“ One is never over-dressed or under-dressed with a Little Black Dress. “
- Karl Lagerfeld
Once the clothes have been designed and manufactured, they need to be sold. But how are clothes to get from the manufacturer to the customer? The business of buying clothes from manufacturers and selling them to customers is known as retail. Retailers make initial purchases for resale three to six months before the customer is able to buy the clothes in-store.
Fashion marketing is the process of managing the flow of merchandise from the initial selection of designs to be produced to the presentation of products to retail customers, with the goal of maximizing a company’s sales and profitability. Successful fashion marketing depends on understanding consumer desire and responding with appropriate products. Marketers use sales tracking data, attention to media coverage, focus groups, and other means of ascertaining consumer preferences to provide feedback to designers and manufacturers about the type and quantity of goods to be produced. Marketers are thus responsible for identifying and defining a fashion producer’s target customers and for responding to the preferences of those customers.
Marketing operates at both the wholesale and retail levels. Companies that do not sell their own products at retail must place those products at wholesale prices in the hands of retailers, such as boutiques, department stores, and online sales companies. They use fashion shows, catalogs, and a sales force armed with sample products to find a close fit between the manufacturer’s products and the retailer’s customers. Marketers for companies that do sell their own products at retail are primarily concerned with matching products to their own customer base. At both the wholesale and the retail level, marketing also involves promotional activities such as print and other media advertising aimed at establishing brand recognition and brand reputation for diverse characteristics such as quality, low price, or trendiness.
Closely related to marketing is merchandising, which attempts to maximize sales and profitability by inducing consumers to buy a company’s products. In the standard definition of the term, merchandising involves selling the right product, at the right price, at the right time and place, to the right customers. Fashion merchandisers must thus utilize marketers’ information about customer preferences as the basis for decisions about such things as stocking appropriate merchandise in adequate but not excessive quantities, offering items for sale at attractive but still profitable prices, and discounting overstocked goods. Merchandising also involves presenting goods attractively and accessibly through the use of store windows, in-store displays, and special promotional events. Merchandising specialists must be able to respond to surges in demand by rapidly acquiring new stocks of the favoured product. An inventory-tracking computer program in a department store in London, for example, can trigger an automatic order to a production facility in Shanghai for a certain quantity of garments of a specified type and size to be delivered in a matter of days.
By the early 21st century the Internet had become an increasingly important retail outlet, creating new challenges (e.g., the inability for customers to try on clothes prior to purchase, the need for facilities designed to handle clothing returns and exchanges) and opening up new opportunities for merchandisers (e.g., the ability to provide customers with shopping opportunities 24 hours per day, affording access to rural customers). In an era of increasingly diverse shopping options for retail customers and of intense price competition among retailers, merchandising has emerged as one of the cornerstones of the modern fashion industry.