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Digital Daze

Is too much of everything too much to shop?

When it comes to issues associated with excess, Eagles drummer Don Henley once said it best: “The problem was we could have it all, all the time.” No wonder unlimited access to wine, women, drugs, money, parties, fast cars—i.e. living life in the fast lane—led to overindulgence and, eventually, burnout for the rock star.

Now, if you’ll indulge me in the analogy leap, the same might be said in regard to the instantaneous, continuous and overwhelming selection of goods being offered online. The digital stores never close and the selection appears endless. If there ever was a time when you could shop it all, all the time, it’s now. But is it a case of too much selection? Are consumers overwhelmed trying to shop it all? Are they choice-fatigued? Are they in desperate need of more effective filtration devices and curating before they log on? Could the current eclectic state of fashion be a byproduct of what seems like every brand and look under the sun being offered simultaneously? It’s increasingly difficult for a trend to gain critical mass today because we’re drowning in a sea of trends, compounded by the speed at which they all zoom across cyberspace. The result is that trends have much shorter lifespans than ever before.

If there was one takeaway from the recent FFANY show, it was the lack of a defining trend. Nobody could point to a slam dunk in the current marketplace. Nor was there a consensus as to what might be a good bet come next fall. For the past decade or so, Ugg has taken a lot of the guesswork out of buying for retailers. And, while this winter has actually been winter-like so far and bodes well for Ugg and boot brands overall, the general mood during market week was still of distinct uncertainty and apprehension. When asked whether they had seen anything that might have real potential, attendees often responded with a shrug and, “Beats me.” Befuddled, you might say, has become the new black.

Hence the apparent movement toward brands with a rich heritage. The strategy is to go with brands consumers know and (may) trust rather than to bet on a newcomer and/or a look that might turn out to be fleeting at best or a bust at worst.

Dr. Martens is a perfect example. Bob Bradford, senior vice president of sales and the subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 14), reports that the iconic brand is on a major upswing thanks to new and expanded collections, numerous (unsolicited) celebrity endorsements of late and—not to be overlooked—retailers’ increasing willingness to embrace a brand that is dripping with authenticity. Bradford, refreshingly candid, notes how difficult it is (next to impossible, really) for a start-up to become a meaningful player in the current industry climate. Nonetheless, Woolrich is giving it a go with its first-ever boots and shoes collection for Fall ’14 (see p. 68). Like Dr. Martens, the brand possesses a rich history, one that dates back all the way to the mid-1800s when its wool factory—still in operation today—supplied blankets to Union soldiers during the Civil War. If the collection lives up to the brand’s story, Woolrich may really be onto something.

I find it ironic—and a bit puzzling—that it’s harder than ever for new brands to break through in an age when it’s easier than ever to introduce new brands online. This takes me back to my initial concern: Is there simply too much to choose from? Is that preventing consumers from developing a meaningful consensus? Might offering less actually be more? Could it allow our industry to develop something we could truly build momentum around?

As an editor, it’s in my nature to strive for clarity and conciseness. Perhaps it’s a good rule of thumb for our industry, too, specifically with the online tier. Because if being able to shop it all, all the time, does lead to shopper burnout, where will we all be?

The June 2024 Issue

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