People love good shops. It might not be cool to admit it, but watching the hordes of people flocking after each and every lockdown to their local high-street is testament to this being true. While online shopping has seen record growth over the past year, nearly £7 in every £10 is still spent offline. According to the UK Government’s Office of National Statistics internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales (ratio) (%) hit a record 36% in November 2020. Online had been growing steadily towards 20% of total retail sales, but, thanks to lockdowns and the COVID outbreak, it has leapt to above 30%. But, eventually the growth with slow and then will plateau. So, where is the optimism around physical retail?
Left - Do we need a national campaign to remind people how good shops can be?
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Forget all this overblown hubris on buying resale, most people will be sustainable, in the short term, by simply rediscovering their own wardrobes. Regardless of size, we all have favourites we haven’t worn for a long time and are itching to get back out again. This ‘To-Wear’ list is a mental check list which grows ever longer the more we think about it. If you’re a lover of fashion, you’ll have plenty of items you can’t wait to get on your back again. Add a few future looking events and your To-Wear list keeps getting bigger and bigger.
So, if we’re busy wearing all of our old favourites, what will this mean for new fashion sales?
Admittedly, after each lock down there is a flood of pent up demand. Even this week, as the Welsh lock down ended, there were reports of long queues outside stores in the Welsh capital. One woman told BBC News she was getting it all done now in case of shop closures in the event of a return to lockdown measures. Public Health Wales' coronavirus incident director Dr Giri Shankar warned, "We do worry sometimes when we see such large number of queues outside shopping centres, outside pubs pars, cafes and restaurants.” He said we would see the effect of that “in the next couple of weeks”.
A few post-lockdown photo opportunities outside the nearest Primark and people buying necessities soon fizzles out. I’m talking about items for special events or things you love and hold on to.
The longer life takes to get back to normal, the longer our To-Wear lists become. It will be nearly a twelve months break since we wore our best clothes, add in a few extra lockdown, knockdown online purchases and we won’t need anything new for a while. Well, that’s how it feels.
While new fashion purchases could suffer while consumers work through their To-Wear lists, many people have money burning a hole in their pockets. Consumerism isn’t dead as those long queues testify.
Many people on lockdown have accumulated a lump sum of saved income to potentially splash on a once-in-a-lifetime purchase like a watch, a piece of jewellery or some art. According to data retail analysts GfK, a global leader in data and analytics, watch sales were on course for a perfect V-shaped recovery before the second national lockdown. By the end of October, the total value of sales at all price points for the whole of Great Britain over the first 10 months of the year was just 15.6% below the same period in 2019. And this was without tourist spending.
The average price paid for every watch sold in Great Britain fuelled a rise in the overall value of sales by 34.4% in October 2020. Average transaction values rocketed by 57% in the month, far higher than the increase in prices of 19.5%. Ecommerce revenue rose by 63.1% in October, up 40.3% for the 10 months since January. London saw a large lockdown bounce back in October, with sales rising by one third.
These figures clearly illustrate a demand for more expensive watches and how people are spending on considered purchases like watches even during all this turmoil. Money that would have been spent on fashion items is going into buying premium items like these. Items like watches require the confidence of having a lump sum, even just for the deposit. Lockdown has given people this opportunity.
The To-Wear list could delay the returning of fashion sales to pre-lockdown levels for a while. Many of our clothes are seasonal and we’ve missed out on nearly all four this past year. The anticipation of wearing our favourite things is an exciting prospect. The kind of items you never want to get rid of and every wear is a reminder how much you like it.
This rediscovery will be fun for a while, but then we’ll be bored again, and off it all starts, but it’s definitely something we’ve all been thinking about. We could wear them them at home, afterall, but it's not the same, Once we’ve worked through our old favourites we’ll be looking for something new, no doubt. Crazily, many of us don’t even remember what we own any more, and this could definitely propel people into thinking about what and how much they own.
What's on your To-Wear list?
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This is a disaster. This will probably be the biggest recession the world has ever seen and fashion and retail is going to get hit hard. What the global spread of coronavirus (COVID 19) shows us is how interdependent our economies have become and what a fragile house of cards it all was in the first place. Those cards are disappearing quickly and the entire thing is coming crashing down.
Fashion brands and companies are in freefall and the current mindset is to cancel everything. Fashion had a problem with unsold inventory well before this. As the industry got bigger and the need for huge quantities to make a profit increased, unsold merchandise and how to get rid of it was a headache for the majority of brands, high-street or ‘luxury’.
It has been reported that garment factories in Bangladesh have now had orders worth more than US$2 billion cancelled by brands and retailers because of the global coronavirus crisis. Orders for nearly 650 million garments, worth a total of US$2.04 billion have been cancelled, impacting on 738 factories and about 1.42 million workers, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Just as the Chinese factories start production again, Europe and US are mostly in lockdown with many shops closed and retailers cancelling orders.
Primark is using a force majeure clause in its contracts to cancel its orders, the Times newspaper said. “We are deeply saddened that this will clearly have an effect throughout our entire supply chain,” Primark Chief Executive Officer Paul Marchant told the newspaper.
While much of the SS20 season would have been made despite the reported disturbances in the supply chain from China at the beginning of the year, it’s not too late to cancel high summer stock or the waves of drops, brands, who don’t want to hold much stock, have become used to. Primark has no online sales, so all that stock will be stuck in stores and warehouses.
“We have large quantities of existing stock in our stores, our depots and in transit, that is paid for and if we do not take this action now we will be taking delivery of stock that we simply can’t sell. This is unprecedented action for unprecedented and frankly unimaginable times,” said Marchant.
Marks & Spencer has recently cancelled £100m in clothing orders.
This is the retail equivalent of cutting off limbs to save the vital organs. Brands don’t know how long this is going to last and what shape they and consumers will be in at the end of it. They need to save cashflow. Fashion feels particularly unimportant right now and will be awash with huge discounts to clear stock in the near future, and that’s in an already saturated market. Brands cancelling orders will impact manufacturing countries hard, but this isn’t a frivolous decision, this is a battle for survival.
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If 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
Is 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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The simple narrative of big shops are dying, department stores are dinosaurs and physical retail is on its knees just doesn’t ring true. Primark is bucking the trend, and, to really the ram the point home, has just opened not only the world’s biggest Primark in Birmingham, but also officially the largest fashion retail store in the world according to the Guinness World Records. Move over Topshop!
Spread over 5 floors, and 160,100 sq ft in size, the new store boasts womenswear, menswear, kidswear and homeware, plus the largest ever Duck & Dry beauty studio, the first in-store barbers salon from Joe Mills, and 3 dining experiences, including a Disney Café. If it sold washing machines it would be classed as a department store.
Left - Primark's new Birmingham mega-sized store
While nobody seems to know what is going on at Debenhams, and Mike Ashley is hoovering up brands like a hyperactive Dyson - we’re still not sure what he is going to do with all these companies - Primark is an illustration of very large physical stores still opening and doing well.
With no e-tail presence, Primark is where all the other department stores’ physical customers have gone, not to mention Marks & Spencer’s and Next’s. Primark’s Adjusted Operating Profit was £843m in 2018, with revenue of £7.477b, up from £7.053b the year before.
According to local press, Birmingham Mail, “The new Primark megastore Birmingham has been jam packed for four days in a row. Crowds of people flooded into the 160,000 square foot shopopolis when Primark opened its doors 15 minutes early at 9.45am on Thursday, April 11. Ever since our live Primark updates began, the five-floor giant has been packed from the basement to the roof with shoppers - and diners - keen to see what all the fuss is about.”
Primark needs large stores to make its business model of pile-it-high-and-sell-it-cheap work. Only this week, another Primark opens in Milton Keynes. centre:mk see its new 75,000 sq ft store open in the heart of the shopping centre and is the largest new store to open in centre:mk in the last 25 years. Over 3 floors, Primark was the most requested brand by the centre’s 25 million visitors in exit surveys over a number of years.
Kevin Duffy, Centre Director at centre:mk, said “We are thrilled to announce that Primark will be open on the 16th April and joining our fantastic selection of fashion and beauty brands at centre:mk. This is a key moment for us – the new flagship store will be the single biggest store since we introduced Marks & Spencer to centre:mk nearly 25 years ago. Primark is a firm fashion favourite, and so we look forward to attracting more visitors by expanding the centre’s fashion retail mix.”
Primark are expanding into Slovenia, this year, and continuing to grow in America. Primark currently has 9 US stores clustered in the north eastern corner, but plan to open a store in Florida in late 2019. While its expansion has been slow and steady, it was ranked in the top spot on a list of the 100 fastest-growing retailers in America by the National Retail Federation's Stores magazine, which used sales data from Kantar Consulting. In the US, specifically, Primark sales were up 103% year-on-year.
Urban Outfitters is another brand looking to expand with larger stores. Planning to open 15-20 new stores annually for the next five years, the US-based retailer has 50 stores in Europe, including 28 in the UK and Ireland. Emma Wisden, European Managing Director, said the retailer has identified several key markets of interest within Europe that it is underexposed in, which it will be pursuing imminently. Speaking to Drapers, she said, “Urban Outfitters is in the fortunate position of being one of the ‘disruptor’ brands in fashion at the moment. We are opening stores, not closing them, unlike so many of our neighbours on the high street. Ecommerce is, of course, increasingly important, so it is crucial to constantly evolve omnichannel shopping. However, bricks-and-mortar retailing isn’t going anywhere soon.”
Right - Primark's Duck & Dry Beauty Studio in Birmingham
Urban Outfitters has increased its European store portfolio by more than 30% over the past 12 months with new stores in Vienna, Milan, Paris, Eilat and Düsseldorf.
These two retailers illustrate the polarisation of physical retail. Bad, boring retail is dead, and while people are attracted to Primark for the prices, by adding hairdressers and restaurants, they are giving people more reasons to visit and stay longer. Primark’s phenomenal success is allowing them to think beyond cheap clothes and their tie-ups with Harry Potter and Disney at pocket money prices is a guaranteed success.
Urban Outfitters is clearly riding the retro, sportswear trend, but being a shop of discovery and fresh ideas and brands allows a chance for constant change if the buy is right.
Many retailers with large stores are finding it hard to balance business rates, rents and falling footfall, but Primark and Urban Outfitters are proving, clearly, that people still want to leave the house.
The darling of British online retail, ASOS, today, issued a statement saying it saw “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas. Blaming the weather and a high level of discounting and promotional activity across the market, it said it lead it to increase its own special offers, which typically eat into profit margins.
November 2018 is set to go down as one of the worst retail months in recent memory. Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct boss, was recently quoted as saying, “November was the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He said “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”
Left - ASOS' HQ - Black cats for Black Friday?
While ASOS only saw a slowing in sales growth - it now expects sales growth of 15% for the year to August 2019, down from 20% to 25% - it also shows the chill running through the entire retail sector.
A perfect storm of lower footfall, Black Friday discounts, Brexit shaking consumer confidence and a highly competitive market in general, is making things very dicey for the retail sector. Retailer, Stuart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer, told ITV News, “I sense this is a very slow Christmas … You have the uncertainty of Brexit, people are uncertain about what the future is going to look like next year. [Consumers] have their hands in their pockets. Car sales? Down. House sales? Down. Big ticket sales? Down. I suspect there will be some uncomfortable trading statements in the early part of January.”
Even the juggernaut of Primark is reporting a slowdown. It has warned of “challenging” trading conditions. John Bason, the finance director of Primark’s parent Associated British Foods (ABF), said “I think it is a call on quite mild weather during November and I think it’s affected footfall.” This is important to Primark because it doesn’t sell online. Bason told Reuters that while sales at stores open more than one year were “just positive” in September and October, they had turned negative in November.
On a brighter note, overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, but it was the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard. Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.
One thing interesting to note is ASOS mentioning its slowdown in Europe. It said trading conditions across Germany and France, which account for 60% of the retailer’s EU sales, have become significantly more challenging, which means this is a wider problem than Brexit. ASOS said “The current backdrop of economic uncertainty across many of our major markets together with a weakening in consumer confidence has led to the weakest growth in online clothing sales in recent years. We have recalibrated our expectations for the current year accordingly.”
So, let’s look at this weather. According to the Met Office, “November began with relatively cold quiet weather, but from the 3rd to 14th it was mild with a predominance of southerly winds. It was cold with easterly winds from the 19th to 26th, with frequent rain or showers for the east and south-west. It turned very mild, wet and windy in all parts of the country from the 27th onwards. The provisional UK mean temperature was 7.3 °C.” This up and down weather isn’t particularly unusual for November and we had two decent cold spells to help shift more seasonal, colder weather stock. The weather is always an easy excuse for retailers reporting bad figures.
Right - Primark is opening its largest store in the world in Birmingham this month
Black Friday, though, is wiping out profit margins for retailers with consumers expecting huge discounts and it’s stopping people from hitting the high-street. UK retail endured the biggest drop in footfall for the month of November since 2009. It also marked the 12th consecutive month of footfall decline. Discounts were made for online; no pushing and shoving to then leave disappointed. If they’ve got it, it’s in the basket, and you probably don’t buy anything else while you’re there unlike if you’d gone to the high-street or a shopping centre.
Laura Ashley just announced it was closing a further 40 stores and, last week, Bonmarché issued a profit warning and Blue Inc fell into administration.
Many retailers will be praying for a good Christmas, but to make up these sales in the three weeks to Christmas will be tough, especially with so many factors working against them. Primark and ASOS are strong retailers and will weather this storm, but many will not. To continue the weather metaphors, this could be the hardest frost to hit the retail sector in many years and anybody small or not hardy enough will be dead before the winter is out.
They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
The results are in and the great British high-street has polarised. On the one side is the tired and cumbersome old guard with its offering still stuck in the past, trying to shift their stock through promotions and discounts and then the younger, faster, cheaper and ultimately, more fun retailers who are reporting record sales and profits, both on and offline.
From Left - ASOS, Boohoo
Boohoo just reported a doubling in annual profit, driven by growth in new customers, and said revenue should rise by about 50 percent in 2017-18 as it benefits from recent acquisitions. Revenue rose 51 percent to £294.6 million as Boohoo increased its active customer base to 5.2 million, up 29 percent, while international growth, particularly in the United States, exceeded management expectations.
ASOS The online fashion retailer said pre-tax profits rose 14 percent to £27.3m in the six months to 28 February, while revenue increased 37 percent to £911.5 million. ASOS has again upgraded its sales guidance for the full year, pencilling in growth in the 30-35 per cent range, up from 25-30 per cent.
This is growth, most brands, at this particularly point in time, can only dream about.
The pioneer of ridiculously cheap clothes, Primark, said total sales jumped 11 percent in the six months to 4 March. Sales at Primark, which has 329 stores globally, jumped by 21pc to £3.2bn on the back of new shops.
The UK also delivered an improved performance with a 2 percent lift in like-for-like sales, which meant the discount chain stole market share from suffering high street rivals.
Even sales of clothing at Sainsbury’s and Argos outperformed the market with growth of more than 4 percent in the year to 11 March, the supermarket reported.
What’s going on? This isn’t purely price driven. While it’s a factor, they’re making product that people want and the bigger they get and more product they make, the more people they can please. Lots and often seems to be the mantra to keep the novelty of fashion ticking over.
Too many old brands do these big annual ‘collections’, but people just want lots of individual items and fast. These fast brands do look to designers and trends, but they seem to play and experiment themselves. They acknowledge what is going on, but come up with their own things too. It's a buy it or it's gone attitude.
While Next and Marks & Spencer’s languish, I think a lot of men are trading down, happy with the product and choice. I’ve never seen so many fun things for guys. ASOS and Boohoo are producing the kind of menswear once reserved for girls and the boys seem to be loving it. Ombre fringed sweaters, lace shirts and sequinned leggings are just a few of the crazy things that are coming out of these retailers, and while they wont sell in the thousands, it keeps the cool guys coming back for more.
The young guy, today, has the confidence to have fun with how he looks and he doesn’t want to invest big money in fun or one-off items that are part of a look, or something he feels he’s taking a risk on. The fact is it’s the cheapness that makes it more fun and less pressure to look like anything in particular. It also is a way of showing off, this only cost me…
I’m going to call it the ‘Harry Styles Effect’ - trying something different yet being cool enough to carry it off. Okay, he’s wearing Gucci dragons, but you get the idea.
Only a few guys can get away with it, but it receives admiration from the rest of their peer group. It’s basically about looking like a ‘cool dick’ and when you turn up in a white, see-through lace shirt and your friends ask you what you’re wearing, you secretly know they think you’re cool and it’s the buzz you get from trying something different or new. They then look to see where you've bought your items and, while maybe not getting the same things, it creates a halo for the brand.
It’s about having a sense of humour and this is why the British are so good at style: we can laugh at ourselves, while still looking cool. We can be experimental while not worrying too much about convention or others. It’s what makes us leaders and, also, why some of our retailers are so good at this too and internationally.
Another reason is young men aren’t so hung up on logos and branding anymore. They also don't have the money to spend and want something fresh and often, if only for their Instagram account. They want to go out and wear new clothes and with limited disposable incomes they have to buy cheaper. It’s FUN with a capital F and in a world that seems to be harder and harder to get by in, it’s an outlet of escapism for the young guy.
My only message is enough ‘super skinny’.
Christmas is a time for giving, so, this week, we give you two outfits of the day.
There's so much to do, this time of year, at Chez Chic Geek: hanging up the decorations, wrapping presents and generally looking fabulous, that he just doesn't know where to start!
In for a penny, in for a pound and getting his money's worth out of his collection of Christmas jumpers, he's teamed them with skinny jeans and Christmas red Palladium boots.
Left - Credits – Boots – Palladium, Jeans – Nudie Jeans, Sweater - Primark, Gloves - ASOS
Bottom - Left - Credits – Boots – Palladium, Jeans – Nudie Jeans, Sweater - boohoo, Watch - ASOS
Shot by Robin Forster on #OlympusPEN
Thanks to Rocket Gallery