June 16, 2024


Clothes that smile

Will we ever be able to go shopping with our friends again?

What might a mother-daughter shopping trip look like in July 2020? Masked up to the nines? Linking arms with gloves on? One in, one out at your favourite department store?

It’s an abstract thought at the moment, as non-essential retail stores won’t open again in the UK until at least 1st June. But could the coronavirus crisis have killed off the joy of shopping as a social activity?

Spending an afternoon shopping was something that we as a nation had excelled at. In 2018 the five biggest UK shopping centres – including Westfield in London and Intu Metrocentre in Gateshead – boasted over 157 million visitors between them. A family afternoon out might involve two rounds of browsing at a mega-mall, with lunch somewhere nice in the middle. You might drag your husband or wife out to John Lewis to look at something you’ve had your eye on online for months. If you’re hunting for a perfect dress for a special occasion, you might take a friend along to a favourite boutique for affirmation and a confidence boost.

An event held at MatchesFashion’s 5 Carlos Place to launch Richard Quinn’s new collection

Shopping now though seems sterilised. The thought of going to a mall is daunting – videos of Zara stores reopening in France have shown tense queues and vigorous anti-bac-ing. It’s going to take commitment to go out on any shopping mission and it’s unlikely to feel like a leisure activity for some time.

A few retailers have started formulating solutions that will get us feeling excited about the experience again, though. As Deryane Tadd, founder of St Albans boutique The Dressing Room puts it, “shopping for fashion and accessories is much more than just needing an item, it’s a hobby and a way of lifting our spirits and people want that more than ever now”. 

At MatchesFashion, the London-based luxury retailer, social shopping events have always been essential to success. The brand’s Mayfair townhouse, 5 Carlos Place, hosted weekly talks with designers, trends presentations and other interactive experiences designed to engage customers and build a community – ideally over a glass of champagne.

MatchesFashion’s social shopping hub in Mayfair; 5 Carlos Place

For now, the challenge is to find new ways to deliver these events online via social media, while private shopping appointments will allow some semblance of an enjoyable experience for customers in store, allowing them to shop both safely and socially with sales advisors and personal stylists. 

“Our private shopping teams are already conducting virtual appointments,” a spokesperson explained. “We are also able to cater to top clients’ requests to host one-to-one appointments at 5 Carlos Place, while respecting social distancing guidelines. With our four private shopping suites, clients can be looked after in total privacy.”   For Britain’s smaller independent fashion boutiques, creating new shopping communities via video calls and social media has been a priority since lockdown first began back in March. Stores with strong, loyal client bases will be able to offer more intimate shopping settings to the customers they already know well. You can socialise with the friendly staff, for now, even if you can’t take a group of friends with you. 

“I’m thinking of new innovative ways to entice customers back in,” says Gwenno Williams, founder of Cardiff boutique Kiti. “I will probably open on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday for private appointments and during the rest of the week I will post on my social media, offering virtual private shopping videos on FaceTime for customers as this has been an invaluable experience throughout lockdown. Via videos I’ve been sharing my knowledge on brands and stock and giving them the advice that they need.”

Maybe, in time, two friends from different households will be able to go to a personalised store appointment together. As brands at all levels of the market will want to enhance the shopping experience and make it fun for their customers again, you might expect to receive VIP treatment up and down the high street, regardless of what your budget is. 

As for bigger shopping ‘socials’, there can still be a party, even if it’s a virtual one. Attending a shopping event now might mean receiving a pre-delivered glass of champagne and canapes to your house, while you and a hundred other guests tune in to watch a catwalk show live-streamed online. Or it could mean listening to a designer interview, or an expert talking through the trends, while you and your mother stay comfy on your own sofa.

“To launch our autumn 2020 collections, I will be hosting a virtual fashion show when lockdown restrictions are lifted, donating 10% of all purchases to our local NHS charities,” says Williams of her plans at Kiti. “I have managed to sell most of my spring 2020 stock in lockdown, and am looking forward to receiving the high summer collections. Women in lockdown still want to buy nice clothes.”

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