2021 Industry Trends in Decorated Apparel
"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." Alexander Graham Bell
Find out what surviving decorators did right, and how trends established by COVID will affect you in 2021.
This year’s pandemic has had the greatest impact in history on the decorated apparel industry and will continue to have a significant influence in 2021. So, when talking about trends for the coming year, we have to look at how things have changed—some temporarily and others permanently.
One lasting effect has been a warp-speed shift from analog to digital. With regard to the growth of ecommerce, what I estimate “might” have happened in 5 years just took place in the past 10 months. Even the older generation, who resisted buying online in the past, has had their hand forced.
Depending on your location and ever-changing restrictions, stores have been closed except for online and curbside pickup. And perhaps most importantly, older citizens in the high-risk COVID category, stayed at home. What all this means is while I don’t see digital taking over analog, it’s definitely going to continue to trend in the e-commerce direction.
According to a report published by Digital Commerce 360, a media and research organization that delivers objective news and competitive data across e-retailing, B2B ecommerce, and digital healthcare industries:
“In the first six months of the year, consumers spent $347.26 billion online with U.S. retailers, up 30.1% from $266.84 billion for the same period in 2019, according to the latest analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data. Comparatively, ecommerce sales during the first half of 2019 grew just 12.7% year over year.” *
So now, more than ever before, recognizing the e-commerce rise is critical. From my perspective, it's an interesting place to be in right now, because it's a blue ocean space. You don't have a lot of rules, which makes it a good a time for testing new ideas for all kinds of businesses, large and small.
You get to be experimental and discover new best practices and how to reach your customer base through this whole new engagement platform, because people are missing real-life experiences. Virtual experience enhancement is going to be a real draw.
Equally as important is using social media platforms to target your marketing and drive your product through unique, virtual exposure. This is the key to making the next evolution of business happen. Then, you must find the right equipment and embellishment techniques that meet the expectations of your customer’s virtual experience.
Hand in hand with creating the ultimate virtual experience is responding quickly, customization and diversifying your products and services. I have a good example.
When you used to go to the mall in December, you would see holiday- themed shopping. As you walked through the stores and came up to the cash registers, you’d see point-of-purchase displays based on a target demographic with winter- and holiday-related graphics.
And so on throughout the year. Each season or holiday, the displays change to reflect the various themes.
In the virtual space, you can do the same thing, but be even more specific. For example, there are a lot of e-commerce sites with T-shirt and hoodie pages. The next evolution is a Christmas home page along with a targeted ad displaying holiday offerings.
Decorators are promoting merchandise that is limited special edition. This gives a company the opportunity to constantly offer fresh merchandise that keeps customers revisiting and having a new experience.
This is possible because with today’s on-demand decorating techniques, businesses no longer have to create a huge inventory. They simply make products as they are sold.
The secret to success in this new arena is having a full range of capabilities so you can meet all of the market’s demands. The definition of “full range of capabilities” depends on your customer base, but in general, I define it as being able to do long runs using an automatic press as well as one-of-a- kind pieces through digital.
If you have bottlenecks no matter what the order size is, your business will suffer. I believe the decorators who are suffering most during COVID are the ones who are less diversified and less flexible. Their business relied on events, which are not happening.
It’s unfortunate, but those who were not able to pivot quickly into a different space have not done well.
I am seeing large brand businesses diving into diversity. There has been a real shift this past year, especially with regard to hybrid printing (which combines a screen printed base with a digital printer used to put the color on top).
Shop owners were asking “How do I meet my customers’ demands with hybrid?” Now they are saying, “I need to get into a digital print space in a big way.” They are recognizing the ease of a hybrid print space where they can get repeatability and high-quality resolution results on a wide range of fabrics using special effects.
They want to be in the e-commerce space and carry less inventory. They also want to re-introduce customization, make product on demand, and get competitive in the marketplace.
It’s easier for smaller shops to offer greater customization and onesie orders, and that’s my advice to them. Learn how to create an efficient work flow and best practices to become a one-stop fulfillment center. Be like a retail storefront because right now, there are fewer stores offering one-on-one customer service.
Maybe you have experience dealing with large-volume orders, but you don't have that full experience of giving a customer a finished product. It's about paying attention to how that order flows through your shop. What is the buyer’s experience like when you are the last point of contact?
How easily was it to get the product delivered or in the hands of the customer? How was it packaged? How were they treated throughout the entire buying process? All of these concerns are part of an e-commerce experience. So it’s critical for decorators to evaluate how the customer service end of the workflow fits into the digital decorating process.
Decorated apparel shops are getting new customers, including those in an age range that previously said “I don’t buy off the internet.” And with COVID, even Amazon has had slowdowns and delays in their deliveries, so expectations are being reset. One positive of the pandemic is that it is equalizing the playing field. Businesses have to take advantage of the opportunity while the window is open.
Instead, the playground has expanded, and printers have an opportunity to really grow their businesses, shine and be in e-commerce space equally. And that's what I am seeing. A lot of people are really busy.
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