How Fashion Blogs are Changing Retail

Gene Pressman, the creative force behind the iconic New York department store Barneys, once said, "If you give customers what they want, then you die.... The fact is they don't know what they want." For years, the role of a successful apparel retailer has been to navigate consumers through the labyrinth of the fashion world and tell them what they should be wearing. Today, customers know what they want long before they enter a store and they have the fashion bloggers to thank for that.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Mainstream retailers from Coach (NYSE: COH  ) and Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) to Guess? (NYSE: GES  )  have courted fashion bloggers many times in the past, a move that was enthusiastically embraced by consumers. Even so, looking ahead, should retailers watch their step when dealing with this new breed of fashion aficionados?

What's in it for retailers?

On their journey from amateur bloggers to arbiters of style and probably the most influential spokespeople for the fashion world, style writers managed to amass hundreds of thousands of followers on their social media accounts, commanding huge readership. In doing so, fashion bloggers opened new avenues of customer engagement.

For brands, collaborating with a blogger is a guaranteed investment in "word of mouth recommendation," a cost-effective method of reaching their target demographic. Most importantly, it's more trustworthy compared to traditional advertising methods, simply because bloggers have established a personal relationship with their audience – one that is based on integrity and thrives on daily interaction.

Kevin Ma, owner of men's streetwear podcast Hypebeast, which quickly evolved from a content site into a print magazine, newspaper, and online store, told Business of Fashion recently that "78% of readers have purchased products because they have seen them on Hypebeast."

For its "Be Bright" campaign two years ago, Gap introduced Styld.by, a blog featuring six well-regarded fashion and lifestyle bloggers. Gap asked bloggers to style outfits out of the brand's offerings to reflect their personal taste while promoting the looks to their network. Chief marketing director Seth Farbman eloquently described the effectiveness of bloggers on the campaign saying that "styld.by is an evolutionary way to take the idea of a traditional catalogue and deliver it in a way that encourages people to engage with it in a place where they're already spending their time, like fashion blogs and music sites."

Emily Johnston's bag for Coach, source: Vogue.co.uk

Guess? has its one Guess Access Blog, which serves as a promotional platform for its watches as well as an online meeting place for aspiring bloggers from around the world.

Coach has taken the brand-blogger collaboration thing to a whole new level by enlisting influential style writers to create one-off items. The tote bag designed by Emily Johnston of Fashion Foie Gras was a hit. With a padded side pocket to store an SLR camera in, Emily's bag was a must-have for every self-respecting fashion blogger.

The unexpected pitfalls

The rise of the fashion blogger phenomenon along with consumers' increasing demand for a more personalized shopping experience laid the groundwork for the emergence of new types of e-commerce like curated retail, which redefine the relationship between retailers and consumers.

Curated retail refers to the creation and promotion of unique product lines not offered by other retailers in the market. It rests on the notion that online retail's focus is gradually shifting from search-based offerings to suggestion-based or even customized offerings. 

Overall, a blogger's rise to fashion's A list usually results in a full-time business operation. By and large, this means more sweet deals for retailers. Bloggers turning their blogs into online shops, where they sell the stuff they've been successfully promoting is a common practice.

Yet, often, they break loose from the brands they so cherish and step toward curated retail by creating and marketing their own lines. Given the fact that fashion writers' personal sense of style is what enabled them to amass a huge following in the first place, they have a clear edge over mainstream retailers once they decide to make the jump from just writers to designers and sellers. 

Moreover, sometimes, as in the case of Italian fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, respectful bloggers capitalize on the dream wardrobes they've built over the years. Chiara recently opened a curated store on Depop, the mobile marketplace founded by Simon Beckerman in 2011.

On Depop, she sells some of the things she doesn't wear anymore, not some collaborating brand's new merchandise. More importantly, she opened that store in response to her 600,000 monthly visitors' persistent demands.

Final thought

For retailers, landing a sponsorship deal with a respectful blogger is probably the most effective way to enhance their brand's awareness.

On the other hand, bloggers have raised the bar in the style world by giving a whole new meaning to the online shopping experience. Sometimes, especially when they decide to cash in on their blogging audience and move toward curated retail, this equals to more, fierce competition in an already overcrowded market. 

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