Liz Claiborne CEO Bill McComb Predicts 2011 Retail Trends


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Liz Claiborne Inc. CEO Bill McComb has joined us in the past to discuss his company’s evolution in the modern marketplace. Here, he answers our questions about e-commerce, mobile shopping, and the economic forecast for retail in 2011.

The High Low: What do you see becoming the biggest retail trends in 2011?

Bill McComb: The shift to e-commerce will continue to dominate consumer trends in 2011 all over the world. Brands are presenting themselves better than ever online, with improved customer service, expanded assortments, and better inventory management.

THL: What will consumers want next year? And will they open their wallets?

McComb: In the U.S., consumers will continue to be value-driven. That doesn’t mean just price-oriented — it means being choosy about what they buy, it means being careful about how much they spend overall, and it means looking for the best deal on that coveted, special piece. As we saw in 2010, [shoppers] will open their wallets when presented with something compelling, but we can probably expect an up-and-down pattern in demand throughout the year.

THL: Cotton prices soared this year — does that mean higher clothing prices in 2011?

McComb: I think it means some items, from some brands, at some retailers, will be priced higher. Items that sell today at very competitive prices with thin margins for the vendor are most likely to see increases.

A more systemic issue that the industry will face is the equalization of supply and demand — for the first time in over twenty years. There are fewer factories overseas; there is a migration of vendor ownership from China to less accommodating countries; and factory owners are simply unwilling to continue to bear the risk of increased commodity prices, like cotton. The industry will need to work more strategically with the vendor community. Scale will matter more than ever. Better management of the fabric procurement in conjunction with the vendors will be important. The era of deflation in the apparel and accessories business is over.

THL: What do you see ahead for e-commerce?

McComb: E-commerce will become more central to how brands market, how they stimulate brick and mortar traffic in their own stores, and where consumers actually transact purchases.

THL: Do you expect to see more mobile shoppers?

McComb: Definitely. The penetration of mobile devices that work easily and have the right interface for commerce is rising dramatically. Mobile devices will help shoppers compare and find lower prices, including by bar code scanning. They will tap into social networking, affiliate buying systems, and make shopping more viral. And they will become more important as companies determine how and where we spend money marketing our brands.

THL: As mobile browsers continue to become more sophisticated, do you think the mobile web will replace mobile apps for shopping?

McComb: I don’t think the mobile web will replace apps — I think it will supplement them. The two will do different things — but each will result in a broad integration of technology with the hunting, buying, and gifting process, ultimately to the benefit of the consumer and brands.

THL: What makes a consumer more willing to make a mobile purchase? Time sensitivity? Functionality? Targeted recommendations?

McComb: All of the things that make a consumer an early adopter of anything — they like the total experience, and have a mindset that appreciates the interface and its speed, accessibility, and format. In addition, these [early adopters] are likely to be some of the best buyers for a given brand — they are information seekers and decision-makers; they are more committed, decisive, and action-oriented in general as shoppers; and they are brand loyal.

THL: Any great predictions for 2011?

McComb: I think 2011 will be another year of global recovery. There will be unpleasant surprises in the financial systems, but corporate profits across most industries will improve, companies will feel more settled with their visibility to three year forecasts, and capital spending will begin to increase. The housing markets are not likely to stabilize until 2012, so the consumer will likely still be cautious and tentative. But compared to the economic devastation of 2008 and 2009, and the political constipation of the past two years in the U.S., I believe 2011 will bring a year of meaningful recovery around the world, and another year of tremendous growth in Asia.

Disclosure: This is sponsored content. Liz Claiborne Inc. is the financial sponsor of this site.