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How to stay ahead of trends in retail

How to stay ahead of trends in retail

By Fraser Smeaton, CEO MorphCostumes

With the rise of social media and the TikTok effect of recent years, the pressures on retailers to ‘stay ahead’ of the latest trends has never been felt more. In some ways it’s incredibly exciting; the opportunities to capitalise on the cultural zeitgeist is endless, and audiences are primed and ready to engage. On the other hand, the pressure to ‘keep up’ can be immense. 

As a founder of a costume company, we can rely on the staple favourites to always remain popular; the cowboy, the witch, the superhero. However, to remain the go-to destination for costume ideas we’ve had to find a way to stay ahead of trends in order to remain successful and inspire those coming to us for ideas. It’s what sets us apart from the rest of the market.

Like many retailers, as a business that works predominantly through Amazon, understanding the latest tactics for what works on that platform is key. We always have to make sure that we are visible and being seen by the right audiences. This means investing in people who can be continually analysing data and understanding it. 

Our data team spends time ensuring they are always aware of how the platform works, any algorithm changes and how performance marketing can be maximised. They invest hours looking at what other brands are doing in our category and seeing what works and what we can learn. Can this be applied to our business and will it help us? It sounds obvious, but with the speed of change across the digital world, and across ecommerce, it’s time well spent because you can learn a lot by simply spending time looking. 

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Similarly, the nature of the fancy dress world means that the possibilities and ideas are endless. So staying ahead of what people are engaging with online can give us a huge amount of inspiration. There is an enormous quantity of free content available – whether TikTok, articles and newsletters, podcasts and YouTube videos – and knowing that Stranger Things, Wonka or Harry Styles is becoming the biggest topic of the moment can mean increased sales and revenue in a matter of days. 

We also invest a lot of time using our engaged fans and audience across platforms, such as Facebook, asking questions about what people want to see, what they are watching, what they are reading, what they are liking and so on. This is free to do, using online portals as ongoing focus groups. The more you give and contribute, the more you will get back in terms of shared knowledge and essential feedback.

The more you do this and invest the time, the easier it becomes to start to identify what is a trend and what is a passing fad. Often we begin to see the same ideas and themes be repeated in different places – a friend mentioning something, a line in a podcast, a shared social media video. This is the light bulb moment when we may have spotted the beginnings of something new and our teams can start jumping on ideas we deem worth exploring. 

We then can have fun testing ideas and using the data to understand if something is working. In costumes, we’re lucky in that we can always rely on the staples to remain popular but understanding how to jump on trends and ideas has added a whole new dimension to the business and keeps us at the cusp of culture. When something doesn’t work or take off in the way we might have thought, we always have learnings that benefit us regardless. 

The key is to switch a mindset of feeling daunted to one of discovery. The rate at which trends and marketing is changing can feel scary but the key is knowing you don’t have to understand everything – it’s impossible to. But putting steps in place to help you feel more confident in engaging with new and different audiences can only put you in a stronger position to understanding consumers and the world around them. Investing in this consistent learning will soon have a direct impact on both how you run the business and how successful it can be. 

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