What We Can Learn From Adaptive Retailers

Article by Hannah Moodie

Amidst a rapid pace of life where we have more choice and accessibility to products than ever before, thanks to international channel distribution and Amazon Prime same-day delivery, everything seems to be within reach. Such apparent ease, however, ironically raises problems. When everything is so available, how do retailers set themselves apart?

The title of a Monday morning Drapers article earlier this year (8/10/18) perfectly encapsulates the climate of the retail industry, and how to keep up in an age of change. The magazine’s Editor, Keely Stocker, wrote ‘the only constant is change, so embrace it’, which highlights the successes of high-influence fast fashion retailers Boohoo Group and sister company PrettyLittleThing. The article delves into the danger of standing still in the retail and consumer markets, and that remaining static or changeless in our field is equivalent to moving backwards. With increased revenue growth of 50% and 132% respectively, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing’s growth is largely due to their adaptive genetics.

The Boohoo Group sets their mission distinctly apart from more traditionally-minded competitors: Boohoo’s philosophy is to take neither life nor fashion too seriously, helping customers to ‘#DOYOURTHING’. Their mission is more personal than most and aspires to make style less mysterious and more accessible and affordable to all. From their mission to their influencers, everything associated with their brands aims at promoting an aspirational while inclusive lifestyle, so that customers can both admire and relate to the brand. Boohoo, along with other leading fast-fashion brands such as ASOS, succeed because they are brands with forward-thinking concepts that are open to ceaseless change.


PrettyLittleThing founder Umar Kamani (the son of Boohoo co-founder Mahmud Kamani) has not only grown his company’s presence but also established an influential social presence of his own, regularly associating with high-profile individuals. Following criticism of the image of plus size PLT models this week, its founder turned to Twitter to defend the brand: ‘I don’t care what people think, we want to build a brand that fills every girl with confidence […] we will continue on our mission’. Umar claims that PLT’s huge success is owed to not what they do, but their reason behind doing it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of UK-based fast-fashion retailers able to offer an identical service to PLT, with very similar quality of produce at very similar prices. Umar explains, ‘we are building a lifestyle, not a shop’; PLT is a brand that continually develops with its customer. When the retailer was founded in 2012 selling just accessories, its founder claimed they grew because they did more than sell those initial 20 products. While a product is fleeting, a mission is not; they sold a lifestyle – a message that ran through everything they did, which allowed them to later diversify and expand at an unstoppable rate.

The exceptional revenue growth of leading online retailers is a result of habits encompassed by leaders of any kind: they base their business model on their ‘why’, their purpose, as opposed to what they sell. The ‘why’, as argued by leadership expert Simon Sinek in his esteemed TED Talk, is what draws in the consumer, as he argues ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. It is neither impressive nor different that Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing sell clothes, and it isn’t for lack of consumer choice that Boohoo is seeing a 50% increase in revenue year on year – it’s their ‘why’. Their promotion of a boundless and uninhibited lifestyle, no matter our individual privileges or shortcomings, is what makes these leading companies impressive and different, and, of course, leaders.


What is more, if a retailer’s business model is focused on the ‘why’, they have the freedom to change and adapt at will and with trends. If you’ve only ever thought about what you do, e.g. selling coats, then when trends shift and all consumers are interested in is jumpers, your entire business model has become superfluous. However, a brand like COLLUSION, who has based their model on breaking traditional barriers and liberating the young individual through self-expression via fashion, obtains the scope to move with the market. Launched last week on the 1st October, COLLUSION is ASOS’s new brand shaped by ‘real people’ and aims to give a voice to today’s youth. Its range is created and designed by six young artists, models, designers, and influencers, and speaks to their Generation Z peers. The foreseeing brand encompasses high ethical standards reflective of the contemporary young person’s acute moral compass; everything is made to be sustainable, vegan, and unisex.

What we can take from adaptive retailers is their fluidity, and their reason-based, rather than product-based motives. On making a difference, CEO of Whole Foods, Walter Robb, encourages ‘why’ based thinking, asking ‘[w]hy are you doing this? How are you making a difference? What is your reason for being, other than making money?’ Create a purposeful reason ‘why’ that changes with your consumer, for your consumer, and you’re ahead of the game before your competitors realise the game has changed.