19th June 2018

Clothing Retail – A New Approach Necessary?

Recent news from the high street has been quick to point out the failings of traditional retailers. But what should companies be doing to ensure success? We take a look at some of the innovative solutions being explored by the companies pushing ahead in the clothing sector.

The “New” Department Store?

The problems at House of Fraser have – perhaps understandably – provoked suggestions that the department store as we know it is dead. However, contrasting the seemingly inevitable struggles of Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and others with the approach of John Lewis shows just how much more could be being done.

The John Lewis Partnership has experienced steady growth in recent months, which onlookers may chalk up to their reputation for quality, customer service and expensive advertising. But a closer look, particularly in the fashion area of the business, tells an interesting story.

The retailer has put in place a number of appealing fashion brands of their own, namely Kin, AND/OR and Modern Rarity (the latter in partnership with respected South Korean designer Eudon Choi). But it has also invested in niche brands, with buyers scouting the globe for exciting new labels featured in-store under the Loved & Found label. For the discerning consumer, this provides not only a boutique-style shopping experience, but also one that cannot easily be replicated from behind a computer screen.

Diversification vs. Acquisition

While new own-brands may work for some, other retailers have found success with a different approach. While some, such as Marks and Spencer, have all but foregone ecommerce and instead spent millions on TV adverts, designers and famous models in an attempt to convince younger shoppers to buy their clothes, others have turned to acquisition to solve the same problem.

Next plc acquired Lipsy in 2008 and has been selling trend-led eveningwear under the brand ever since, as well as working with other youth-focused brands online. Next has experienced success as a result; sales are up and the Plimsoll chart indicates their financial health is solid. Their business model is working; this strategy of investing in brands rather than marketing may be something other stores should replicate if they want to reach a wider (and perhaps more youthful) customer base.

Others are doing something different still; selling side-by-side without a formal merger taking place. Footwear retailer Kurt Geiger - who also trade under many department store concessions - has been installed in certain branches of Arcadia-owned Topshop; the two work symbiotically when they could otherwise be competitors in the footwear market.

While companies need a strong brand in order to survive, at times they are either too slow or too stubborn to accept the perceptions that consumers have of them. While in the past the message has been to diversify as much as possible; in today’s market of ever-changing demands and seemingly infinite choice – not to mention brand awareness – those trying to please everyone have undoubtedly spread themselves too thin.

Instead of trying to fight their own image and contorting themselves into whatever they (or their often out-of-touch directors) think that consumers want to buy into, smart brands react early and innovate. Acquiring, or teaming up with, those that can reach a wider consumer base seems to be an effective solution, whether this means selling under a different name or even sharing floor space with a competitor.

Fighting the Competition

There has been suggestion in recent months that the days of the British high street are over. But it is perhaps more realistic to say that the high street as we know it is changing. Traditional retailers are no longer each other’s biggest competitors, and with the likes of ASOS.com, Zalando and Amazon snapping at their heels they cannot afford to be complacent. Instead those that can readily adopt a new approach altogether will have the best chance of surviving in years to come.

The Plimsoll Analysis on the UK Clothing Retailers industry allows you to monitor the progress of high street retailers as well as providing an industry overview and highlighting the best prospects for acquisition. Click here or call 01642 626422 for more information.