Arthur Hoffman, Executive Director Colect: „A year ago, remote selling was unheard of. Now it is necessary for survival.“

The fashion and retail industry is in a state of upheaval – a fact that the Corona crisis has underscored and accelerated. Digital solutions and rethinking old processes are increasingly necessary to prepare for the future. FashionUnited spoke with Arthur Hoffman, CEO of Colect, about what brands should do now to future-proof their business.

Mr. Hoffman, who are the winners and who are the losers of the Corona-crisis?

In light of the Corona-crisis, there are clearly winners and losers among brands as well as retailers. What we see is that the bigger companies have the means to see this through, whereas the smaller ones struggle. Those who were already strong in digitalization have made gains. In terms of categories you also have clear winners and losers. Casual wear does well. Outdoor and sportswear does well. Lingerie is steady. Formal or festive wear and some sports equipment is seeing a big, hopefully temporary, downward shift. Consumers overall spend less, because they have less occasions to dress up. The Zalandos and the Amazons of the world see tremendous growth. Everyone else has gotten the message to catch up.

How has the mindset about virtual selling changed?

Last year in January, we asked 216 participants, brands and exhibitors, at the trade fair in Amsterdam, about how they rated the importance of remote, or virtual, selling. The finding was that, for most people, it ranked very low in priority. So, a year ago, virtual selling tools were not something the industry overall considered to be extremely important – for various reasons. They didn’t have to sell their collections virtually, and fashion is a very physical product. You want to feel it, touch it, smell it. Now with Covid, obviously, things have changed dramatically. Brands and buyers can’t travel anymore, and there were almost no physical trade shows. Suddenly, virtual selling became a must-have in order to survive.

How do your tools help brands sell their collections remotely?

The whole world suddenly had to do things online with new tools and new means: showing the collection, virtual ordering and post-sale returns and, in general, increased self-service. We jumped in to show our clients the tools to sell their collections virtually. Our tools help them create a story and advanced lookbooks, to show the buyer the collection. We made it as simple as possible for them to use, adjust and finally arrive at an agreed order.

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Without physical interaction, parties had to come up with new ways to agree on payment conditions. We included digital signatures in the form of DocuSign, an e-signature-tool, that certifies digital signatures. We integrated returns modules, so when retailers want to return something to the brand, they can find flexible solutions together. For example, the brand can allow swaps in which the retailer can return some items in exchange for something else that they think they can sell better. A swap module that has the intelligence built in to tell the retailer what can be traded off. There are many more features in our portfolio. We have solutions to almost any challenge in remote selling.

Why is now the best time to integrate your tools?

Many brands say they don’t have the mindspace or the means to integrate new tools right now, during the crisis. This is because they are struggling, or because their employees are not in the office. I understand that. But now is the time to future-proof your business. When tradeshows pick up again, they will

bring an added acceleration of business with them. Brands will go back to seeing their customers in the showrooms, but the digital selling support is here to stay. Therefore, now is the best time to get to know

How will remote selling change jobs in the future?

Many brands and retailers had to lay off some of their staff. We asked around and brands told us they had to let up to 20-25 % of their staff go during the crisis, which is obviously painful. With the brick and mortar stores closed, brands and retailers were, and still are, in survival mode. Some of those jobs will come back, because we still need people for the interpersonal relationships and the creative part of the business.

However, in the future, the back office that deals with servicing the retailers can and will be smaller because remote tools offer self-service to the buyers. Buyers can log in and see what they’ve ordered and download all the images. They can create a linesheet, a brochure, they can export it in a structured file so they can upload it into the retail system. All these things didn’t exist before.

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Talking about shifting jobs. Did you hire people?

Yes, we doubled our team in the past year and delivered more than 30 % growth. We welcomed many new clients who realized that we could help them get through the crisis.

A lot of businesses see that your tools can help them financially.

Yes, the cost of serving your clients becomes a lot cheaper with virtual tools. Brands are able to reduce costs of printed catalogues and salesman samples and expand their global footprint while reducing their carbon footprint. We are in an industry of creative people. They want to get together and have a talk. They want to have dinner and socialize. But that also costs a lot of time and money.

During the crisis, everything was done in a very efficient way. You had a phone call of an hour and a small talk upfront and then you get to business. The efficiency-gain that has taken place has woken up the financial departments of many brands to see how much lower the cost to serve can be. Of course, they want to retain some of this new cost-efficiency, because the old way was too expensive.

Do brands fear losing the interpersonal connection?

There is no need to do everything remotely. I think visiting and speaking face-to-face will come back, but the approach might be more segmented. Brands will still invite their key customers to their showroom and will present their collection digitally, supported with a selection of  physical samples. They will be able to make it a really nice experience: Good food, a nice talk. But they don’t have to invite all of their clients, or maybe only once a year instead of twice.

Will the retail landscape bounce back after the crisis?

I believe the retail landscape will bounce back to a certain degree. Retailers will still have a vital role to play, but there will be less stores. The ones that remain will be experience-shops. They will be there to experience the brand, people will see offline shopping as a social event. The joy of going out for it will return. However, digital has gained in market share and that will also remain.

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Therefore, retailers and brands should prepare an omnichannel approach. In the future, it doesn’t matter if I shop online or offline, because the price will be the same everywhere. I can shop in the store and have it delivered or I can shop online and pick it up in the store. The only thing that makes the difference is going to be the experience.

About Colect

Colect is a tech company that delivers digital sales solutions for brands in Fashion, Footwear, Sportswear, Body Fashion and Accessories. Over 400 brands and 90,000 users worldwide use Colect’s mobile- and web-based apps on a daily basis to inspire their customers with an immersive brand presentation, to tell the story behind the collection, supported by virtual look-books, campaign videos and other multi-media assets. Colect replaces physical with virtual samples in hi-res product images, 3D assets and interactive model videos. From this storytelling it supports a seamless journey to order writing, and allowing brands to boost sales, speed up their time-to-market, and improve order quality by providing real-time data insights into historical orders, live sales data and future trends.

Colect’s key products:

B2B Sales App – iPad app supporting Sales reps with all collection images, inventory and pricing levels at their fingertips, both online and offline for seamless order writing capabilities.

B2B Web shop – Web based shop for both Sales staff and their clients (retailers, distributors, importers) to pre- and reorder collections or individual items.

Virtual showroom – Latest web based innovation and part of the B2B solution to show collections via a virtual showroom, with a lookbook, collection boards and 360 images & videos.

Digital showroom – Presenting and facilitating order writing the modern way on multiple, and fully customisable flatscreen TVs, controlled by an very easy and intuitive iPad application.

In-store solution – Endless isle solution in retail allowing both consumers and retail staff an omnichannel shopping experience.


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