Pivoting to meet customer needs in the new retail reality.
How Lafayette 148 New York quickly shifted its business model from wholesale to direct-to-consumer during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the help of Adobe Commerce.
Quickly pivot to address rapidly changing customer needs during the COVID-19 pandemic
Focus on a direct-to-consumer selling model when in-person shopping was not an option
Worked with its team to design, manufacture and distribute thousands of medical gowns to needy hospitals in New York City
Rapidly shifted the business model from wholesale to retail
Utilized customer data to offer clients
“What COVID-19 proved to us is that we could move fast, and we could really leverage technology to drive real sustainable change in our business.”
Business Information and Technology Advisor, Lafayette 148
The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant disruptions to the retail industry, including the unprecedented closure of non-essential businesses, a major economic slowdown and critical procedures to keep employees and customers safe. The crisis forced retailers to move quickly to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers — many of whom spent more time shopping online to avoid going into stores.
Lafayette 148 — the New York-based women’s fashion brand known for its outstanding craftsmanship and modern sensibility — was among those retailers that pivoted quickly. For example, when COVID-19 hit, Lafayette 148 knew it had to quickly ramp up some of the plans it had in the works to continue to support its business.
In March 2020, when health authorities officially declared that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic, Lafayette 148 took immediate steps to help their community. The fashion house’s designers and production studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard worked together to design, manufacture, and distribute thousands of medical gowns to needy hospitals in New York City.
With many of its customers stuck at home during lockdowns, Lafayette 148 shifted its focus to direct-to-consumer, servicing clients who craved a more curated shopping experience with private consultations from their homes. Remarkably, the fashion house also opened several new brick-and-mortar stores to be better positioned to serve customers as restrictions eased.
Both strategies enabled Lafayette 148 to avoid relying heavily on distributing its clothing through wholesalers and luxury retailers. Yet wholesale is still an important part of Lafayette 148’s business, and the pandemic helped refocus how the brand works with its wholesale partners. Their creative teams used 3D design technology to conceptualize their ideas while working remotely, making patterns from their desktops. Lafayette 148 also created a virtual showroom that enabled wholesale and retail partners the ability to view the collections while avoiding unnecessary travel.
“What COVID-19 did was accelerate the pace of change,” said Carol Schuster, business information and technology advisor at Lafayette 148. “While Lafayette 148 was already on the trajectory to build a direct-to-consumer brand, COVID pushed us to execute faster and meet those goals. It thrust us forward at a more rapid pace than we intended.”
Creating a new direct sales channel
In the wake of the pandemic, Lafayette 148 needed to put some long-term plans into action — and develop additional revenue streams. In June of 2020 they quickly announced plans to launch a new division of the business called AtelierDirect. The company enlisted a group of select stylists and brand ambassadors in key markets around the country to offer a new, private selling and styling service to clients craving a more curated, intimate shopping experience.
AtelierDirect was built with the help of Adobe Commerce, which enabled Lafayette 148 to create a portal — or “shadow website” — where its AtelierDirect stylists could conduct direct sales in real time at the customer’s home or office.
“What was really exciting is that we were able to leverage the solution to turn AtelierDirect into a reality within just a matter of weeks,” said Schuster. “And it’s just been incredible. It has made up the difference in term of losses when the retail stores were closed at the height of the pandemic.”
AtelierDirect’s stylists work with clients one-on-one, pulling a selection of items based on their size, lifestyle, and preferences, all of which are gleaned from customer data the company has accumulated over the years. Stylists can look up the purchase histories of customers to offer personalized suggestions, such as how to pair new pieces of clothing with their existing wardrobe.
AtelierDirect clients can make an appointment for the stylist to visit them at home or in the office. They can also visit the Lafayette 148 AD SoHo Studio in New York City. The service lets Lafayette 148 customers shop for clothing in the environment most comfortable for them. Currently, the company offers the service in 25 markets, and plans to expand in 2021.
Besides helping build AtelierDirect, Adobe Commerce was also a key part of Lafayette 148’s digital strategy for its main brand site. Lafayette worked with Adobe Commerce to improve their existing e-commerce experience during COVID-19, such as adding new contactless installment payment options so that customers could seamlessly purchase clothing online.
Why Adobe Commerce? Lafayette 148 had been working with Magento Commerce 1 since 2012 and expanded to Adobe Commerce hosted in the cloud when the time came to re-design the brand’s e-commerce site. “We went through an entire site redesign and having the Adobe team at the table, interfacing with our technology team, our development partners and an external design team was incredibly valuable,” Schuster said.
“We need technical experts and product experts to help us guide and execute our vision flawlessly, and I think that is what the Adobe team has been able to do for us,” said Paul Lechlinski, Vice President of e-commerce & retail boutiques at Lafayette 148.
Another key reason Lafayette 148 New York has stayed with Adobe Commerce for so long is because of the excellent customer service it receives from Adobe’s customer success team. “To me, business is personal,” Schuster said. “When you have partners like the whole customer success team at Adobe, you really start to feel like a family that is building something together.”
Simply put, the move to Adobe Commerce has been an incredible journey for Lafayette 148 and has delivered in numerous ways, Schuster explained. For example, “our creative teams here use a number of Adobe tools day in and day out — and within Adobe Commerce, we are using the content management system, and that has served us really well.”
“The winners going into 2021 and the years to come are the ones that really seized the moment and turned a crisis into an opportunity.”
Business Information and Technology Advisor, Lafayette 148
How COVID-19 has changed Lafayette 148
Now that 2020 is in the rearview, will some of the changes Lafayette 148 made during the pandemic continue to be used going forward? According to Schuster, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” The design team will continue to use Adobe’s 3D design technology that was implemented on its computers when they shifted to working from home during the pandemic. “We’re moving full steam ahead,” Schuster said. “The way we sell in our business-to business world will be forever changed. We were able to build a virtual showroom so all future collections can also be shown digitally.”
By moving to 3D patternmaking and virtual experiences, Lafayette 148 New York has been able to run its business more efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. The company has been able to save money, time and resources by not having to travel or have designers in the office full time. Looking ahead, direct-to-consumer will be the new normal for the company as well.
“Direct-to-consumer for Lafayette 148 is quite honestly the future of the business and the brand,” Lechlinksi said.
Lechlinski said the company also plans to open more boutiques — in addition to the ones it opened during the pandemic — which will help Lafayette 148 “double its business over the next three to five years.” The stores are important, Lechlinski said, because they do the best job of leveraging the relationship with Lafayette 148’s clients.
As for what is next for Lafayette 148, Schuster said the company is planning to continue to focus on three strategic imperatives: building its luxury brand; continuing to grow the direct-to-consumer business, e-commerce and omnichannel initiatives; and increasing its operational efficiency. Throughout 2020, Lafayette 148 learned that despite the hardships it and other retailers had to face because of the pandemic, it could successfully implement change, pivot and even drive business, thanks in part to technology and the partnership with Adobe.
“What COVID-19 proved to us is that we could move fast, and we could really leverage technology to drive real sustainable change in our business,” said Schuster. “The winners going into 2021 and the years to come are the ones that really seized the moment and turned a crisis into an opportunity.”