Whenever we chat with our friends and clients in the world of fashion, two topics keep coming up. First, the schism between the see-now-buy-now collections and the more traditional see-now-buy-later model. Secondly the contrasting approach taken by the likes of Zara and Gap (respectively the biggest and third-biggest apparel brands in the world). Zara trickles collections into stores and online throughout each season; Gap dumps their entire lines out in big seasonal avalanches. In the techie world, they’d call that agile vs waterfall. In the world of fashion, they probably call it seduction vs exposé, and they’d probably say it in a very sexy French accent, too (well maybe in a Galician and San Franciscan accent in this particular case).

But here’s the nub: all four (overlapping) approaches fail to pay attention to a key element in fashion purchasing: die-hard brand devotees who follow those brands’ every sashaying move but, time after time, fall in love with the perfect garment not for themselves but for one or more of their friends. No matter what tactics you employ to convert attention to sales, if you’re not allowing for the fact that those sales may not actually be your audience’s but their friends’then you’re leaving money on the (cutting) table.

So, here’s a little freebie consultancy for all involved. (Okay, I say ‘freebie’, but I’m happy to take payment in the form of shoes.)

Michael Kors:

Michael Kors launches a collection that’s available to buy immediately. His fictional number one fan, Carla, watches the webcast and decides that… no, there’s nothing there for her personally, but there is something that’s perfect for her best friend, Leanne. Right now, she probably does nothing. But, with a referral programme in place, allowing her to share the collection with her friends and receive a reward whenever they shop, that all changes. And, assuming her reward takes the form of store credit, she’ll probably shop herself the moment the next collection goes on sale. That ties her in as a source of revenue today and a customer tomorrow.


Chanel stick with their traditional six-month delay between catwalk and retail rail. How do they ensure that enough hype builds in the intervening time, or that, when items finally do go on sale, everyone who quickly flicked through a magazine spread months previously actually goes out and buys? They do that by motivating and incentivising their Carlas (who follow their every tweet, Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube post) to remind the more casual fans – the Leannes – that the big day has come. And, again, that’s what referrals are all about: “remember those shoes you fell in love with during Fashion Week? I just got an email about them. You should totally get them. And, hey, here’s my link…”


Zara drip-feed their physical and virtual shelves with new products twice-weekly. That means that huge numbers of non-dedicated potential customers simply don’t get to see what’s on offer at any given time. It’s pot luck whether you’ll find something you like when you eventually do visit. But imagine if, every time one of Leanne’s friends visited, that visit touched her via an online referral, giving her another potential trigger point – that changes everything. Eventually everyone shops.


Gap go big on their seasonal launches hoping that, eventually, Carla and Leanne will both visit a store or their website and both will make a purchase. That’s all well and good, but repeat purchases are super-unlikely when you’ve already visited and seen everything you’re going to want for the next six months. A referral programme not only incentivises customers to engage with the product line again and again (“If I can get two more friends to shop this season, I’ll get a special reward. What else is there at Gap that’s perfect for one of my friends?”), rewards in the form of expiring store credit also generate footfall by jeopardy: “If I don’t redeem my voucher within the next month, my referral will be for nothing”. Again, it’s a win / win scenario.

Those are just some top-of-my-head scribbles, but you get the idea: by rewarding your devotees and existing customers to go out and get their friends shopping, you can supercharge your sales no matter where you stand on the hot topics du jour. And that never goes out of fashion.

If you are a fashion brand or retailer, I would love to chat more about this. You can get in touch with me here.

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