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Why Matthew Williamson’s new in-season e-commerce-only business plan makes sense

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Matthew Williamson is to close its flagship store in London and refocus on a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business based on instantly-shoppable collection releases.

The announcement from the 18-year-old British company might mean a big shift in strategy (presumably resulting in job losses alongside), but it’s a restructuring that makes sense. The new business model will see six collections presented a year to suit what the label calls the “buy-now-wear-now mentality” of today’s consumer. A showroom will be opened in central London in place of the store, operating as an appointment-only boutique for online shoppers.

The ready-to-wear industry today is debilitated by fast fashion retailers, but also by the ever increasing speed of our digital communications cycle. Where a six-month time lag between the reveal of the new season’s line and its arrival in stores once made sense, now it doesn’t. The social media hype of fashion week season – whether it’s a live-stream, a sneak peek on Snapchat, or a highly perfected Instagram shot – is all very well, but by the time that collection comes around, consumers have all but forgotten the excitement they once felt. Numerous businesses are trying to figure out how to address that challenge.

As highlighted by Fashionista today, Williamson isn’t the only brand to be downsizing and restrategising accordingly, nor will it likely be the last. Over the years Tibi has shifted towards an “advanced contemporary” label releasing new collections in store now about once a month; both Marc Jacobs and Kate Spade have recently announced the closure of their lower-priced contemporary lines; and Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf have stepped out of ready-to-wear altogether to refocus on couture and fragrances. Elsewhere we’ve seen the likes of Tamara Mellon also launch an eponymous line based on monthly deliveries and a similar buy-now-wear-now concept.

“Over the years, the industry and consumers have changed and we’re keen to address and respond to that. The aim is to refresh what’s there, and to create a lifestyle brand that we’re truly proud of both creatively and commercially,” said Williamson and the company’s chairman Joseph Velosa in a joint statement.

It’s a big opportunity for the company. While the closing of the store suggests it wasn’t performing, and the overall shift in strategy makes it clear the business is struggling, e-commerce sales at Williamson are reportedly up 290% year-on-year since 2014, only serving to highlight the fact this is a shopper increasingly willing to buy online. The idea that luxury products – Williamson’s colourful dresses typically retail upwards of £1,000 – don’t sell on the internet is of course now a giant myth.

Williamson also has a strong social media following for a small brand, with just shy of 100,000 followers on Instagram, followed by 43,000 on Facebook and 30,000 on Twitter. Its greatest success story has been on Pinterest, gaining a huge 963,000 followers in less than four months since launch.

Rosanna Falconer*, newly-promoted business director at the company, formerly communications director and the one responsible for the brand’s digital strategy, is heavily focused on channels that drive referrals and conversions on the website. Of the new plans, she added the company would continue to focus on bringing a “personal, offline experience” to its e-commerce customers. The showroom will be accompanied by the launch of a new website in early 2016 that will offer free shipping worldwide and same-day delivery in London.

At a time when established brands in the fashion industry are facing an ever-competitive landscape ripe with start-ups who have the ability to adapt at a far faster pace, those willing to demonstrate the fact they too are relevant by being brave enough to make such strategic decisions, might just be the ones who have the staying power.

This post first appeared on WGSN.com/blogs

*Falconer is also co-founder of the #fashmash events series associated with Fashion & Mash

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

2 replies on “Why Matthew Williamson’s new in-season e-commerce-only business plan makes sense”

[…] Matthew Williamson has already done it. Tibi found success by shifting towards monthly in-store releases a while ago. Both Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf decided to step away from ready-to-wear to focus solely on couture and fragrances. Other brands like Jonathan Saunders have announced they’re shutting down entirely, while some of the industry’s highest profile brands are losing designers in the face of the pace being just too much pressure. In short, any sort of change feels like it makes a lot of sense, and those willing to take the risk through restrategising should be applauded. […]

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