After a pandemic pivot to e-commerce, many brands are back to working with third-party retailers, this time, with better terms.
The wholesale model, while offering exposure and some upfront revenue, did not always have the best terms for vendors. Department store bankruptcies, pandemic-induced store closures and the boom in online shopping pushed brands further towards their direct-to-consumer and e-commerce businesses to drive revenue.
But that’s beginning to change. As shoppers return to stores, brands are seeing value in ramping up their partnerships with multi-brand retailers — this time on better terms. “What I'm hearing across the board from both brands and retailers is that this vendor-retailer relationship is more collaborative than ever,” said BoF retail correspondent Cathaleen Chen.
There are multiple factors pushing brands back to wholesale. Among them, the growth of e-commerce, which has slowed after spiking in 2020, and the growing consumer appetite for curated, in-person shopping experiences that allow them to stumble upon new designers. “That discovery is still so important, and now [shoppers are] relying on a cool third-party retailer to sort of facilitate that discovery,” said Chen. “Wholesale is very American,” noted Chen, making it an attractive vehicle for international labels looking to enter the lucrative US market. Brands are having more of a say over how their products are marketed through retailers, like sharing campaign assets or designing shop-in-shop setups. Both parties are also increasingly open to exploring other models like concession, consignment — more typical to European department stores — and drop-shipping, where the brands themselves are responsible for fulfilling orders made through retailer’s websites. Brands are returning to wholesale, but not at the expense of their direct-to-consumer and retail offerings. “I think we're at a point where everybody has a more well-rounded business so that if things do go bad again in whichever channel, they can be agile and adapt very quickly,” said Chen.
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