It may feel like a retail apocalypse when it comes to how COVID-19 has impacted brick and mortar stores and consumer spending, but iPrice Group’s Isabelle Romualdez argues that interest is still high in SEA, and fashion brands have a chance to capture not just attention but wallets as well.

We’ve all heard heartbreaking news thanks to COVID-19, and one of the pandemic’s causalities will be (literally) cramping our style: new of our favourite retail brands closing their physical stores one by one. Numerous news sites have reported on this retail apocalypse, as people hide inside their homes to avoid catching the coronavirus. Does this, however, mean that consumers in Southeast Asia are less interested in shopping fashion? And what of the luxury brands?

A study by iPrice Group claims that Southeast Asians are looking for these brands online even more so after the pandemic struck. Since consumers are restricted from physical stores, there is an increase in Google impressions on the top luxury and sports fashion brands on iPrice’s platform.

SEA consumers are still interested in luxury brands, especially French brands

Comparing January and February’s impressions versus June and July’s, iPrice concluded that French luxury retail brands garnered the most interest. Louis Vuitton’s searches increased by a shocking 766%, with their clothing and shoes spearheading the increase of search interests by 1,557% and 401% respectively. This is followed by another French luxury fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), with an increase of 410%. YSL’s shoes and perfume saw an increased interest of 1,434% and 1,145% respectively. Lastly, Chanel comes in third place, as its Google search impressions increased by 244%. Interestingly enough, people were most interested in their skincare products (which increased by 1,103%) and their bags (574%).

The BLM effect

All the luxury brands iPrice Group recorded saw an increase in Google search impressions after the coronavirus spread. It is important to note, however, that even though Prada (70%) and Gucci (177%) saw a rise in search impressions, these brands recorded two of the lowest increase percentage. This could potentially be an effect of the backlash these brands received from the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement.

After all, a recent survey by GlobalWebIndex showed that 4 in 5 people believe that brands shout take action with regards to this movement. The survey also showed that Filipinos had a higher than average support for the brands that take action. Meanwhile, #BLM has spurred movements across Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia’s “Papuan’s Lives Matter” movement, Malaysia’s numerous online discussions on police violence against Indians, and local events in Vietnam that support BLM.

Watch game going strong

Southeast Asians are also still looking into investing in luxury watches. Swiss luxury watch brand, Rolex, received an increase of 331% during this period. Additionally, Tudor increased by 178%. A New York Times article mentioned that both of these Swiss brands put their product news indefinitely on hold due to the disruption caused by the pandemic. But with SEA’s increased interest, the future of these Swiss watches, albeit uncertain, might not be so bleak.

SEA consumers are also interested in sportswear giants that house luxury sneakers

Now, you’re probably wondering why iPrice Group included the search impressions of fast-sportswear fashion brands like Nike and Adidas along with the luxury items. Two reasons: 1) this gives us an idea of how fast-fashion brands’ impressions are faring compared to luxury brands, and 2) we can also see if SEA consumers are still interested in the luxury sneakers that these brands house.

Unsurprisingly, Nike had an increase in impressions of 123% while Adidas increased by 60%. iPrice has a few hypotheses on why these brands saw a percentage increase. First, athleisure has been a growing trend in the past few years. It comes as no surprise that people are still interested in investing in sportswear fashion. Lastly, people try to become more physically active as they battle the everyday tedium of staying at home. What’s surprising, however, is how much more interest luxury brands garnered compared to these fast-fashion sports brands.

With luxury items experiencing an increase in Google search impressions, it was expected that luxury sneakers, Yeezy and Air Jordans, enjoyed similar attention levels. The Kanye-inspired kicks’ Google impressions increased by 386%, while the classic Air Jordans’ increased by 155%.

Can the fashion industry in Southeast Asia survive the new normal?

The closure of brick-and-mortar stores is inevitable due to the losses incurred from lockdowns, but this doesn’t mean that fashion brands will soon meet a slow and painful demise. Without the cost of managing physical stores, there is an opportunity to invest in their online assets instead. As shown by the study, the interest is still there, with Southeast Asian consumers are still searching for luxury and fashion items despite the worldwide pandemic. It’s just a matter of where the interest is located; as interest shifts from physical to online platforms. If anything, there is a bigger demand for online experiences and access and fashion brands that adapt to the situation and invest in their online assets are well placed to keep up with the new normal.