In December 2020, a Scottish mailman named Nathan Evans uploaded a video to TikTok singing a 19th Century sea shanty called “Wellerman.” Within days, his rendition of a more-than-200-year-old song was shared worldwide, leading to countless online collaborations, features on late-night shows, and finally a three-album record contract.
I’m a father of two daughters who do a good job of updating me on online sensations, but even I was taken aback by the speed and scope of “ShantyTok,” as the trend was dubbed. The rate at which these trends are emerging, exploding and being monetized is accelerating dramatically. For retailers, this change in pace of play requires an unprecedented emphasis on speed and agility.
The increasing speed of retail trends is directly related to the media on which they’re emerging. While previous fads evolved out of longer viral videos, today’s TikTok videos and Instagram reels are comparatively bite-sized. When content creators are challenged to hold their audience’s attention over a span of 15 seconds to 30 seconds, they’re forced to introduce new material on a weekly or even daily basis. Consider these two features on TikTok fashion from Seventeen and People: published less than three months apart, there’s only one item in common between the two lists.
If you’re an online retailer, how do you stay afloat in this rapidly changing environment? Or better yet, find a way to profit off of it?
1. Keep your finger on the pulse of emerging must-have products.
Many retail executives would prefer not to spend their time refreshing Instagram feeds. However, some degree of investment in observation and tracking is required to ensure that potential opportunities aren’t missed on social media. Whether it’s tasking certain team members with staying up-to-date on the newest TikTok sensations or setting keyword alerts to have new trend stories sent to your inbox, there’s no excuse for missing a golden opportunity.
The closer retailers get to the source of the trend, the better their chances of sourcing and distributing a product that meets the moment. Starting too late can have painful and costly consequences: you don’t want to be left with boxes of fidget spinners once the market has moved on to something new.
2. Extend your resources.
No company has the financial, product and human resources to capitalize on every trend. Rather than spread a company’s assets too thin, the enterprise marketplace model enables retailers to extend their resources through a network of third-party sellers. Using a marketplace, retailers can onboard like-minded sellers and increase their product assortments without additional spending on manufacturing or supply chain.
Once an enterprise marketplace has reached a critical mass, it’s far more likely that a retailer will already have the perfect product in stock to take advantage of a new trend. These marketplaces can also pay huge dividends when demand explodes for existing products — think baking supplies in March 2020 — as the entire network can rely on well-supplied nodes to carry the load if others run out of stock.
3. Don’t waste time overthinking — shift the risk, but not the benefit.
The focus group is the enemy of fast-paced retail sales. While it may be challenging for legacy retailers to move on from the market research that informed past campaigns, today’s e-commerce environment simply moves too quickly for overthinking. Agility is a virtue, and retailers could learn from the strategies of streetwear brands that made limited releases the core of their businesses. Using this model, brands can develop and release new products quickly without worrying about having extra inventory leftover long term. Taking a similar small-scale approach to trends will enable brands to profit from a new product line without the risk of full commitment.
For those retailers marketing the newest styles and emerging trends, keeping pace with tastemakers has always been high-risk, high-reward. As attention spans and news cycles continue to shrink, this challenge will only become more pronounced. The only hope for most retailers is to leverage the technologies and strategies that will give them a head start in the race to market, time and time again.
Adrien Nussenbaum is the U.S. CEO and co-founder of Mirakl, an online marketplace platform and drop-ship solution.
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