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KLA's research revealed that while the fast fashion trend dominated pre-pandemic, now it's all about clothes that will last. Picture: Unsplash/Arturo Rey
KLA's research revealed that while the fast fashion trend dominated pre-pandemic, now it's all about clothes that will last. Picture: Unsplash/Arturo Rey

The global pandemic has changed consumer buying behaviour and expectations, and fashion isn’t exempt. Today, consumers are slowing down and taking stock of their lives, and their changing needs are reflected in their changing purchasing patterns.

According to the Euromonitor International Top 10 Global Consumer Trends report, 2022 is the time of consumers taking back their power and forging a future built around their passions and values. A report by Flux Trends concurs, pointing out that retail will continue to recover if it pays attention to shifts in consumer behaviour and expectations.

About the author: Giorgia Lupini is an Insights associate at KLA. Picture: Supplied/KLA
About the author: Giorgia Lupini is an Insights associate at KLA. Picture: Supplied/KLA

For the fashion industry, this means listening to what consumers want and using these insights to create retail and fashion experiences that connect with the customer and build towards the future.

There will be a return to the confidence and freshness that epitomises the fashion category, and retailers can most definitely take advantage of it.

Just take a look at the  trend of “dopamine dressing”. Characterised by bright colours and vibrant fashion, this trend sees consumers shake off the dark pandemic days by opting to wear items that bring them joy.

This is particularly relevant in SA, where a weakening economy and high levels of unemployment, alongside continued load-shedding, are affecting retail growth and consumer delight.

Not only do brick-and-mortar retailers need to be more strategic and revise their offerings, online stores also have to revise and shine. They’ve historically been platforms where customers compare prices; now they have to be agile and engaging, another touchpoint from which to connect with the customer. 

The question is, how? The answer lies in creating experiences and environments that meet clear customer needs.

Full-service market research agency KLA recently conducted a survey of more than 250 consumers about what influences their buying behaviour and how digitisation has shifted their shopping expectations.

Here are the key findings:

SA consumers are looking for quality and durability, but without having to pay high prices within this category

Consumers want quality but they also want more value for money, which can be contradictory. The fast fashion trend dominated pre-pandemic with customers buying cheap garments over sustainable ones, but now it’s about clothes that will last.

“Wearability” was the defining factor for 86% of respondents, which suggests that brands need to focus on clothing longevity. Think factors such as washability, classic styles that won’t date and, in the case of children’s fashion, styles that will “grow” with the child.

Beyond this, indicators of quality included clothing with a good fit/cut (53%) and garments that are made from certain fabrics (39%).

Fashion brands should invest in premium fabrics, ensure good craftsmanship and consider the washability of garments to enhance the quality cues for consumers. Online, this attention to quality should be reflected in more detailed item descriptions that outline the type of fabric used, for instance, so consumers can make informed decisions.

Price has little influence on the perception of quality

Only 14% of respondents said that a higher price implies that the clothing’s quality is higher. In addition, branded clothing is now also not seen as a quality metric. 

While most of the 250 consumers surveyed by KLA were interested in buying local fashion, only 7% associated it with quality

While most consumers were interested in buying local fashion, very few associated it with quality (only 7%) and few felt that the quality of SA fashion equates to that of international brands (only 8%).

Local designers and fashion houses clearly need to consider upweighting their quality by providing insight into handmade or artisanal processes that often directly result in higher quality products.   

A different stance to sustainability 

While the sample as a whole did not directly link quality to sustainability, 45% of women felt that quality clothing is sustainable, especially the younger age groups (18-24). This strong link between sustainability and quality can be leveraged by fashion brands.

KLA anticipates that sustainability and high quality will be become synonymous with brand stickiness and value. In other words, it feels good to buy a garment that is sustainable as it is aligned to personal beliefs but, at the same time, aligns with personal needs from the category that is something that will last longer, due to its higher quality. 

Consumers are looking for value for money and enjoy tried and tested mechanics

The last two years haven’t changed the consumer’s passion for a good deal and a solid discount. 

KLA's research indicates that value for money is about specials, discounts and promotions with 55% of respondents agreeing that promotions such as “buy 3, get 1 free” or “buy 2 and get 20% off” offer good value. 

Loyalty programmes remain relevant and enticing and 54% of consumers stated that loyalty programmes offer a sense of value for money. Markdowns on older stock, seasonal sales and instant discounts at the till also communicate value for money. 

The last two years haven’t changed the consumer’s passion for a good deal and a solid discount

When it comes to fashion retailers Edgars, Ackermans and Woolworths ranked as the top three brands that offer the best value for money in the category. 

While limited, there are some interesting demographic elements at play when it comes to ranking brands around value for money offering. Younger age groups favoured H&M’s value for money offering, whereas, older groups preferred the likes of PEP and Pick n Pay clothing.

The results showed that women thought that Ackermans and Pick n Pay clothing offered more value for money than men.

Moving into the future: How do we keep consumers interested, online and in-store?

Thinking into the future and of ways to create interest and stand-out in the category, consumers are looking for opportunities to customise and personalise their purchases, be part of the brand, as well as exciting in-store experiences.

This extends to the concept of co-creation as, 54% of respondents were looking to have clothing that can be completely customised to fit in their desired fabric and colour, for instance. In addition, 31% wanted to be rewarded for creating media content using clothing, including Tik Tok videos and Instagram posts. This an interesting intersection of social media and fashion as it shows that consumers enjoy playing their part in a brand story. 

Regardless of the increase in online shopping, consumers still head to physical stores. We cannot escape the fact that fashion is an interactive and highly tactile category for consumers. But, a tech-based future is foreseen and winning brands will be those that take their clients on this journey in a meaningful way both in-store and online.

Taking one step forward towards customer connections

It is imperative that brands are cognisant of current trends but remain in touch with the advancements of the very near future. And so, the apparent local appetite for a mixture of channels seen in KLA's research speaks to a potential desire for the next big thing: immersive technology. Brands like Gucci and Balenciaga are pioneering this.

If brands begin to equip themselves to fulfil a seamless omnichannel offering, with a potential value add of such immersive technology, KLA believes that they will be one step closer to the potential future and being at the forefront of fashion consumers post-Covid-19.

For more consumer insights, visit KLA's website.

This article was paid for by KLA.