Retailers unite! Why brands are joining forces

We’re only two months into the year and already KFC has announced three collabs – the kooky fashion one (Crocs), the unexpected cross-category one (Moonpig) and the jaw-dropping competitor one (read more on that below).

These three KFC projects perfectly sum up the evolution of the retail collab. It all started with fashion brands wanting to reach new audiences and create hype; then they wanted to explore new categories; and today we’re finally seeing competitors collaborating. 

From big brands shacking up on the high street, to online retailers sharing their loyal customer bases, 2020 is shaping up to be the year of retail collaboration. Let’s take a look at the four trends we’ll be seeing a lot more of. 

Fast food fashion

Fashion and food collabs are ‘so hot right now’. They’re a way for fashion brands to tap into pop culture; for food brands to capitalise on their loyal fan bases; and for both parties to make noise on social media. See: Forever 21 x Cheetos, Fila x Chupa Chup and Alexander Wang x McDonald’s.

Now that the fashion/food model is a proven success, food brands are starting to collaborate with each other too. Last year, Doritos and Taco Bel brought their (deep breath) Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos to the UK, and this month Pizza Hut and KFC launched the Popcorn Chicken Pizza, which sold out within hours.

Diversifying together

It’s not just fast food giants getting in on the collab action: we’ve had the Nike Apple Watch; a keepsake Evian bottle designed by Virgil Abloh; kitchen appliances from Dolce & Gabbana and Smeg; and a Puma x Maybelline make-up collection.

What do they all have in common? They’re all examples of brands bringing in the experts to help them branch out into a new category.

For any brand looking to diversify, bringing in an established specialist is the best way to reassure customers that the product is going to be good. When you’re a luxury Italian house launching a kettle for example, you need to reassure customers that it’s the best kettle money can buy, or else why would they pay £500 for it?

General stores 

The ‘shop-within-a-shop’ concept is hardly a new thing. But whereas once it was used to trial new brands, or for bigger brands to gain kudos from cool pop-ups, today shop-within-shops are a way to monetise unused floor space and offer customers a bigger choice.

Next is leading the way, by teaming up with big brands almost like a mini department store. The Next flagship on Oxford Street is home to Paperchase, Hema, Lipsy, Clark’s and Costa; the Next at Hedge End retail park near Southampton hosts WHSmith, O2 and Virgin Holidays.

As an increasing number of customers use Click & Collect, shops are reducing stock on the shop floor and large spaces are looking less viable. Sharing that space is a clever way to share costs, gain market share, and give customers a more compelling reason to visit your shop IRL.

Digital #SquadGoals

E-commerce brands are getting in on the collab action too. This Valentine’s Day, specialist chino brand Spoke offered discounts from letterbox-flower deliverers Bloom & Wild and craft chocolate company Cocoa Runners. All three brands are disruptors focusing on one category, so it was a good fit.

Collaborating with similar brands in different categories is perfect for specialist retailers. It’s kind of like being judged on who you hang out with if customers like the brands you collaborate with, they’ll have more reason to like your brand too.

What’s in store…

For retail brands, there are plenty of convincing reasons to collaborate: to enter a new category, generate PR, reach new customers, share the rent… the list goes on. As long as it’s a good match, collaborating is a no-brainer.

So, what’s next for collaborations?

The logical conclusion of all this collaborating would be direct competitors working together at last. While today a joint-collection from arch nemeses Nike and Adidas seems far-fetched, that might change as collab culture evolves… who knows? Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to witness the McWhopper in our lifetime.
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