation to evolve fully. As we reached the apex of consumer shifts, creating a digital-first assortment architecture is imperative to win.

Using the early movers’ data, retailers can understand the nuances of flow in a digital world. By adjusting line plans for more balanced and constant deliveries, servicing a buy now, wear now shopper unlocks benefits—two of the most critical, engaging with audiences and inventory turns.

Building contactable consumer bases become a top priority for retailers; delivering stories frequently creates further opportunities to engage with audiences. In turn, allowing them to effectively find products that maximize or reach new consumer bases and build repeat visitors.

On the other hand, inventory, a key indicator in a retailer’s health, demands the utmost scrutiny while placing buys. By turning products faster, inventory risks in any particular style become more mitigated. Balancing shortened product lifecycles with the constant flow of new product creates inventory agility.

A consistent flow that services a buy now, wear now, consumer mindset is the beginning foundation of winning with a digitally-led assortment. However, the underlying capability to take this approach from operational to optimal is data.

Gaining Agility With Data by Powering Up Business and Creative Teams

The ability to understand who your consumer is, what they want, and how they shop will define which retailers survive and potentially flourish in a post-COVID marketplace.

There is no shortage of data available in the current day for every retailer, especially in the world of e-commerce. However, sifting through to pull out impactful points becomes a formidable task even for the most experienced analyst. Consequently, some of the most useful data is discarded or overlooked.

By unlocking each function's ability to utilize data in a way that makes sense to them creates agile organizations that put the consumer at the center. Building teams that create collaborative environments, with data engineers and the business/creatives can drive pivotal consumer-led strategies.

Born in digital retailers tend to be built as data-driven engines, utilizing evolved KPI’s and tools to aid in decision making. Albeit, traditional retailers still have organizational mindsets, tools, and structures that support the B&M business from the past. Rethinking workflows, what data is used, and evolved KPI’s will allow teams to hypothesize, test, and react in record time