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coronavirus speeding up retailers end of lifeRecently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19  is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers. 

Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.

Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth

Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and coronavirus speeding up retailers end of life Laura AshleyNew Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.

Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration

The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life. 

The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.

Read more from TheChicGeek Archive -  Comment Fashion For Clean Air

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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
Friday, 16 August 2019 13:45

ChicGeek Comment Box Everything

Boxpark Croydon successMention Croydon and the first thing the majority of people say is ‘Boxpark’. That, and the fact the place is a bit run down, is all people seem to know about this outer South London suburb. The metal shipping container type concept of Boxpark has become the ‘up and coming’ stamp of hipster approval and many councils and developers see it as an opportunity to regenerate their town centres, drive footfall and appeal to a younger audience.

Since its launch in 2011, Boxpark has morphed from retail to food outlets, and, now, work places. Just announced, Boxpark has nationwide expansion plans alongside two brand new concepts; BoxOffice and BoxHall. They currently have 3 sites in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley. and there are plans to expand with a further ten new sites over the next five years. 

Left - Boxparks new concepts; BoxOffice & BoxHall

The new concept, BoxOffice, is a co-working space which will be incorporated into brand new Boxpark sites. The Boxpark and BoxOffice schemes will be a 50,000 - 150,000 sq ft. in size with developments featuring the Boxpark streetfood and bars set up on the ground floor and leisure operators such as virtual reality, cinemas, crazy golf and karaoke on the first floor and between two to four floors of co-working space above. Boxpark will work along alongside existing co-working companies on the launch and operation of the new BoxOffice concept. 

BoxHall is a new food hall concept. These smaller, 10,000-20,000 sq ft, food and beverage destinations will be based on existing sites within city centres across the UK, featuring between six and twelve street food vendors at each site. Boxpark’s turnover is reported to be currently in the region of £10 million a year.

Boxpark founder and CEO Roger Wade said, “I’m really excited to announce our plans for our brand new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts. Boxpark has always been an innovator in the retail and leisure sector and these brand new formats demonstrate our investment in continuing to evolve both the brand and the sites we build and operate. These two major new innovations will help us secure a further 10 sites across the UK over the next five years.” 

They haven’t named the sites, but proposals were submitted to Brighton & Hove City Council to revive the crumbling Victorian arches on the seafront, and will incorporate a new premium hotel operator alongside a Boxpark.

Founder Roger Wade’s background is retail and he was the founder of footwear brand, Boxfresh. The pop-up Boxpark idea has been successful because it has mirrored Generation Rent. The temporary nature and its choice of more ‘edgy’ locations needs less investment and has less local competition. It’s the opposite of chainy, while still being a chain and situated at travel hotspots for a generation who aren’t learning to drive. Read ChicGeek Comment Neighbourhood Shops - here

Time Out Market London Waterloo

Councils are also encouraging them too. Croydon Council gave Boxpark a £3million loan, plus another £180,000 grant of public cash towards its launch party. Croydon Boxpark has 40 traders from around the world, both established and start-up, set in over 90 shipping containers. With Croydon as a further example, while the Boxpark seems to be thriving near the main East Croydon station with direct trains to London and Brighton, Westfield’s much feted shopping centre in the middle of the town seems to be wobbling and being pushed back further and further. Bricks and mortar is expensive and these easily converted containers are ripe for small start ups, offer more customer choice and can be moved easily if a location doesn't work.

Right - Time Out Market London opening at Waterloo Station in 2021

When Boxpark first opened in Shoreditch it was retail focussed with brands such as Calvin Klein Underwear and Nike. It quickly moved more into food when it realised young people wanted experience over stuff. The two further Boxparks were purely food focussed. Now, they’ve realised there is potential to develop further and make ‘Box’ the ‘Easy’ brand for younger generations.

Eating at these places is cheaper and cooler than eating in standard restaurants. It has spawned imitators such as Pop in Brixton and GRUB in Manchester while chains like Byron Burgers and Jamie’s Italian have all suffered. Shopping centres and town centres are seeing that these hipster concepts appeal to Millennials and Generation Z who want authenticity, and, while a similar idea, they feel like the antithesis of the traditional American mall type food courts.

Food is the fulcrum for all these developments, and it's the theatre of food that creates the buzz and energy missing from many modern retail locations. People need to eat, it brings people together and makes them leave the house. 

These mini-food halls are seeing a boon ATM. ‘Market Hall’ opened at Victoria Station and Fulham with a third opening, the flagship, ‘Market Hall West End’, opening late 2019 in the old BHS building off Oxford Street and will become the largest food hall in the UK. Covering 37,500 sq ft over three floors, with over 800 covers, "this impressive space will feature twelve independent food vendors made up of crowd favourites in Fulham and Victoria as well as some new faces, four bars, a children’s play area, three dedicated events spaces and TV recording studio including a demo kitchen". Market Hall founder, Simon Anderson, told the Big Hospitality website in April 2019, “We are concentrating our attention for the next year and a half within the M25 as we know the London audience well. When we go further afield we’ll go to the north first as half our management team is based in Yorkshire and has a good understanding of that marketplace. Within the next few years we hope to have three or four more sites in London and three or four out of London.”

These modern food halls are like an internet portal or host. The umbrella brand hosts numerous smaller and unknown brands offering more choice and novelty while charging a fee and not getting their hands too dirty. Shopping centre owner intu asked Market Hall to open at their Lakeside centre in Thurrock this Spring. I wrote this last year, ChicGeek Comment Returning Malls To Markets

Eataly Liverpool Street Food Halls Bishopsgate

'The Hall’  “brings together dynamic and independent food traders from across the south east and use the big-city energy, theatre and excitement of street-food to create a compelling dining experience for intu Lakeside’s 20 million annual footfall” says the blurb.

The Hall at intu Lakeside is 14,500 sq ft and includes seven kitchens, a coffee shop, pop-up areas for food trucks, two bars and seating for 680 people.

Other examples include the Time Out Market London, opening at Waterloo station in 2021  - Read more ChicGeek Comment Investors Letting The Train Take The Strain and Eataly, opening on Broadgate, next to Liverpool Street station, in 2020.

Left - Eataly opening on Broadgate in 2020

This global Italian food “marketplaces” operator, which combines retail and restaurant concessions, already has locations in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as in Japan and Brazil. It promises a selection of “the best Italian products, restaurants, bars, quick services, exciting on-site production laboratories, and a cooking school.” 

The Boxpark brand is the leader in this area of pop-up food malls and developers and towns are seeing this as a worthy replacement for the contraction in retail demand. The new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts seem like logically growth of a popular brand.

Umbrella brands like Boxpark also know councils and shopping centre owners will offer financial incentives for them to bring these currently cool concepts to their locations. The only difficulty I see is expecting an unlimited supply of authentic, ambitious and quality start-ups to fill them. These concepts are only as strong as their groups of operators and it will be a fine balance of supporting them while profiting from them.

Published in Fashion
Wednesday, 08 May 2019 16:00

ChicGeek Comment Neighbourhood Shops

GoodHome by B&Q neighbourhood retailThere was a time when ‘if you build it, they will come’ rang true for retail. Large out-of-town sheds have been encouraging people to pile into their cars since the 1980s. But, traffic is slowing and retailers are starting to realise that in order to survive, you need to go to the people, because they won’t be coming to you.

Left - B&Q's new neighbourhood concept, GoodHome by B&Q

People’s time is precious and the thought of driving to a shop, potentially getting snarled up in traffic or fighting for a parking space, when you could simply go online, is making these expensive retail parks less and less viable. Following the march of the supermarkets with their local formats other retailers are now realising it’s all about ease and convenience if you’re going to compete with online. Mix in the fact that car ownership and young people passing their driving tests is falling, then you have a perfect storm for the retail parks and out of town shopping centres.

In a sleepy suburb in South London, Wallington, Zone 5, home and DIY retailer, B&Q, has just unveiled its new smaller format, “GoodHome by B&Q”. The new, boldly coloured and contemporary space offers automated key cutting machines, touch screens to browse the range, a complimentary coffee machine and “over 6000 products available today”. It is a warm, compact space with friendly staff to offer advice, in comparison to one of their rundown, draughty mega stores, run on a skeleton staff, without anybody to help or offer advice. This is the first of these neighbourhood B&Qs which they hope to roll out nationwide.

In October, 2018, IKEA, the ultimate in out-of-town-spend-all-day-and-dine retailers, opened it's brand new mini store – the IKEA Planning Studio – on London’s Tottenham Court Road. It specialises in kitchens and bedroom storage and is more a showroom than a smaller version of the larger store. This week, IKEA launched their first store in central Paris. “Paris is a magnet of trends and fashion,” said Jesper Brodin, chief executive of the main retail arm of Ikea, Ingka Group. “We hope to use the Paris store as a loudspeaker for the rest of the world. If we are successful we could do a lot more of these.” he told The Financial Times.

The new IKEA store in Paris is 5,400 sq m across two floors and includes a 150-seat restaurant. About 1,500 items are available to buy in-store. Located in Paris’ 1st arrondissement, it will be followed by similar openings in Lyon and Nice. “There’s not a typical online customer or offline customer; people are mixing channels,” said Mr Brodin. “They still want to be able to touch the product and have a physical experience of the product”, he said.

GoodHome by B&Q neighbourhood retail

Over in America, the luxury department store chain, Nordstrom, is rolling out its ‘Nordstrom Local’ formats. First trialled in California, it is now planning two in New York to complement its new full line department stores opening at the end of summer 2019.

Right - Inside B&Q's new smaller format, GoodHome by B&Q

According to the company’s research, Manhattanites don’t particularly want to leave their neighbourhoods if they can help it which is the crucial reason for adding these hubs. The smaller stores will not carry merchandise, they are places for online pickups and returns, as well as services like tailoring and personal styling.

The first Nordstrom Local opened in 2017 in Los Angeles, where it, now, has three shops. Some offer individual services, like manicures or shoe repair, based on their location. Most importantly, the company said customers who visited a ‘Local’ spent on average two and a half times what other Nordstrom shoppers did and made returns earlier, which allows the retailer to turn its inventory faster.

Nordstrom Local neighbourhood retail

What many large retailers and shopping centres rely on is the car and the attraction of free and easy parking. Government-backed research shows that the number of teenagers holding a driving licence has plummeted by almost 40% in two decades.

The number of young people with a driving licence peaked in 1992-94 at 48% of 17 to 20-year-olds. By 2014 only 29% of the age group had a licence. Among people aged 21 to 29, the number of licence holders dropped from 75 to 63% over the same period. The decline in car use was more rapid among men than women.

The study, published in Feb 2018, said that rejection of car ownership was likely to become the “new norm” as more people communicated online rather than face to face.

Left - Nordstrom Local in Brentwood, LA

Commissioned by the Department for Transport, it found that changes in living circumstances meant that most young people no longer gained a driving licence or regularly drove a car. It said that a rise in lower-paid and less-secure jobs, a decline in home ownership and an increase in university participation had an impact on how people used transport. The study also cited the high cost of driving and a preference among young people to communicate online. It quoted figures showing that young men aged 17 to 29 were spending 80 minutes more per day at home in 2014 compared with 1995. Women in the same age group spent 40 minutes more at home.

The study by the University of the West of England in Bristol and the University of Oxford, said that many young people had become “accustomed to a lifestyle in which private car use is less central than it has been for previous generations”. The report added: “It is possible that the changes in young people’s travel behaviour described above are the first phase of a social change that will continue through successive generations.”

If this trend is continued by successive generations than it will be bad news for out of town shopping centres with poor public transport. It could also mean, in future, entire families will be without a car or driving license and unable, or, will find it more difficult, to visit these huge out of town shopping centres or retail parks.

Nordstrom Local neighbourhood retail

It is already starting to take its toll on shopping centres with footfall down and retailers reducing the number of stores they run or open. At the beginning of this year, shopping centre landlord Intu took a £1.4bn hit on the value of its properties. Intu said the value of its portfolio dropped 13.3% to £9.2bn during the year. The drop in property values pushed the company to a loss of £1.2bn, down from a profit of £203m a year earlier

Retailers are realising that transport is key and is where the volumes of people are. Walk through St Pancras station or New Street station in Birmingham, and the range and quality of the stores is nothing like the sad Upper Crusts or Boots of a few years ago. From Tiffany to Ted Baker, these stations are much more glamorous and attractive places to quickly pick things up or drop things off than they were before and compete just as well with any modern shopping centre.

Right - Inside a Nordstrom Local, LA, California

One British retailer proving the value in travel retail is W H Smith. W H Smith could have disappeared like its main products; magazines, newspapers and music or been flatlined by Amazon on books, but instead has flourished by going for convenience and the captive audience of people in stations and airports. 

Since WH Smith demerged its news distribution business in 2006, the travel business has been able to grow its profits in every year since. The size of the business has increased from 309 stores in 2007 to 867 in 2018. With the acquisition of American airport retailer, In-Motion, it will probably have more than 1,000 stores by August 2019.

WH Smith had 581 stores in the UK at the end of August 2018; 149 were at airports,127 in railway stations and 131 in hospitals. Around 125 are located in motorway service areas and are franchised stores, with the remainder in workplaces and bus stations. Internationally, it had a total of 286 stores located in airports, recently opening eight stores in Madrid Terminal 4 and six outlets in Rio de Janeiro. While not the most exciting of retailers, it shows that you can thrive if you go where the people are. 

Smaller and more cost-effective neighbourhood shops could be the answer for some brands. Businesses built on big stores will need to think about how people get to them if they are to survive. The automated car will offer some relief to the out of towners, if and when it arrives, but it feels like it will continue to become a strange concept to drive large distances out of your way to go shopping, especially for the younger generations.

Published in Fashion

High street retail River Island

If the headlines were to be believed you’d think the high-street was in terminal decline and everybody was withdrawing at the speed of knots. Store closures across the board and brands shrinking to survive, it’s armageddon on the high-street, they scream!

The retail market has always seen brands or chains crash and burn over the years. It’s part of the retail renewal cycle and allows others to appear and grow.

Left - River Island's new expanded store at Milton Keynes' Centre:MK

"As consumers, we are becoming more and more demanding, each new level of service experienced serves to simply raise the bar even higher. In the UK in February 2018 online accounted for 17.2% of total sales (source ONS). Whilst this is still increasing (15.6% in February 2017) it is still a relatively small proportion of total sales meaning that over 80% is from the high-street. So, it is clear that the high-street is far from dead but it is evolving at a rapid rate - Darwinism on the high-street if you like, where the process of evolution naturally culls the weak whilst the strong prosper and survive,” says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO Retail Reflections.

Continuing to grow, online retail sales leapt to 18.8% last month - April 2018 - and it won’t be long before it hits 20% and maybe even 30%. For the offline retail optimist, though, it means 80% is left for the taking offline in physical stores.

But, while the focus has been on chains closing stores - M&S announced 100 stores closing by 2022 - there are a few strong and growing brands stealthily tightening their hold and grip on the high-street. The focus is on bigger and better stores in premium locations: less stores but better.

As brands vacate premium sites other brands can cherry-pick and expand into the gaps, but only in the top tier of shopping centres and cities.

For example, both Zara and River Island are carrying out major expansions of their stores at Intu Lakeside. River Island will be doubling the size of its store to 21,000 sq ft while Zara will treble its store size to 35,000 sq ft making the stores among the largest in the retailers’ portfolios. They are the latest retailers to invest in flagship stores at Intu Lakeside since H&M doubled the size of its store to 36,000 sq ft and Next opened an expanded 70,000 sq ft store in Spring 2017. 

When Banana Republic vacated Westfield White City, Zara took the opportunity to create the biggest branch in the UK. River Island recently doubled the size of its store in Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. The retailer doubled its existing unit to 20,000 sq ft to accommodate the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear and children’s fashion ranges.

Nick Tahir, River Island, Head of Menswear Buying says, “We have over 280 stores in the UK. In an increasingly competitive high street, it is important to keep River Island stores looking fresh, relevant and exciting. With 30 years heritage, naturally some stores will require a makeover and in some towns/cities and that has been a key focus for us, we have also been increasing our square footage, to accommodate the needs of our customer and our growing divisions (for example we launched RI Kids and RI Mini only a couple of years back and the demand is consistently growing).”

“Although retailers are seeing an impact on bricks and mortar due to mobile and online, retail is still the biggest mix of sales for us. With our heritage, stores will always play an important role. They are the heartbeat of the River Island. The challenge for us and our peers in the industry, is to keep our customers coming back again and again. We do this by enhancing their shopping experience – whether that’s through pop-ups and exclusive events, or through offering something that our customers can’t find with some of our competitors; take Style Studio for example, our complimentary Personal Shopping service. It is vital for us to keep revamping and improving our store aesthetic to draw footfall, creating theatre through VM and windows and of course constantly refreshing our product offering to stay relevant and exciting.” says Tahir.

As stores grow larger at key shopping hot spots, retailers can give fewer locations more attention and fine tune, update and invest in those locations. But, what this will also mean is many towns will lose their well known names and become secondary as the money is sucked into fewer, bigger places.

“Most retailers with a large store estate have too much space so what we're also seeing (landlord rent restrictions aside) is an expected re-sizing and in some cases re-purposing of space eg. Debenhams considering renting out space to WeWork.” says Busby.

“All this means that the stores which survive will need to be far better than those we currently experience. For example, the poor quality of the Toys R Us stores was a major factor in it collapsing into administration.” he says.

High street retail Zara

“But the fascinating dynamic is that quality and customer experience in store is largely dependent upon the particular shopping journey ie. if it's a distressed purchase then the customer just wants to get in, find what they need, pay and leave - as seamlessly as possible. However, if it's for say a luxury item they may well welcome, indeed, seek out engagement and advice; being quite happy to spend far longer. Both journeys will be judged by different criteria. The trick for retailers is to recognise what journey we're on and act accordingly. Facial recognition and AI is going a long way to be able to tell what mood we are in when we enter the store.” says Busby.

Right - Zara's new store at Westfield Stratford 

The shopping centre companies know this too. The recently abandoned £3.4bn tie-up between Hammerson and Intu failed, I think, because Hammerson were probably only interested in a handful of their top sites like Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Trying to offload or revive the others would be costly and a distraction and knowing where the market is heading, it knows it’ll probably be able to bid on what it wants individually if Intu starts to wobble in the foreseeable future. 

In order to survive it’s going to be about fewer players with less but stronger sites. As more close, it strengthens those which are left. If you believed the newspapers you’d think that every retailer had given up on physical stores, but the clever ones are only getting started. When the growth in online slows or plateaus, these proactive retailers will be positioned to take full advantage of the eventual return to the high-street.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Published in Fashion

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