Do you work in fashion? Do you go to Europe’s big showrooms in Paris, Milan, London or Munich? So do I, and have done for almost 25 years now… and I must say that something has changed. I’m not referring to the pandemic period again, although it has certainly leave its mark, but let’s put that behind us. What concerns me is the profound changes in what the people I deal with are talking about: the old landmarks seem irrelevant now, we’ve lost our bearings.

Do you remember how before, we used to describe the market as a kind of pyramid? At the top, we had the super reliable buyers, who hardly ever defaulted; at the bottom, we had the bad payers; and in the middle, we had all sorts of stakeholders in whom we could have a reasonable amount of trust, after due assessment.

What people keep saying to me now, over and over – it’s quite striking – is that the trust has gone. Even those at the top of the pyramid are no longer a safe bet. Even solid, long-term personal ties that you could trust are being called into question. Even your own judgement and your own experience don’t inspire trust any more.

And that’s what’s behind this tense, febrile, really emotional and gossipy climate, that’s vulnerable to rumour, suspicion, false predictions and other fake news…

How did we get here? I think we experienced a brief moment of euphoria: in 2022, the market was sort of “addicted” to a “billing race”, as if we were trying to convince ourselves that things were improving. But here we are – in the 2nd half of 2023, we’ve seen some kind of decline again, one that could persist throughout most of 2024.

In the end, these ups and downs have impacted human relations: we no longer know whether we can assume or be sure of the growth we saw in 2022, because it was too artificial.

A visible consequence of this was the fact that in autumn 2023, real tension emerged: credit insurance companies reduced the coverage they offered buyers – including the bigger ones. The big brands reacted by starting to reduce their order volumes. They’re no longer focusing on boosting turnover, but rather on reducing exposure to risk. This means being disciplined when it comes to choosing the most reliable partners with the most strategic impact.

This downward trend is set to continue, or even become more marked, in 2024 (as we hope that it is ultimately followed by a healthier market).

To sum up, what brands should be concerned about is: who should they collaborate with to grow their business? To find the answer, once again and as always, an in-depth analysis of the figures is still a good idea. But above and beyond the figures, it’s human expertise that will make the difference.

So the role of a specialist outsourcer like Concentrix + Webhelp could change: the “consultancy” aspect will become even more important. Unfortunately, there is no miraculous financial solution to replace or complement credit insurance.

My recommendation? We need to keep a cool head! It’s clear what qualities we need to be looking out for: experience, neutrality, global vision, an understanding of technical and legal tools and also their limitations. It’s by working together and combining our knowledge that we will be able to get navigate through this difficult time and come out the other side.

And how about you, do you have any constructive recommendations on how to deal with this new paradigm?