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illustration of fashion items to showcase consumer insights for fashion

Consumer Insights for Fashion: How Top Brands Keep up With Consumer Trends

Lance Concannon

Mar 29, 2024

Consumer trends affect all industries, but perhaps none more so than fashion. Public sentiment drives purchasing decisions, and fashion brands need to know what consumers want before releasing their next range.

Easier said than done.

But while some brands get lucky with one or two particularly appealing designs, the top brands use data to anticipate and react to trends. This is part-science, part-artform. And to succeed in this hyper-competitive market, consumer insights need to be a central part of the business model.

So we’re going to look at a few examples of brands doing this well. More importantly, we’re going to see how other brands can adopt this approach to gives themselves the same advantage as their peers.

Let’s dive in!

The importance of consumer insights for fashion brands

Here’s an extraordinary statistic: In the last ten yearsall of the profit in the fashion industry has come from only 20% of those companies. Most brands barely break even or actually lose money.

Fashion is a winner-takes-all industry diagram

Image Souce: McKinsey

Research company McKinsey says this is now a “winners-take-all business.” You’re in direct competition with other fashion houses, and there’s only so much profit to go around.

You literally can’t afford to lose customers.

In that same report above, McKinsey looked for key drivers in the fashion industry. What separates that successful 20% from the brands that struggle?

From their findings, two things:

  • Top brands rely heavily on data analytics, especially early in the creative process.
  • Industry leaders are quick to react, and release new products within eight weeks. This is vital if you want to react to consumer insights and trends.

That’s why global brands are heavily investing in market research and other sources of consumer insights; in order to succeed as a global fashion mark, you need access to good, timely consumer data. You also need to be able to put this data to use quickly, before a trend dies out.

We’re going to look below at how to get this data online. Since consumers spend so much time on social media and the Internet, these have become essential sources for insights.

But first, a quick refresher by taking a look at the consumer insights basics.

Understanding fashion consumer choice

This is a mixed blessing for businesses. On the one hand, buyers are actively looking for new brands to wear. They no longer simply walk into a store and ask a shop assistant for help. They research, read reviews, and look for the perfect items to match their personality.

Having smart shoppers can clearly be a good thing. If you know people are looking for certain things, you have a good chance of reaching them in their search.

But at the same time, brand loyalty is now less of a guarantee than ever. In fact, Amazon is seeing huge retail success on the back of private labels. Many consumers don’t even care that their purchases are branded at all. As long as something looks the way they want, they’re happy.

And buyers’ options feel endless. They can have goods shipped from virtually anywhere, whenever they want them. The fashion world is at their fingertips.

So for brands, the only real solution is to take two steps:

  1. Identify what consumers are looking for; and
  2. Figure out how to offer products that suit them now.

You need to adapt products to suit current trends. You also need to change to match the way that people buy - better in-store experiences, simple online shopping, and reaching buyers through social media as they’re considering a purchase.

Your ability to find consumer insights will be vital. But more on this shortly.

First, let’s look at an example of the way that shopping habits are changing.

Case study: Zara and fast fashion

We saw above that quick reaction times are essential. Traditionally, fashion houses would try to project the coming trends. They would have a go-to-market lead time of up to one year, without much room to make changes before that.

This just isn’t viable anymore.

“Fast fashion” has brought about a new mindset. The philosophy is that clothing needs to be produced quickly (and often cheaply), and that consumers should be quick to move onto the next item. Clothes aren’t meant to last seasons.

Tip: Download our free report "Unleashing Consumer Insights in Retail".

The best example of this is Zara:

Zara store

Image Source: Wikimedia

The brand has seen enormous success thanks to three key ingredients:

  1. Short lead times. This keeps its range up-to-date with current trends.
  2. Limited supply. Zara sells less of each item, but there is always a new item waiting to be released.
  3. More styles available. Rather than selling more of each individual style, it brings out new ranges constantly. As in, more than twice a week!

The result is a clothing range that’s adaptable, always fresh, and lets buyers have “unique” looks despite being a mass-market retailer.

The chain relies on feedback from all stores: "Store managers communicate customer feedback on what shoppers like, what they dislike, and what they’re looking for. That demand forecasting data is instantly funneled back to Zara’s designers, who begin sketching on the spot."

This data tells it which items are the most popular on a daily basis. This gives tangible insights to help it plan the next release, based on what’s favored right now.

It couples these in-store insights with a highly active social media presence. Consumers are quick to comment and share their favorite new styles, and Zara can use these reactions to keep delivering successful products.

Zara’s sales have increased 12% per year for the past 15 years. And in an industry where brick and mortars are struggling, this is even more impressive.

And this isn't unique to Zara, most fashion brands understand the need to improve their speed to market efficiencies, and the importance of incorporating consumer insights in their decision-making:

Diagram company commitment to improving speed to market and supply-chain efficiencies in fashion

Image Source: McKinsey

Customer segments or “tribes” in fashion

Customer segmentation has always been a part of running a fashion brand. In many cases, the segments are obvious: we have different sizes and styles for men, women, and youth; certain retailers appeal to older generations or specifically to teens.

This is nothing new.

What has changed is the ability - the necessity, even - to identify specific “tribes” within these segments. Just as you don’t often create one-size-fits-all clothing for women, you can’t appeal with a one-size-suits-all brand image.

Fashion houses need to focus more than ever on tailoring (pun intended).

To help them identify trends and figure out their messaging, brands rely again on social media insights. This lets them see what specific customer segments talk about, care about, and want to see more of on social media.

Top brands couple this with in-store and online sales data, and let their talented designers create clothing that specific buyers love.

Case study: the “dad shoes” movement

One such trend is the growing popularity of “dad shoes”. These chunky, retro-styled shoes have become a must-have fashion choice all over the world, and one of the fastest-growing items in the luxury market.

Arguably much of this growth has been led by social media, where mentions of dad shoes (and similar phrases) have shot up in recent years:

Dad shoes are increasingly popular on the web statistics

But they’re not for everyone. While sales are through the roof, plenty of shoppers are turned off by the bright colors and larger-than-life appearance.

Unlike other recent successes like Adidas’ Stan Smith or the Nike Free, dad shoes aren’t supposed to appeal to the masses. They’re too expensive, and too garish.

So who are they for?

chunky sneakers mainly appeal to male users and 18-24 year-olds statistics

Onlines mentions of the trend come overwhelmingly from males aged 18-24. While these aren’t the only buyers, this is an ideal segment for streetwear brands to target. They know who they’re talking to, and can easily monitor these conversations to find out what buyers love about the shoes, and what would make them buy more.

We’ve just seen a couple of good examples of how valuable consumer insights can boost sales. The question remaining is, how can brands easily get these insights for themselves?

Tip: Download the Fashion Industry's New Era Report for free.

Monitor certain social media topics

There’s no media as up-to-date as social. Shoppers share their latest purchases and deepest desires in real time with anyone willing to listen. In this case, that needs to be you.

Unlike traditional focus groups and surveys, social media gives instant buyer feedback on virtually any topic you can imagine. You’ll find not only comments on your latest products, but also common themes among your top target segments.

For example, a quick glimpse at Twitter conversations about the topic “leather jacket” provides a wealth of information:

Fashion trends statistics

Brands can quickly see who’s discussing this item most, their age and gender, and other key topics associated with the term.

Identify key market segments

You could also limit this search to only include women, for example, or Millennials, and see whether a leather jacket might appeal or offend this segment.

Likewise, you could monitor this segment for general terms like “fashion” or “clothing,” and look for the topics that keep coming up. For instance, among women Twitter users between 35-44, here’s what we find:

Fashion trends statistics consumer insights

It may surprise retailers to learn that J.Crew and Michael Kors are talked about more on social media than Ivy Park or Zara. They can then dive into conversations about those specific brands try to identify the characteristics that make them more popular.

You can also find out what’s the most common occupations of your target segment, what’s their favorite online platforms, and other behavioral and demographic information that will help you better target them.

Measure against and learn from competitors

In fact, a close look at other industry brands can tell you a lot about your own. If you know what their customers say about them on social media, you can quickly figure out the best aspects of their product and marketing strategies.

You can also identify key segments that you might be missing out on. For example, if you discover that a competitor sees a lot of social media chatter in eastern Europe or Asia, you may consider increasing your efforts in these markets.

Another simple strategy is to look for spikes in conversations about your competitors:

Meltwater Radarly screenshot

Source: Radarly

  • What caused this sudden jump in mentions?
  • Were they positive or negative?
  • And if they were positive, can you replicate their strategy for your own brand?

All of these conversations are out there in the open. You can easily learn exactly what motivates your competitors’ customers, which of their products they love the most, and which markets they’re having the most success in.

Social media is rich with consumer insights for fashion brands

Social platforms are nothing new for top fashion labels. You already know how powerful social media influencers is for brands, and how effective social is to spread your marketing message.

Tip: See our lists of the top global fashion influencers and the top South African fashion influencers

That helps you speak out and get noticed. But have you noticed the wealth of data and insights available to you through social media?

Social data can tell you:

  • What the latest fashion trends are, and soon will be
  • Who cares most about fashion, and what they want to see
  • Where the best markets are for your brand
  • When you can reach them most easily
  • Why they choose other brands over your own

All you need to do is pay attention.

Tip: Learn more about Meltwater for Fashion Brands.

Consumer insights tools like Meltwater Radarly can help you mine the billions of social media conversations and find consumer insights that will actually help. Simply fill out the following form to get a free demo: