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There has been ‘10 years of innovation in 10 months,’ retail body says

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Key Points
  • The pandemic has accelerated retail innovation "on every angle: retail, supply chain, sourcing, technology," according to trade body president and CEO Steve Lamar.
  • Lamar warned shoppers to check who they are buying from online, among a rise in counterfeit goods.
  • He also called for U.S. politicians to provide economic stimulus in a predictable way.
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Sustained stimulus needed to aid recovery, says apparel trade group

The pandemic has created rapid innovation in retail as shoppers switched to e-commerce and used curbside pickup, according to a U.S. fashion trade body.

Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), told CNBC that an "incredible" amount had been achieved by its members over the past several months. The AAFA has 500 members including Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss and Ralph Lauren.

"We've implemented 10 years of innovation in the last 10 months … One of the things that we've seen coming out of this is … an incredible amount of innovation that's really been put in place and again plans that people have been looking at over the next 10 years, all that's implemented and we've really seen a great deal of innovation on every angle: retail, supply chain, sourcing, technology, you name it," Lamar told "Squawk Box Asia" on Tuesday.

The pandemic temporarily closed stores as the U.S. implemented stay-at-home measures last March. Some retailers have permanently shut several locations, such as AAFA member Macy's, which detailed dozens of new closures this week as part of a wider plan. Others, such as Lululemon, have done well during the pandemic, as shoppers stayed home and bought workout gear and athleisure over smarter office wear.

The pandemic has helped to put in place an "omnichannel" shopping model, Lamar added. "You buy online, you pick up in the store. There's curbside pickup, now you can return products that you buy online, you can return them into the stores. That seamless integration is really becoming the rule, it used to be the exception and we're going to see a lot more of that."

A woman jogs past a Lululemon retail store.
Bloomberg | Getty Images

Lamar also highlighted the need for shoppers to check who they are buying from online, due to a rise in counterfeit goods. "E-commerce has been a tremendous growth model for industry, [with a] double digit increase from last year to this year, but with the rise in e-commerce also comes the rise in e-commerce pirates, counterfeiters," he warned.

In November, Amazon (which is not a member of the AAFA) announced a partnership with a U.S. government group to prevent fake goods from entering the country, and the e-commerce site also sued two influencers for selling counterfeits on the site in the same month.

Lamar also called for ongoing financial stimulus for the sector. "We're still in the middle of this very tragic, this very terrible pandemic ... And until we are able to move out of this, stimulus is going to need to be something that provides liquidity support for companies, small companies, liquidity support for workers, for consumers so they can get out and shop and buy product."

He urged U.S. politicians to provide economic stimulus in a predictable way. "That uncertainty, that unpredictability that we've been going through, that makes it very difficult to get your economic footing in place," he said.

But he conceded that people would head to shops as soon as the economy starts to recover. "There's a lot of pent-up demand and again as the economy begins to recover, as more consumers feel comfortable getting out there, you're going to start to see them convert that demand into purchases," he told CNBC.