Thursday, 12 December 2019 14:58

ChicGeek Comment Savile Row: Cozy or Cold?

Drakes Savile Row cozy retail designWithout doubt the most famous menswear street in the world, for the uninitiated, Savile Row could be something of an anti-climax. While the name is known the world over as the home of male sartorial elegance, the reality of the street is something quite small, higgledy piggledy and with little on show to inspire or buy. It’s a mishmash of designer brands, traditional tailors and workshops, and empty shop units.

Left - Drake's new Savile Row store

A small side street behind elegant Regent Street, Savile Row has become much bigger than the place itself, and while brands desire to be able to put Savile Row in their addresses and on the sides of their bags, it can a difficult place to make money. There just isn’t that much traffic.

While nothing new, the street has seen something of a brand churn of late. Chester Barrie is closing down, Hardy Amies disappeared and the short lived Abercombie Kids store in the old Beatles’ Apple building is being pushed back into the larger Burlington Gardens store over the road while it turns itself back into offices for their European business. 

I was recently invited to drinks at the Kilgour store on Savile Row and while on the way over I wanted to check out the new Drake’s store which had taken over from Alexander McQueen’s menswear store.

One of the bright spots of British menswear, Drake’s, the colourful accessories and preppy menswear business, has just moved around the corner from Clifford Street to a larger space and has built up a strong brand with locations from New York to Tokyo. Here, the new store has cosy striped window-type seats and an entire library of books. It looked like the kind of place you’d want to hang out in, or, heaven forbid, want to spend time in. It's welcoming. The product isn’t cheap, but it’s done properly.

Contrast this with the Kilgour store, which looks like a designer Swiss morgue, and these two juxtapositions perfectly illustrate the new mood in retail design. One reeks of personality and is overflowing with the owner’s touches, while the other is strict to the point of being a retail vacuum. 

There was a time, a few year’s ago, when the majority of Savile Row brands were being snapped up by Chinese conglomerates. Fung Capital, the private investment vehicle of the Fung family that controls Hong Kong sourcing and apparel mega-corporation Li & Fung, bought the most including Gieves & Hawkes, Kilgour, Hardy Amies and Kent & Curwen. While they splashed the cash and moulded each for a particular type of customer at the beginning, things have become tougher and they show a tiring of interest. They placed Hardy Amies into administration in January, while selling to Trinity, another Chinese group, the Italian/French tailoring house Cerruti who cancelled their catwalk show and stopped the designer collection’s entire production.

Drakes Savile Row cozy retail design kilgour

What looked like little, individual outfits on London’s Savile Row often had hundreds of branded stores in China, invisible to outsiders, but they’ve all become quite bland and lacking personality with no clear direction with a continual revolving door of creative directors or in-house design teams. All these brands have become faceless.

Another new bright spark on Savile Row is the new ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store in the elegant townhouse Hardy Amies restored. The new Hackett store is warm and welcoming, and is saying “come in”, “make yourself at home” and “relax” with its homely yet elegant interior by designer Ben Pentreath with input from Jeremy Hackett.

Right - Inside Kilgour Savile Row

What Drake’s and Hackett both have is a figure head who is involved and makes decisions and menswear has always latched on to these men who lead.

Michael Hill, the current creative director of Drake’s, who is responsible for the brand's full wardrobe offerings, has a great eye and taste, while Jeremy Hackett has nearly 40 years of experience in the vintage menswear trade and then creating his own eponymous label. And this is what it all comes down to, people. You need a singular, strong vision to offer direction and also a domestic homeliness.

Stark, cold and soulless retail spaces are being replaced by the perennial idea of a traditional shopkeeper welcoming customers into their worlds. Admittedly, Hackett previously had a store on Savile Row which didn’t work, but this new bespoke concept is hoping to elevate the standard Hackett product and, moving the wholesale showroom from Bond Street and combining it with retail, will probably see them save money while in a stunning Georgian townhouse which will look good the world over.

Hackett Savile Row cozy retail design

Savile Row can be so much better and it’s always worth remembering what you thought on your first visit there. These two recent additions are adding some colour and Britishness to a street which had become something neither designer nor tailored. 

Savile Row needs to hold onto what is good, but also be open to try new things. In 2016, Westminster Council said only new stores will only be allowed to open if they do not replace “bespoke tailoring uses”; “sell bespoke, unique, limited-edition or one-of-a-kind products”; and are “complementary to the character and function” of the zone, but that doesn’t mean 'The Row' should be stuck in a timewarp. 

Left - Inside the ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store

This isn’t about just preserving Savile Row, it’s about making it more successful. It should be welcoming to all British brands and not look down on commercialisation. The skills that have survived this long will continue to survive and these two new additions show its about individuals going back to the idea of being a nation of shopkeepers rather than anonymous 'brands'.

Published in Fashion

Black Friday dales retail salesI said it at the start of this year if you’re a brand or retailer and you can make it through 2019 and into 2020 then you’re probably going to be alright. This year has been tough, very tough, and we’re well into the most important segment of the year for some retailers. It’s do or die for many brands who are on their uppers while trying to flog customers theirs. 

This period of physical retail contraction is more painful the larger you are and we’ve waved goodbye to some very well known retailers and brands this year which could no longer survive under the perfect storm of online competition, retail saturation and squeezed prices, increase in the minimum wage, Extinction Rebellion/consumption debate, Brexit uncertainty and a snap General Election, cost of returns, prolonged discounting and high business rates and rents. 

Christmas has always been a crucial time for retailers, but if it’s your single focus and main time to make profits then you need to rethink your business model and marketing. Many businesses with this old fashioned idea are many of those disappearing or have disappeared. But, it still matters, and a bad Christmas period will see many more retail business announcing their demise come the new year.

The lead up hasn’t been good, but a lot of spend could be skewed by the juggernaut of Black Friday. Sales decreased by 1.3% in September 2019, the worst September since BRC (British Retail Consortium) records began in 1995.

The following month, high street shoppers bought 0.6 per cent more goods in October 2019, representing a drop from 1.3 per cent sales growth recorded in October 2018, but still representing the retail industry’s best performance since April, according to figures compiled by the BRC and KPMG. Looking at a three-month average, which allows for month-to-month fluctuations, total in-store sales of non-food items dropped 3.6 per cent, while food sales grew 1.6 per cent (or 0.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis). 

According to Barclaycard, "consumer spending in November (2019) showed a muted 0.9% growth year-on-year as Brits plan for a frugal festive season”.

So far, so bad, but Black Friday was the biggest ever. According to retail intelligence firm Springboard, retail footfall on Black Friday was up 3.3% in comparison with the same day in 2018, with shoppers mostly hitting the shops after work. Black Friday spending rose 16.5% on 2018, Barclaycard said. They said spending was higher as of 10am that morning and “sustained” that high level throughout the day. They said the number of transactions then reached a “new peak” between 1pm and 2pm on Black Friday. Barclays, which has been monitoring real-time transaction data for Black Friday, processes almost £1 in every £3 spent in the UK.

“We recorded a new peak of 1,184 transactions per second between 1pm and 2pm, which is up on last year’s 1,087 by around nine per cent,” Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments told City A.M.

“The volume of transactions has been up all week and in terms of purchasing, we have seen a high level on spending from midnight all the way through.

“This is fantastic news for retailers, with our data showing that transactions have also been strong throughout the week,” says Cameron. “With many retailers spreading their deals out throughout the week, they will be encouraged to see this hasn’t cannibalised sales volumes on Black Friday itself.” he told City AM.

The volume of transactions on Black Friday rose 7.2% year-on-year, while the volume of transactions on Cyber Monday - the following Monday - was so far up 6.9%.

While this discounting could affect margins, it appears the hype of Black Friday and perceived discounts is something retailers are taking advantage of. The consumer title, Which? warned that few real deals were available, with most goods cheaper or available for the same price at other times. It found that just 4 of 83 products they studied last year were cheaper during the Black Friday promotions.

Black Friday benefited from falling on or just after payday this year with many people paid on 28th of the month. Black Friday has been big, but has is been big enough? The last few years saw many retailers see a wash of sales just before Christmas which allowed them to limp on into the next year.  It appears that retailers are finally understanding how to play the Black Friday game; getting rid of unwanted stock while holding firm on in-demand products. It will be interesting to see the level of returns and this giant spike can be difficult to manage, especially for smaller retailers which less stock holdings. 

The retail figures show a consumer holding tight until to Black Friday, and it will be interesting to see, now those purse strings have been loosened, whether it continues in the final few weeks until Christmas especially with the distraction of a General Election bang in the middle of that. See you in the next decade?

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Published in Fashion
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 14:24

ChicGeek Comment Christmas Past

christmas ads stuck in the pastNot to sound too much like Scrooge, though he is part of the problem, but have you noticed how all the Christmas adverts look the same this year?

Their nostalgic Dickensian approach of snow, jingle bells, street urchins and false bonhomie is strikingly similar and just doesn’t feel particularly fresh from retailers trying to smile through the pain of the current retail environment. It feels faker than a Trump press release and disappointing and safe from marketing departments crossing everything and hoping their brands make it through to the new year.

Left - More urchins? Sainsbury's 2019

What started with wise men offering up gifts was hijacked by retailers and brands over the past century to make all their year’s profits in a few short months. Today's Christmas is, arguably, an American creation of commercialisation. It was Coca-Cola after all who changed Father Christmas from green to red to suit their branding.

This isn’t about taking Christmas back to its meaning, whatever that is, it’s about reflecting contemporary times and stripping the crap out of Christmas, which sits alongside Halloween and Valentine’s as commercial ‘Festivals of Crap’ with our overindulgence reflected in the bulging brown bin the days after.

Christmas needs a reboot to take it from Victoriana fake-fest to a simpler and more sustainable pagan and friends and family focussed festival to get us through the longest nights.

“Most of Christmas ads look almost identical because agencies and brands start from the almost same brief: ‘Lets create a piece of heart-warming storytelling that people will share online, so avoid pushing a specific product. Make it pretty’. says Marcio Delgado – Influencer Marketing Campaign Manager and Producer, www.marciodelgado.com

John Lewis christmas ads stuck in the past

"On paper, for the purpose of approving production budgets months before Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ climbs back the charts – again – it seems the perfect deal. However, when customers start being bombarded by similar content, exhaustively promoted within their social media feeds and favourite TV shows, it all starts to look too much of the same.” says Delgado.

Lesley Stonier, brand storytelling and marketing strategist. Founder of We Mean Business, London - helping women and entrepreneurs find their authentic voice and share their story with confidence, says, “I think for the last 5 or so years we’ve seen John Lewis and even more recently Lidl/Aldi do very well from a certain style and format of ad. I believe the briefs the ad agencies are receiving from these companies and their competitors now will be something like, I want what they are doing, but make it ours.

Right - More snow? John Lewis 2019.

“It just all feels very same-y and therefore it becomes difficult to distinguish who the retailers actually are. There’s no stand out brand this year. The ads all blur into one Christmassy mass with no distinction. Food, kids, 18th century nostalgia, it’s difficult to tell them apart now.” says Stonier.

Stephanie Melodia, marketing specialist, founder of startup marketing agency, Bloom says, “Persuasion is at the root of successful advertising, and the mechanism to this is by appealing to people’s emotions. As a nation that has become less religious and traditional over time, Christmastime no longer bears the same connotations as before. Instead, the “Dickensian nostalgia” plays to the magic and joy one can only achieve over the holidays - whether its spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts, enjoying good food & drink, or all of the above! It’s worth noting the generations that the Dickensian style will appeal to have quite a vast age range, from the grandparents to the millennials, (thanks to Mr. Dickens' literary genius in itself, as well as the modern remixes, like The Muppet Christmas Carol - for example). 

What can brands do to differentiate themselves more and make their marketing campaigns feel more contemporary? “Firstly, they could focus on what their unique perspective is on Christmas. Although I think that’s where the challenge ultimately lies. When it comes to retail, we now have promotions for Christmas starting 2 wks before Black Friday so it’s very hard to differentiate except via price.” says Stonier.

“John Lewis, for example, could have led the pack by taking a more sustainable approach to Christmas. Encouraging less packaging waste for example. Or a supermarket encouraging less food waste. That would be a different approach and that would have much greater stand out because you’re changing the story people expect to hear, and giving them something different to mull over, giving them a reason to choose to do something different and make that choice with you.” she says.

 Tesco christmas ads stuck in the past

“Behavioural changes, especially at a large scale, take a long time to kick in (whilst there is still lots of impactful work happening at the moment!)” says Melodia. “Hardwired social traditions like exchanging gifts at Christmastime won’t go away any time soon, but people are definitely thinking a lot more about how and what they buy than before. Retailers need to have sustainability at the heart of their businesses (if they don’t already) and beware of the PR risk in greenwashing while doing so.” she says.

Left - Tesco's 2019 Christmas table

Will this type of Christmas survive Extinction Rebellion and people rethinking over consumption?

“I think shoppers will always shop on price discounts. But it doesn’t drive loyalty so the retailers are just creating a vicious cycle that is then difficult to extract yourself from. 

“There’s a risk to a different approach, but I’m surprised no one has capitalised on the consumer demand for more sustainable approach to life, and taken Christmas, the season of excess as the time to put a stake in the ground.” says Stonier.

What will Christmas look like in the future for brands and retailers?

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can see us ironically returning to a simpler, less extravagant time, much like the Dickensian era. Where gifts are made rather than bought, and that we focus on the meaning and act of giving rather then needing, wanting and buying.” says Stonier. “The reality is there is very little we “need” now days in first world countries. We’re saturated. So what comes next? People search for meaning and purpose, and brands are doing good in the world, will be leading our hearts, minds and wallets in the future.” she says.

“We’ve already moved so far away from the religious and familial traditions from a mere century ago, the rate of change is only accelerating faster and faster. I believe people coming together and enjoying shared experiences will be the core festive factor that will remain for the foreseeable future, with the consumerist side of the holidays on the down.” says Melodia.

These Christmas ads are looking as done as the designer Christmas tree. This isn't about taking out the fun and the coming together of Christmas, it's about a fresher approach that is more reflective of where we are right now as consumers. The Christmas future looks simpler and less wasteful. ’Please, sir, no more!’.

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Published in Fashion

boring mono luxury websitesWhen was the last time you felt truly inspired by a luxury brand’s website? Regardless of the cute little illustrations or achingly cool ad campaign flipping past, mono-luxury e-tail hasn’t really moved on over the past decade. It’s as though they still feel the brand is enough. 

People don’t dress like this, and just to replicate the physical store online is to create a glorified warehouse or catalogue, which doesn’t take into account the element of personality, pampering and leisure which makes physical shopping a pleasure for many and the reason most people desire these brands in the first place. It’s not seductive.

Left - Celine.com - Have mono-luxury sites moved on in the last decade?

During this same time period, multi-brand luxury retailers such as matchesfashion.com, Far Fetch and Net-A-Porter have grown their turnovers into the hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their ability to tap into people’s desires for newness and vast amounts of choice. These retailers are basically online fashion department stores just minus the fridges and toasters. People like to skip between brands and cherry pick items across them in the most efficient use of their time. Going onto individual, mono-brand websites, especially if you don’t know what you want, feels like a blinkered process and like you’re not getting a full view of the fashion landscape. It also feels, on the majority of sites, as though there isn’t much on there. It is just isn’t very satisfying.

Last week, Farfetch Chief Executive, Jose Neves, predicted that brands would pull out of multi-brand retailers online and operate as e-concessions on marketplaces instead, much as they have done in bricks-and-mortar department stores. And, last year, Kering announced it would take some of its biggest e-commerce websites in house, by the first half of 2020, putting an end to a seven-year joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP).

Kering’s online sales made up just 6% - this is against 18% of UK retail as a whole - of its 6.4 billion euro turnover in the first half of 2018, but it did grow by 80 percent in the third quarter, faster than revenue growth in department stores or its own shops. If these brands want to reflect general online retail sales they will need to double or triple the percentage of sales coming from online.

Taking back control of the Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga websites will allow Kering full access to information such as client data.While this is great for the brands and the back-end, tech side, customers will notice little difference unless they have a radical rethink of how they present their brands on the front-end. Consumers are used to scrolling and discount incentives to drive sales which many of these brands, outside of sales season, won’t offer. It can also feel very clinical.

According to a report by Deloitte “Big data may help luxury brands to provide personalized and superior customer service through consumer segmentation, behaviour and sentiment analysis, and predictive analytics. Several luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Dior and Estée Lauder, have already started to take advantage of these technologies, using AI-powered technologies, such as machine learning and analytics, to offer more personalized and timely customer services. They implemented their own AI-powered chatbots and now can sell products using targeted marketing, personalization, and timely automation.”

boring mono luxury websites saint laurent

In November 2018, Kering created a data science team at group level to improve the service and shopping experience of its clients. Kering intends to get real-time 360-degree view of its customers to deliver rich and personalised experiences and meet their specific needs. LVMH, doesn’t break out separate online sales information, but they did reveal that the group's online sales rose by more than 30 percent in 2018. Ian Rogers, the first ever chief digital officer of the LVMH group, told Wired, last year, that he doesn’t like the word "digital" and he has the very tricky job of matching the luxury online customer journey with the pampered, indulgent experience IRL.

“It’s not the case that luxury shopping becomes self-serve on the internet: if I do buy something I expect a high level of service, even if I’m remote.” he said “You can see it's definitely strategic for us to invest in remote customer support, and it's directly downstream of our Internet strategy. There's this nonsense land of digital transformation where people wave their hands and they talk in impractical terms. Keep drilling until you have something practical that works and then rinse and repeat. Lose these nonsense words like "digital", like "data", like "social media". You have to get rid of this digital umbrella because it's just too broad. When somebody says, "We're really behind on digital", my response is, "You're behind in every aspect of your business?” he said.

Right - Spot the difference - YSL.com

According to Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, Grégory Boutté, “Digital can be many different things at once - a distribution channel; a platform for offering seamless omni-channel services to clients; a driver of brand image and visibility; and a tool for engaging with customers in a personalized way. Digital technology, data science and innovation provide a way of offering our customers the best possible experience – on every touchpoint” he said.

Online and off-line isn’t separate, most brands now offer services such as check availability, reserve in-store, make store appointment, pick-up in-store, return in-store, exchange in-store, and buy online in-store. Kering said it will continue to develop partnerships with third-party e-commerce platforms "when relevant", but we’re seeing the beginnings of a power struggle between brands and retailers. They both need each other.

Now these luxury groups are focusing on their websites they need to rethink the entire thing. Their rigid ‘aesthetics’ and branding doesn’t allow for personality. Mono-brand luxury sites are restricted by the volume of product and while it changes, it doesn’t change often enough to the levels today’s customers have become used to. 

Brands, such as Prada, Saint Laurent and Celine, also sell a lot of black, which doesn’t shoot well and doesn’t make the most inspiring of online images. Add in ‘collab. fatigue’ and these brands really need to develop a new idea for websites if they want to increase sales and move away from multi-brand sites.

Luxury brands have built themselves a boring digital straight-jacket and need to start thinking differently. They could offer FaceTime with sales associates in people’s local stores, or offer a live view way of browsing in-store and matching to items online. It’s going to be about making the virtual real and vice versa. There are many possibilities, but they need to unthink the “brand”.

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Published in Fashion
Friday, 15 November 2019 13:50

ChicGeek Comment No Likeys

buying fake followers bots and manipulating instagramIt looks like they’re finally doing it. Instagram is about to push the delete button on ‘likes’. Instagram CEO, Adam Mosseri, has announced that the platform would begin testing the change in the US this week. It follows Brazil, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and Italy, where Instagram has experimented with not displaying the number of likes to other users.

"Right now we're testing making like counts private, so you'll be able to see how many people liked a given photo of yours or a video of yours, but no one else will," said Mosseri. “It's about young people," Mosseri said. "The idea is to try to 'depressurise' Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them."

While Instagram is citing users’ mental health and wellbeing as a reason for the change, cynically, could it be a way of Instagram disguising and masking falling engagement and growth across the entire app.?

We passed peak Instagram a while ago, and, with some users engaging in behaviour described as ‘clout chasing’, pursuing likes with the intent to become famous, and ‘sadfishing’, the act of someone making exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and more attention and likes, it has become, to many, a dysfunctional arena for attention seekers.

Kayli Kunkel, Marketing Director for HYPR, an influencer platform since 2013, says “I don’t believe Instagram is suffering from a decline in engagement or that the motive behind hiding the likes is to make that less visible. If you believe Instagram, their motives are the well being of the users. If you are a bit more cynical you may argue that likes have been used as a driver to monetise Instagram without giving the platform a cut. Influencer marketing as an industry has become extremely reliant on likes as a metric. So its possible they are trying to reduce accessibility to this information for commercial reasons.”

“Regardless, it’s my belief that likes are a terrible metric to measure anything. No two likes are the same. You make like something because you intend to buy it or you may just be a person who likes a lot of photos. No information about the identity or intention of the likers is available, so marketers, influencers and audiences can’t really learn much from them except for a general “level of engagement” metric that helps our ego or makes us feel like we did some due diligence.” says Kunkel.

Rebecca Holloway, Social Media Strategist (@beccasocial), “I would like to think that the removal of like counts will mean fewer bots, however, it wouldn't surprise me if these became more prevalent in inflating follower counts. Along with the number of comments on a post, this will become one of the only ways brands will be able to see how engaged an audience is with influencers they may be considering working with.”

“Despite these changes making life trickier for brands and influencers navigating sponsorship deals, I do think it will have a positive impact on casual users of the platform. I expect that at first many will find it quite strange, but will adapt quickly, and soon forget that like counts are missing. I would hope that this has a positive impact on users' mental health and that they aren't posting for likes, but instead posting content they have really enjoyed creating.” she says.

By June 2018, Instagram had reached the 1 billion monthly user mark. In the US, influencer fraud, including purchasing fake followers, likes and creating fake personas, is estimated to cost businesses $1.3 billion a year, according to research from cybersecurity firm Cheq. US companies spend an estimated $8.5 billion annually on influencers according to influencer marketing firm Mediakix. On a good day, roughly 15% of the corporate dollars spent are lost to fraud it is estimated.

William Soulier, CEO and co-founder of Talent Village, who conduct influencer campaigns for brands, says, “Digital metrics have allowed brands to measure the performance of all promoted content on Instagram and ultimately judge the success of their social campaign. Therefore by Instagram removing a vanity metric such as "likes" on in-feed posts, both users and brands should hopefully become focused on less tangible metrics, but arguably more important factors such as the quality of the content produced.

“The problem is that it's very difficult to measure something like "quality", and therefore it seems inevitable that brands will shift their focus to the next quantifiable metric such as engagement. By hiding likes on the user’s feed, Instagram is giving a chance for content to stand out for its quality and not for its engagement.” he says.

Araminta Sheridan, founder of Araminta Marketing says, “This is a great decision from Instagram. Instagram used to be an anti-media, an authentic experience. Whilst so many incredible things happen through Instagram every day (mental health movements, communities are formed, body positive beauty), it has become so curated. I look forward to people using the platform more openly, less concerned about what other people think. I think this will result in a reduction in toxic behaviour and an increase in genuinely good content. I also think people will start to socialise through the platform again. Less passive ‘double tap’ behaviour, more conversation.” she says.

“Instagram is like a game for some people, people will always find ways to ‘beat the algorithm’ so that they can compete alongside people and companies who can afford to advertise. Changes may solve some problems and cause others to arise. Like most businesses, it's a game of whack-a-mole.” says Sheridan.

Some people are saying upstart Tik Tok is more authentic? “Maybe, it is newer which make authenticity easier.” says Sheridan. “The ‘better’ an app gets, the ‘better' people get at it. How will they avoid their own authenticity problems? Watch this space I suppose!”

Nikki Hesford of www.hesfordmedia.co.uk, a digital agency specialising in FB and IG, says, “Tik Tok is growing massively but it still isn’t that mainstream and most brands haven’t worked out yet how to leverage it into sales. If it does stay the course, the early adopters of the platform who are using it now will see the greatest benefit, as with all platforms, it’s easier to make an impact when you’re there at the start. I think many brands are ambivalent about whether to put the effort into Tik Tok or if it will fizzle out – but like most videos on the internet, a lot of planning, and staging from media agencies has gone into making it look authentic and ‘off the cuff’!” she says.

While, for many, it is hard to believe that Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, is doing anything altruistic, it still wants to keep its cash-cow healthy with a thriving population active both physically and mentally.

Hannah Elderfield, Associate Insights Director at Canvas8, says, “Hiding likes is something that has come about primarily to help protect the mental health of everyday users. But the assumption has been that ‘hiding’ likes may negatively impact brands and ‘influences’, for whom such ‘engagement’ has been an important metric - that’s not necessarily the case though.

“When ‘performance metrics’ are displayed publicly, it sometimes dictate what type of content gets posted or shared - especially on certain platforms. And that’s contributed to a rise in ‘cookie cutter’ posts - influencers know what ‘works’ for their audience and often repeat what’s performed well in the past, but many feel that that’s led to a lack of creativity in this space. Removing likes may well free up brands and influences to try new and interesting things, freed from the shackles of public endorsement.” she says.

“There’s another element here in that ‘virtue signalling’ (or a lack by which to do so if likes are ‘hidden’) could give a more accurate view of what people are enjoying. For example, people will no longer be able to like things to be seen to like them. They’ll only be able to signal directly and that’s a very different dynamic which could result in more authentic and honest interactions online.” says Elderfield.

Hesford says, “My view is that actually, it’ll make very little difference. For a long time “likes” have become meaningless both in terms of performance algorithm, and public perception - the only people who will be affected by this are those seeking validation from “like counting” (usually young, impressionable and quite vulnerable girls and boys) so this can only be a good thing.

“You may have noticed a lot of brands post stories 5-6-7-8 times a day, yet publish a “post” only once every few weeks, due to the nature of how obsolete they are becoming.” she says.

“Facebook - who own Instagram - is similar to Apple in that they’re at the cutting edge of innovation – they aren’t reactionary. They don’t ask people what they want, they just do it. People always complain at the introduction of every dynamic new change, but ultimately people accept it and it makes the platform a better place. For Instagram to keep growing, it needs to clean up it’s image of ‘fakery’ before consumers become too sceptical of the authenticity of the content they are exposed to and start to become fatigued. Click farms and bots can ‘like’ images very easily, but it requires a more sophisticated set up to automate fake commenting, so the intention here is to reduce fake interaction, which of course will make it stronger.”

“Whether FB/IG genuinely cares about its users’ mental health, or whether it’s a PR strategy with commercial aims – only they know! But in any event, it is clear to most regular users of IG that the platform causes feelings of inadequacy. While they may not cause mental health problems, there is no doubt they trigger existing sufferers of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming, when vulnerable people are bombarded daily with messages that say ‘everyone else is achieving more than you, are slimmer than you, more beautiful than you, have more money than you’ etc.” says Hesford.

“Influencers probably hope that their followers will express their thoughts and approval with more meaningful interactions such as commenting, in the absence of tapping a like button. If that were to be the case, it would create a more authentic metric on which to measure the influencers who have a real following versus those who paid for theirs. Those who have built a genuine following will be pleased about this change. It could see smaller influencers with maybe 20-30k followers emerging as having more commercial opportunity than others with 100k+ because it will become obvious to brands, which ones actually have an engaged audience.

“As a marketer for brands wishing to spend money with influencers, it can be incredibly difficult knowing whether the influencer you plan to pay even has any real people watching their content.” says Hesford.

There are many people and businesses invested in the success of Instagram influencer marketing. It’s big business. They’re, obviously, going to put a positive spin on any changes and are going to still cite the importance and influence of individuals paid to post. 

Instagram is due a refresh because it has become quite boring and samey. Deleting visible likes could be a positive move to remove what has become a digital shackle for some users. But, could all the attention just turn to the numbers of followers? Deleting all metrics could be the answer if they really care about people's mental health. Removing likes could take some of the steam out of people’s mental and emotional desire for validation and attention. Digital platforms need users to come often and stay longer and injecting newness is all part of the process. What this does to the influencer market is yet to be seen and do they even care? Is it time to say goodbye to the flat-white?! 

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Published in Fashion
Wednesday, 06 November 2019 14:08

ChicGeek Comment H For?

H Beauty Harrods comment beauty retailWould a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That’s a question surrounding the announcement that Harrods, arguably the most famous shop in the world, is opening a network of beauty stores.

The new concept is going to be called ‘H Beauty’ in a move away from the green and gold of the familiar Harrods branding. The first store will launch in spring 2020 at the Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, closely followed by a second store in Milton Keynes.

At the same time, Harrods has also opened an ‘H Café’ in Henley-on-Thames. Opened last month, it aims to be somewhere you can enjoy the Knightsbridge department store's food whilst also having a selection of food, drink and home accessories to shop from. You can also shop on the Harrods website and use click and collect to pick up your purchases.

Left - H Beauty is new for 2020

What both these concepts have in common is the lack of the Harrods name, arguably their greatest asset. Is this a branding mistake?

Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers, says, “Apart from its less-than-impressive airport shops, which always seem like upmarket tourist boutiques, Harrods has resisted the chance to open stores beyond Brompton Road. I am sure the airport shops take loads of money, but the strategy of maintaining just one “real” Harrods seems eminently sensible. 

“Harrods did not open regional satellites like its direct upmarket department store rivals, Harvey Nichols (six UK regional stores plus one in Dublin) and Selfridges (three regional stores, including two in Manchester). If you want the Harrods experience, there is only one place to go. It’s a compelling argument.” he says.

“With reference to its two ventures into beauty and into a café, it is significant it is not using the Harrods name.” says Musgrave. “It is using H. That seems sensible to me. Will the connection to consumers be obvious? These are clearly an experiment that could be quietly closed down if they don’t work and gently extended if they do. On the face of it, it is a curious move, but I do not think it is danger of diluting the main Harrods brand.” he says.

The new beauty boutiques will host new brands to Harrods and offer services such as blow-dries and facials plus a “coffee-to-cocktail” bar for the complete shopping experience. Harrods said the launch is part of its efforts to “disrupt the UK beauty retail landscape” by bringing its brand to a wider audience across the UK. No doubt they’ve looked at the demise of the traditional department store and the success of Sephora globally, but not in the UK. 

Harrods cafe H Henley on Thames comment beauty retail

Annalise Fard, director of beauty at Harrods, said: “Nobody is doing or investing more to showcase to customers what is possible in the world of 21st-century beauty than Harrods. H beauty is an opportunity to bring our mission to more beauty lovers across the UK. This investment demonstrates our belief in the strength of our beauty authority and the opportunities within the beauty industry here in the UK and represents a major extension to our current beauty business.”

Right - H Café Henley on Thames

David M Watts, Industry Consultant, says, “It’s potentially a great money spinner as beauty is fast becoming the entry into luxury (whereas it was accessories and fragrance) both designer brands (Chanel/DIOR/GUCCI) and celebrity Fenty Beauty and professional Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury have sold out in stores like Bergdorf Goodman in NYC. Beauty is a smart way to engage with customers with try before you buy, makeovers and allowing experimentation in store.”

“H Café is a good idea for brand extension again if done right. Ivy Club/Restaurant have done it and VOGUE Magazine has created there cafe brand in overseas territories like Dubai, Moscow and Berlin.” says Watts.

Is it a mistake not to use the full Harrods name? “Possibly, but one assumes it will ally itself to the Harrods brand in some way with branding-colour design. Plus they want to identify with a new market so a rebrand of the new offering is not a wholly bad idea.

“Beauty is an exciting category with big margins. The recent GUCCI lipstick in vintage packaging is estimated to have sold 1 million lipsticks in its first month of launch at £34 per unit.” he says.

What advice would you offer them? "Include men's beauty - hugely growing sector underdeveloped and a perfect opportunity to test customer reaction. ‘Men's Beauty’ (not grooming) is estimated to be 1.14 billion dollars in 2019. 

“Develop new experiential in-store concepts for men’s and women’s that gets customer engagement and generates buzz, allowing customers to create assets for Instagram and other social media platforms.” says Watts.

Julien Sheridan,J Co-Founder &CEO www.sheridanandco.com, a global retail design agency, says, “I think it is a great idea. People like to buy luxury products in luxury surroundings, and I imagine that this will be a great success.  They are extending an offering that they are already excellent at, not “having a go” at something new.  

“The brands that they sell can only be delighted, as they know that Harrods will have studied intelligently in the data they hold before deciding to take this step.” she says.

“I like H Beauty. It gives them an opportunity to do their thing a little differently in here without upsetting the brand guidelines that they have in Knightsbridge.  Harrods is Harrods, and H Beauty will be a little “lighter” perhaps and a plus side of being out of Central London and with parking at Intu this may be being positioned with a different customer in mind.

“Beauty, as a category is flying, and a career in beauty is now a very respectable, highly paid, arena to be in. I love the fact that they will be offering training, a beauty concierge and masterclasses.” she says.

H Beauty Harrods comment beauty retail h cafe

“The advice I would offer them is “carry on Harrods, you know what you are doing, and you do it brilliantly” so do not listen to the doubters.  Beauty belongs to beauty, it is it’s own category, and a buying it in chemist shops does not “do it” for a lot of people.” says Sheridan.

Other retailers will be watching what and how Harrods does here. Globally, the Harrods name is as strong as other great British luxury brands, regardless of ownership, such as Rolls Royce and Cunard, but, until now, and apart from the airport stores, it hasn’t tried to expand its footprint.

Why now? It’s a tough time in retail and many people say the beauty market, particularly the colour segment, has become saturated and is struggling.

Left - Recognisably Harrods?

Many people may wonder why Harrods isn’t putting its efforts into harrods.com. This has the potential to be a huge global player in e-commerce rather than a shop window for the Knightsbridge store.

“They have tried I understand, but inside sources tell me that it's so political and departmentalised that the e-commerce has always faced insurmountable obstacles.” says Watts.

“In terms of the business doing more online, I would counsel against that.” says Musgrave. “Except for a tiny bit of own-label merchandise (and more in food, obviously), Harrods sells only third-party brands. What it sells – and this is unique – is the Harrods experience that requires a visit to the store at Knightsbridge. I’d leave it at that.” he says.

With so much bad news in retail it will be very welcome, especially for the regional shopping store owners like Intu, to have a new successful chain, regardless of the name. Harrods aren’t the first people to think of this beauty idea though, you only have to look at the new fancy Boots in Covent Garden, which has become something of an unofficial centre of beauty brands in London, with its beauty hall and YouTube studio, to prove how people are piling into specific beauty retail. 

While there is scope to pick up the slack from the closing department stores, offer something fresher and more contemporary than say Space NK, and get in there early before the rumoured relaunch of Sephora in the UK, it is becoming more competitive. The Harrods' H could just swing it.

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Published in Fashion
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 17:44

ChicGeek Comment India’s Fashion Gets Fast

Auto enrolment pension affects on retail salesIs the sleeping giant, India, about to wake? There have been many false starts over the years predicting that India would become a major player economically. It’s certainly got the numbers of people, and, its middle class, with its growing disposable income, is expanding fast. Depending on the measures used, the estimated size of India’s middle class ranges between 78 million (Economist, Jan. 2018) to 604 million (Krishnan and Hatekar, EPW June 2017). Even on the lowest estimates this is a huge amount of potential consumers and retailers and brands are moving in.

Japan’s ‘Fast Retailing’ opened its first Uniqlo store in India this month in New Delhi. The company is planning to open two more stores in Delhi’s metropolitan area this autumn. Uniqlo said the three stores will be testing grounds before the company decides its long-term strategy in the country, The company says high import duties imposed in India have impacted the brand’s pricing, but no doubt it will remain competitive against other western chains.

Up until May, this year, India was the world’s fastest growing economy. It has a population of 1.3 billon with 65% under 35. There are an estimated 530 million people online and an 491 million smartphones by 2022.

Apple is rumoured to have finalised a short list of locations for its first retail store in India and Ikea finally opened in 2018 after 12 years of trying. It was prevented from opening stores because of government restrictions on foreign investment. The company says it aims to have 25 outlets across the country by 2025.

Aiming to tap into the young and affluent Indian consumer and become the ASOS of India is Koovs.com. Its corporate site says it “brings western fashion authority though the Koovs Private Label, curated global and local fashion labels and designer & celebrity collaborations to create and build the leading online western fashion brand for young, style-conscious Indian customers.”

Waheed Alli founded the company in 2012. He was previously Chairman of ASOS plc between 2000 and 2012. Based in London, it had full year sales of INR1,178m/£12.8m year to March 2019. While a relative retail minnow, recent forecasts show the ecommerce market in India growing from $24billion in 2017 to $84billion in 2021 and $200billion in 2026. Online fashion is expected to grow from a $4billion market in 2017 to a $15billion market by 2022.

Koovs concessions have opened in three central stores in Delhi over the period. They are now rolling out this concession model to another five stores in Bangalore (two stores), Hyderabad, Pune and Noida. The company has struggled recently because of the disruptions in India caused by demonetisation and the introduction of the Indian Goods and Sales Tax (GST).

Vibhuti Vazirani, founder of new Indian-made fashion start-up, Zavi, specialising in less environmentally impactful fashion, says, “A couple of years ago H&M and Zara entered India and have seen a great response. Such fast fashion brands are a hype in India now when a large part of the world has reached its peak of fast fashion. Within India too, there are many domestic players that cater to a large fast fashion industry.”

Zara currently has 16 stores in India and H&M has 47. The huge Tata Group which has been Inditex SA's - Zara's parent company - partner running Zara stores in India is building its own apparel empire as trend-focused as Zara, but at half the price. As per a Bloomberg report, Tata’s retail arm, Trent Ltd, has fine-tuned its local supply chain to deliver “extreme fast fashion” which can get runway styles to customers in just 12 days. Trent now plans to open 40 outlets of its flagship 'Westside' chain every year and hundreds of its mass market 'Zudio' stores, where nothing costs more than $15. “The middle class is growing, incomes have grown, Indians are travelling more and they have more money to spend,” Tata said. “Now that we’ve built this capability and this model that’s working so well, it’s time to grow faster.” it says. Zara is still expensive to the average Indian consumer and Tata Group is tapping into that cheaper demand for western fashion.

“Due to its developing and socio economic status, India is quite a price sensitive market, so price is of more importance than quality.” she Vazirani. “Imported goods are also high on the consumer’s purchase journey, as a large part of our population does not often have opportunities to travel the world. When international brands enter our space, the local consumer is keen to access it and own it.
“I don’t see a lot of Indian brands trying to compete with the global fashion industry. The fast fashion Indian brands often stay within and capitalise within India as our population itself is a pretty good market size. 
“There are some traditional Indian designers and brands that are latching out of Indian boundaries to cater to the Indians around the world.” she says.

Zavi is being marketed at eco-conscious Western consumers rather than the domestic market. “I see Zavi entering the international space rather than India at this time because there are already some well informed countries that have made sustainability a priority and so that market is clear to respond better to what Zavi has to offer.” she says.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2030, India is on course to witness a 4x growth in consumer spend. It will remain one of the youngest nations on the planet and will be home to more than one billion internet users. By 2030, India will move from being an economy led by the bottom of the pyramid, to one led by the middle class. Nearly 80% of households in 2030 will be middle-income, up from about 50% today. The middle class will drive 75% of consumer spending in 2030.

The Indian market isn’t straightforward due to government restrictions and import taxes, but, the size of the growing middle class should be both tempting and terrifying for many international brands dealing with saturation and maturity in their established markets. They should have learnt their lessons from their early days in China and will be no doubt want to time their entry right to start making money early on. Brands can no longer afford to heamorrhage money for years on a speculative market. What is clear is that India is getting richer and there is a demand for international brands from Indian consumers with more money in their pockets. But is this the right time?

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Auto enrolment pension affects on retail salesThe government wants us to save for the future. It makes sense. We’re living long lives and we need to plan for our financial futures if we are going to be able to live more comfortably when we retire. Pensions can be complicated and difficult to understand and, up until a few years ago, people were often asked to actively opt-in to a pension scheme and as such it had a low level of take up.

Things changed with the 2008 Pensions Act, when ‘auto enrolment’ was regarded as the best way to counter apathy and persuade people to get saving. Larger companies started the process back in 2012. Small and micro businesses, employing from one to 50 people, had to have everybody enrolled by February 2018 at the latest. The levels started small with minimum auto-enrolment contributions of 2% (split equally between employee and employer). In April, this year, it rose to 8% (5% employee and 3% employer).

It is estimated auto enrolment has lead up to 10 million people to start saving for their retirement for the first time. This is great news for individuals and society, long term, but for retailers, already seeing sales fall, it is less money in people’s pockets and reduced spending power. 

This has all been a long time coming. But, it’s still not enough. People will need to save an even higher percentage of their income. In 2017, the Pensions minister, Richard Harrington, set a target for savers to achieve a £250,000 pension pot by the time they retire. To reach this target, an individual whose salary builds up to £27,000 over their career and saves for 40 years with no breaks would need combined employee and employer contribution levels of 25% says research for Citywire's New Model Adviser® by pensions provider Aviva.

The statutory contributions rate looks like it will rise further, no firm plans have been set just yet, but are we starting to see the affects this new level of saving is having on retail sales?

September 2019 saw the worst retail sales figures since British Retail Consortium (BRC) records began in 1995. Sales decreased by 1.3% in September. Sales decreased by 1.7% on a Like-for-like basis from September 2018, when they had decreased 0.2% from the preceding year. The BRC said the “spectre” of a potential no-deal Brexit is weighing on consumers’ purchasing decisions, but surely higher levels of minimum pension contributions are resulting in lower retail sales?

Pension provider Royal London produced research looking into what would happen if someone who has only contributed the minimum to their pensions under government 'auto-enrolment' rules, decides to draw a state pension as soon as they can and immediately cuts down to part-time work. Royal London defines a ‘gold standard’ retirement - income at retirement is two-thirds of pre-retirement levels - or a ‘silver standard’ retirement - income is half of pre-retirement levels. Someone pursuing a flexible retirement would have to work until they are 79 to achieve the ‘gold standard’. The age comes down to 74 for a worker who defers taking a state pension and maintains full-time hours until they stop working. A worker targeting ‘silver standard’ retirement but who retires gradually would have to work on until they were 69 – or 68 if they defer their state pension and continue in full-time work. The report encourages workers to contribute more than the legal minimum of 8% (combined employee and employer contribution) to a workplace pension. It said a 10% rate allows an individual to retire around three years earlier, while a contribution rate of 12% allows an individual to retire around six years earlier than if they contributed just the minimum

The older you are when you start to save, the higher the contributions will have to be. So someone starting aged 32 should contribute 16% of their salary for the rest of their working life. While 16% may seem a huge commitment, this figure includes your employer's contribution. All employers must 'auto-enrol' their qualifying employees in a workplace pension. Qualifying employees are those that are aged between 22 and State Pension age, earn more than £10,000 a year and work in the UK.

According to a report by Scottish Widows, the average income that people state they will require for comfortable retirement is £23,000 a year and it recommends that 12% of income should be channelled into a pension throughout your working life.

Almost 50 per cent of workers are still not putting away enough to meet those expectations. In 2015, one in five weren’t contributing anything to any pension at all and out of 6,000 workplace schemes more than 5,000 were in deficit. Figures from the Pension Protection Fund in May 2016 showed that the shortfall was a colossal £300 billion.

“In future contribution rates are going to rise. There’s a consensus in the industry that even when we get to 8% that’s still not enough. That can’t be the end and we must not rest on our laurels.” says Emma Douglas, Head of Defined Contribution at Legal and General, told ‘Smart Pension’, a company founded by experienced finance & technology professionals and designed specifically to support UK businesses faced with the challenges of auto enrolment.

“We will need to raise awareness about the importance of saving enough to provide a really comfortable retirement. There may be some pain to come, but I think that once people see their pension pot growing there will be acceptance and engagement. We need to make sure pension statements are transparent and easy to understand.” she says. “Overall, I think auto enrolment has been very positive.”

Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell told Moneywise: “To put it into perspective, someone earning around £27,000 and paying in the auto-enrolment minimum will see their personal contribution rise from about £500 this year to more than £850 in 2019/20.”

£850 for somebody on a £27,000 income is a chunk of money. It could be a month’s rent. Looking at Millennials and Generation Z already spending significant amounts of their incomes on renting and paying pack student loans, it will put more of a squeeze on their already reduced disposable incomes.

“While for most people this is still not enough to enjoy a comfortable retirement, we are now getting to the stage where some reluctant savers could start to feel the pinch. Rising average pay should help ease the pain, but anyone missing out on a salary hike could well be tempted to prioritise spending today over saving for tomorrow.” he says.

People can choose to opt out at any time. “Anyone thinking of quitting their workplace pension needs to understand that they will be losing out on both tax relief and their employer contribution, which put together double the value of the money they put in. Put another way, opting out of your pension is a bit like taking a voluntary pay cut – so nobody should do it lightly!” he says.

According to Jenny Condron, the ACA's (Association of Consulting Actuaries) chairwoman, this phased increase in contributions is needed to ensure that many more people save sufficient amounts, for both an adequate retirement income and one where they have real choices to spend some of their accumulated savings, as they approach or reach retirement.

She said: “Actions are needed to draw more of those on lower incomes and the self-employed into auto-enrolment levels of contributions, beginning with the gig economy’s quasi-employers.

“Then, from 2025, with due notice having been given, there is the need to gradually phase in rises in total contributions until they reach 12-14% of earnings.”

Minimum contributions were increased overall from 2 to 5 per cent in April 2018, which for 85 per cent of employers didn’t have an adverse impact on scheme participation, the ACA said.

It’s obvious that those on lower incomes have always saved less for their retirement. They are also more sensitive to the increased contributions. Putting 12%-14% of earnings into a pension pot will be difficult for many and sacrifices will have to be made if they decide to stay in the scheme. It could see increasing numbers of people opting out or a marked decrease in disposable incomes. People on lower incomes will have to make a difficult choice. This is very large group of people who weren’t saving before.

More stats show how retail is seeing sales fall. IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index showed a drop of -22.5% in menswear digital sales year-on-year for September, with overall clothing sales seeing its first negative growth in over two years. Womenswear, footwear and accessories also declined with year-on-year growth rates of -13.3%, -9.8% and -9.0% respectively.

Auto enrolment is a fantastic idea for people’s long-term financial futures. Contemporary retail is in a perfect storm and auto enrolment pensions encouraging an estimated 10 million people to save at least 5% (& rising) of their income for the first time will only increase the squeeze and could be an extra of contributing factor to the current retail malaise. Will the British go from spenders to savers? Retailers will hope not.

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Extinction Rebellion Fast FashionIf things weren’t getting hard enough for ‘fast-fashion’ retailers along comes ‘Extinction Rebellion’ (XR). Protests the world over are warning of impending doom and trying to ram home and ostracise those who continue to shop at brands and retailers vilified for producing clothing that is deemed to be disposable.

While the traditional high-street has struggled, both here and in the US, Forever 21 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, for example, the winners of the fashion internet, such as ASOS and Zalando, appear to be slowing. Recent profit warnings and falling share prices have put a wobble in this bright spark of retail. 

Left - An impromptu anti-fashion show in London's Oxford Circus

While ASOS is expected to show an uplift in revenues this week, could this be the peak for these types of retailers? Is the much publicised message of Extinction Rebellion cutting through to the buying public and will this prove to be a tipping point for ‘Fast-Fashion’?

Morgan Stanley recently said the volume of clothes shoppers buy has plateaued, "we suspect it's primarily because consumers are now buying clothing in such large quantities that they get very little marginal 'utility' from any additional items.” they said.

Retailers such as Primark, H&M and Boohoo rely on large volumes with small profit margins. Is this slowing more a result of saturation rather than the start of a boycott of ‘fast-fashion’ brands for environmental concerns?

“There is some very muddled thinking around the debate on how to make the 21st-century world more environmentally-friendly.” says Eric Musgrave, fashion industry commentator and former editor of Drapers. “I am sure the fashion industry is wasteful, but I’d like to know which large-scale industries are not. Who, for example, ever talks about mass-produced furniture, or pots and pans? I am not an apologist for the fashion business, but it is seen largely as a frivolous unnecessary luxury, not a necessity, hence it is an “easy” (or some would argue “legitimate”) target.” he says.

“I see no desire from the mass of the British public to change their buying habits. It would be wrong to confuse problems that may have risen at individual companies like Quiz and ASOS with overall trends.

“Too often overlooked in all this analysis is that the UK is a very troubled economy, with little sign of it improving any time soon. We have had 11 years of austerity and many people do not have much money. Asking them to forgo the pleasures they derive from cheap fast fashion is the epitome of wishful thinking.” he says. “Fast fashion is here to stay for decades to come – within the sector there will always be winners and losers.

And ask yourself, seriously, what lasting impact on fast fashion did the grim Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka in 2013 have?”

“The fast fashion firms will not adjust their model. If some disappear, others will appear to take their place.” he says. “Finally, I await the explanation from Extinction Rebellion and the like about what all the many millions of people who earn a living in the fashion supply chain will do if it were to shut down tomorrow.”

Fast-fashion retailer Quiz, a fast growing newcomer to the market, recently announced lower sales in the first half of the year in the face of a “very challenging” high street. The retailer said its stores and concessions had suffered weaker-than-expected sales over the six months to September after a slump in footfall. Quiz reported that total group revenues slipped 5% to £63.3 million during the period, as online growth (7%) failed to offset its high street decline.

The entire fashion industry seems quite content to push all the heat onto these ‘fast-fashion’ retailers. Now public enemy No.1, ‘fast-fashion’ has become a scapegoat for the fashion industry in general. Arguably, all fashion is fast and in its nature it is disposable. People are being forced to question their purchases and asking themselves if they really need it, but is it significantly changing behaviour?

As part of Extinction Rebellion’s #XR52 weeks of direct action, they are urging people to #BOYCOTTFASHION for a whole year, in order to disrupt business-as-usual and send a message to government, industry and public alike that enough is enough.

Olly Rzysko CMO + Retail Advisor, says, “It will take something big for there to be a significant shift, eg the ‘blue planet’ plastic straw moment.”

Kathryn Bishop, Deputy editor - LS:N Global, says, “On Question Time last week, an audience member said David Attenborough spoke to her more than XR activity did. Sadly…”

It appears people are still buying clothes in volume, but we reached a peak a few years back. Kantar data suggests consumers in the UK are buying 50 items of clothing a year, up from 20 items in the 1990s but down from 52 three years ago. In the US the figure is estimated to be as high as 65 items a year, compared with between 40 and 50 in the 1990s and almost 70 in 2005.

"Put simply, consumers would rather spend their marginal dollar on, say, going out for a meal, than on buying a 60th item of clothing in a year,” Morgan Stanley analysts Geoff Ruddell, Kimberly Greenberger and Maki Shinozaki said in their report.

"It is our contention, therefore, that the apparel markets in many developed countries may now be entering a lengthy period of structural decline.” they said. The main catalyst for increased consumption was falling prices. "If clothing volumes are plateauing in developed countries, the only way the apparel markets there can grow is if clothing prices go up," the report said. "But (potential US tariff impacts aside) we think it more likely that they will continue to fall ... as production continues to shift from China to lower-cost countries in the region (such as Vietnam and Bangladesh)," it said.

US clothing prices have fallen by 0.8 per cent a year since 2001, while UK prices fell for 13 consecutive years until 2010. Volumes in the UK have more than doubled since 1998 and US volumes have grown almost 50 per cent since 2001, driving 28 per cent market growth. "Expecting consumers to buy clothing in ever-larger volumes, in response to ever-lower prices, was never likely to be sustained in the very long term," the Morgan Stanley report said. The allure of buying has also gone with consumers already own so many clothes that each new item they purchase doesn't spark happiness the report also said.

Personal stylist Elsa Boutaric with a focus on sustainable fashion and helping people build a sustainable wardrobe, and spend less, says with regards to the #ExtinctionRebellion movement, “I think it is definitely raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast-fashion, and putting it into the minds of the consumer. Publishing reports, stats and figures of the actual effect that the message is having has the potential to be more valuable in driving change.” she says

Extinction Rebellion Fast FashionIs this the tipping point for fast-fashion?

“Consumer behaviour patterns are changing and though we still live in a generation of convenience, consumers are looking for more sustainable and ethical options than a cheap pair of jeans and shoes.” says Boutaric. “People shop on ASOS because it is a viable option compared to other online shops, so when their customer base moves away to look for sustainable alternatives, they don’t have anything to fall back on. 

“ASOS is middle market, combined with high street and doesn’t really have a place in the future of fashion unless it learns to adapt, and this is what it is going to have to prove it can to do both its customers and its investors in order to secure its future.” she says. 

“The disadvantage they (fast-fashion retailers) have is that they deliver huge volumes on low margins, so would need to change their business model drastically. This isn’t easy to do when you have developed a position in a market place and it would mean working with new designers and increase their prices. This not only has the potential to reflect badly on their own brand, but also the designers that they work with." she says. 

Right - Are you ready to boycott fashion for a year? #ExtinctionRebellion

“They would need to introduce charitable angles or work with ethical designers without damaging their reputation or losing their market. Also, they would need to manage their stock and not have so much go to waste sitting in warehouses waiting to be sold. This could mean a change in manufacturers and distributors which could prove costly and time consuming. There are several factors that businesses would need to consider, and not all of them will survive.” she says.

 “There has certainly been a shift, and it is being driven by consumers and some brands are struggling to keep up, but others are adapting and thriving.” says Boutaric. “I don’t think it’s a case of reducing their consumption, it’s more consumers buying more ethical options. More people are only buying what they need, or shopping charity shops, or attending clothes swaps. Buying new seems to be a new slur, unless it’s from ethical brands and designers.” she says.

We are constantly told that young people are the most engaged in these types of environmental movements and it’s their future we are ruining, but they are also fast-fashion’s target demographic and consumers. There’s a big disconnect here. 

There could be a perfect storm brewing for fast-fashion with XR. If it connects with young people’s behaviour it could be significant. A swing away from this type of consumption could be detrimental to these giants of fashion. 

Fast-fashion retailers are starting to make green noises with second hand stores - Read more here - popping up and others like H&M and Next moving into selling other brands to off-set the malaise in their own - Read more here - but investors think long term and will need to feel confident that these retailers will continue to grow and be profitable. One thing is certain, brands and retailers will want to distance themselves from the term 'fast-fashion' and its negative connotations. There needs to be a groundswell from the people passionately protesting at Extinction Rebellion to the average British consumer.

'Fast-Fashion' is the OxyContin of the fashion industry. Going cold turkey could have some serious side effects.

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Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 08 October 2019 09:22

ChicGeek Comment Pride of Place

Local stores anti clone towns or shopsWe’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless. 

Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”

Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?

It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.

“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.

“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”

“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”

The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.

DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)

Local stores anti clone towns or shops Banksy

Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.

“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.

It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place). 

Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?

This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.

"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.

"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”

Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.

“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.

Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.

Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors. 

Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.

Published in Fashion
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