trial drops to test products and sales for your clothing line or fashion brand
katy perry in a playsuit
Katy Perry, Photo by Gregg Delman

‘Trial drops’ or just ‘trials’ are an interesting method used by retailers to test their customer’s reactions.

Every season, there will always be a colour, trim or shape that might push the boundaries of that retailer’s brand.  It might not be accepted or worn by your customer and you’ll be worried about adding it to, or using it in, your designs. So the ‘trial drop’ is a simple way to test the response from customers to this shape, trim, or colour, without spending too much money.


When a designer or buyer feels very strongly about an aspect of a trend, but isn’t sure how it will be received by customers, they will produce a small run of that item. A very resent item this happened with was the playsuit.

So if we use that as an example, let’s look at how they work…..


In the Spring season of 2012 when the trend prediction information revealed that the playsuit would be a fashion trend for summer the year after, buyers and designers would have held off a little in putting this into production in volume. Bear in mind that this would have been before any catwalks would have been out for that season and well before any retailer was selling a playsuit.


With further trend information being released around the Autumn to support the idea of the playsuit, a small run or smaller number of playsuits, would have been made in a basic colour or print to work alongside the Winter, or more likely for a playsuit, Early Spring trend collections for that retailer.


The retailer would then take the 800 or so run (this would be small compared to the usual buy of around 6-20,000 units of a style usually) of playsuits and place them only in their flagship or most fashion forward shop. This information would be available to the retailer by monitoring what styles work well across all of their stores and when they are bought in terms of release date and sales. Assuming that their most fashion forward customers shop in that flagship shop, if the playsuit was going to sell, this would be the place.


So sales are then monitored to see how this new shape was liked by the customer. If sales were good, designers would be asked to design more trend based colours and prints in the playsuit shape, in maybe 2 or 3 styles and production would be started to get the order ready for the Spring Summer season. The playsuits would then be rolled out across all of their shops, usually as magazines and catwalks promote the playsuit trend.


Interestingly, retailers are not the only ones who produce test drops. Some retail magazines do this also. Have you ever been reading Vogue and noticed that there is suddenly a random page with a trend that you haven’t seen anywhere else? Maybe it’s a focus on a particular colour? Beading? Or some other type of trim? These are also trials for trends that they feel may be either a fringe trend or something they have picked up on and are publishing a small 1 page item as their version of a trial drop, laying the foundations in case it becomes a larger trend later on.


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