Are we teetering on the edge of a fashion brand crisis?

Brits don’t care about brands. That’s the latest declaration from Kantar Worldpanel, which this week revealed fewer UK shoppers are buying goods based on the label.

Fit, quality and price are now much more important purchasing factors – which is understandable, considering the memory of economic austerity still looms large for most shoppers. Indeed, purse pinching has led to a rising thrift shopping trend, meaning many consumers are likely to boast about a second-hand purchase rather than new designer threads.

There have already been casualties of falling brand sentiment; Kantar points to the decline of Ben Sherman, and the metamorphosis of other labels such as Diesel, which has begun producing cheaper ranges to supplement its flagship ranges.

However, this potential brand crisis isn’t solely the fault of cautious consumers. In reality, it’s growing increasingly difficult for brands to have a close relationship with their customers. The plethora of marketplaces through which they trade have obscured their view of shoppers, so not only are the transactions taking place within a third party portal, consumer data is being retained by that third party too.

Even on the High Street, brands often have to make compromises, particularly where they employ a concession strategy. They do not have the capacity or resources to merchandise the same way as in their own stores, and the personnel serving their customers aren’t always as clued-up on their products and values.

But this isn’t necessarily a death knell for the fashion brand as we know it – it’s just time to change approach. Many brands are exploring new routes to trade directly in online markets, while others are looking at technologies that can enhance bricks-and-mortar experiences.

Fashion retailers such as House of Fraser have already reshuffled their business infrastructure around the needs of the customer, and brands need to make sure they are doing the same.

More than that, they need to ensure this customer-centricity trickles right through their every presence – which may mean investing in point of sale technology to better ‘sell’ the brand to shoppers in-store, or a network that enables faster communications and transactions for greater convenience.

For mid-range brands currently struggling to make their mark, it’s worth looking at the techniques being employed by luxury goods designers. By focusing on customer experience, and building a store network that can support the digital devices needed to bring store bricks-and-mortar shopping to life, luxury shopping has weathered market difficulties and emerged relatively unscathed.

The more brands can turn their physical presence into a theatre, the greater chance they have of engaging shoppers. If the name itself can’t carry customers, they need to make sure their service can.

Everything is connected

How many times have you wanted to plug in a new device at home and had to go searching for a spare plug point, forcing you to search for an adaptor or an extension lead? By the time you find one, you just want to get connected – concerns about cheap extension leads or incorrect fuse ratings leading to current spikes, go out of the window.

While most domestic networks can cope with device after device being bolted on, the store network has to deal with a host of device, signal, security and availability issues, as retailers add more and more innovations in a bid to improve the customer experience.

The problem is, the network is often the last thing to be considered, on the assumption that it can cope.

It can’t.

In a recent survey we conducted for Vodat International’s report – why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it – 1 in 10 customers complained about both the lack of WiFi connection, and the number of sales associates not equipped with the right technology to answer their questions on the shop floor.

In addition, clearly, not all WiFi is the same, as some networks simply do not perform to the same standards as consumers take for granted in their own homes. And for the store, when the network is unavailable, trading can grind to a halt with money lost until it is restored; on a recent visit to a well-known health foods chain store, one of the tills had been down for more than 24 hours – apparently due to a simple network issue.

Smart retailers will create networks on a sliding scale: flagships get the most robust and layered network, while smaller, satellite stores will get a more basic service.

However, more and more retailers are now upgrading all their networks simply to reflect the fact that they are adding mobile payment devices, doing more online business in the store, and trying to give both customers and staff a better digital experience.

These are taking the form of either dual ADSL or 3G/4G for customers who want more bandwidth.  Those wanting business class connections with SLAs are moving to EFM and Ethernet connections.

Ultimately – particularly in an omnichannel world, where the store is the gateway not just to itself, but the retailer’s entire inventory – the network is the store, and as such deserves broad, capable and reliable connectivity.