After Making a Big Splash, Why See-Now, Buy-Now Collections May Be Drowning

Burberry fall '16
Burberry RTW fall '16 runway collection.
Giovanni Giannoni/Fairchild.

The see-now, buy-now movement may be receiving significant attention in the fashion industry, but the jury is still out on its sticking power.

A new joint report from the consumer research arm of Thomson Reuters and StyleSage Co. suggests that brands that have adopted the model are struggling to reap its rewards in the e-commerce realm.

The report analyzed the success of the see-now, buy-now fall/winter ’16 collections for early adopters Burberry, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. It largely determined that when it comes to online sales, “very little” of brands’ see-now, buy-now merchandise sold out immediately — and when it did eventually sell out, it wasn’t until after sites had heavily discounted the merchandise.

For example, the report noted that a small fraction of Tom Ford’s fall/winter ’16 collection — which was carried on Net-a-porter, My Theresa and Mr. Porter — sold at full price, meaning retailers relied largely on discounts to move the product. Specifically, 36 of Tom Ford’s fall/winter fashion items launched on My Theresa, and only 11 sold out, of which three were sold at full price. His fashion collection was more popular on Net-a-porter, where 23 items sold out, but just two of those at full price, and only one at Mr. Porter.

Maintaining an image of exclusivity and prestige while also ensuring that the brand is accessible enough to bring in a decent profit is the bane of many a luxury label’s existence. And the report suggests that trying to meet consumer thirst for immediate gratification is further complicating the problem.

Essentially, brands are cranking out see-now, buy-now merchandise in hopes of quenching consumer thirst for immediacy but are being forced to offer steep discounts to move the product, which may tarnish brand image.

Case in point: Researchers said that they observed “high inventory” levels for see-now, buy-now collections, which “suggest that the fashion merchandise is not moving out of the stores.” Meanwhile, high price points for such collections continue to “make them inaccessible to the average shopper,” a likely cause of the eventual promotions.

Reuters estimates that Burberry — which ended the first half of the previous fiscal year with inventory levels up 10 percent — will see its inventory levels rise 7.6 percent year-over-year following its spring/summer 2017 fashion show.

Ralph Lauren, according to the report, is also seeing waning interest in its see-now, buy-now collections.

“Last year, 70 fashion items launched on the Ralph Lauren site, of which 11 sold out at full price,” the report stated. “This spring, the number dropped considerably when 77 items were launched but only one item sold out at full price.”