Dear British retailers

Over the last few months I have been shopping in high street shops more often than I would like. What with finding the perfect prom dress and shopping for teen sons summer trip around Europe (lucky for some), it feels like I’ve spent every weekend in Westfield, Stratford.

Shopping for work is a whole different thing, as I don’t care about sizes, seasons or customer service and as COS, Top Shop and Selfridges are pretty much the only places I shop for myself, I’ve been living in a bubble when it comes to the reality of High Street shopping

All I hear from people in the fashion industry is how bad things are – make that, they’re not making enough profit – and there’s no denying it’s tough out there for retailers. No-one is spending what they once did on stuff they don’t really need and at the end of the day we could all pretty much survive for the rest of our lives wearing the clothes we already own. So when it comes to buying new clothes, purchases break down into two areas – clothes you need and clothes you want.

When shopping for clothes you need, several key factors are integral to the shopping experience. They must be easy to find, offer a good selection and have stock in all sizes. Not difficult is it – well apparently it is.

This week we were shopping for swimming shorts, underwear and socks for teen son. Parents of boys will know, they don’t have much of an attention span when it comes to shopping – about 20 minutes between the first stop at Starbucks, a burger for lunch and then home. They certainly don’t want to browse (“why are you looking at those mum, you cant afford them”) so the process has to be fast and efficient, especially when it comes to boring things like pants!

Our hunt for size 9 socks, medium boxer shorts and swimming shorts should have been easy – we were after all in one of the biggest and newest shopping malls in the country, full of flagship store and new retail concepts. But oh no, it was not to be, despite teen son being of average size, mediums were sold out in virtually every store. The best (worst) was Speedo, who only sell swimwear and didn’t have one single pair of medium swim shorts in the whole shop. For pity sake how long have these people been in retail -plus it’s only the end of June and the sun has barely started shining!

We eventually ended up in M &S where credit where credits due, they were fully stocked in all sizes and had an extensive range of swim wear, but give the boy a break, he’s 18 and doesn’t want to look like his Grandad (his dad wouldn’t shop there either), so we left empty handed.

As we wandered through Primark, we spotted fur gilets in the ‘new in’ section and teen son remarked on how inappropriate this was. I tried to explain stock sell throughs and buying calendars etc, at which he glazed over and said “that’s why I prefer shopping online, you can get good styles in all the sizes, at the right time”.

Simple as that, customers want the right stock, at the right time, at the right price. Someone once said that to me early on in my career and it’s stuck with me. So why is it so difficult to get right? Surely the ‘need to buy’ merchandise should never run out of sizes and stock and it should be as easy as filling your car up with petrol. Boring but necessary, quick and convenient.

The ‘things you want’  category however, is vastly different and involves creating a shopping experience and lots of time in store. Teen daughter is happy to browse for hours and the thought of looking through rack and racks of clothes doesn’t phase her at all. She has usually been online and has a rough idea of what she’s looking for before she leaves the house, so when we finally do find the perfect fluoro pink skinny jean/dip dyed hot pant/bralet etc etc, we feel badly let down when we can’t find the right size, have to wait for the changing rooms, or stand in a queue to pay.

A few years ago, when asked about the future of retail I went with my gut reaction and said -“It will be all about a curated physical experience, where consumers can browse product in an exciting environment that resonates with their customer profile. They will then go home and order online.”

As retailers increasingly search for ways of engaging the customer online and offline perhaps that’s not such a radical idea after all, but to be honest for now, we’d be happy with a four pack of sports socks in a size 9!


  • Sarah says:

    Though if we we don’t reward the retailers who have the appropriate stock in the right sizes by buying from them (i.e. M&S), then we are possibly compounding the problem. But I’m with you on the crazy of Speedo not having swimwear in medium.

    My sister and I had fun and games trying to buy trousers for a 6 year old boy on Oxford Street the other day (fortunately without said 6 year old in tow). As far as we could see, only the mothers of 6 year olds had been buying trousers this year because all the other sizes were in stock!

  • ruth stone says:

    Heartfelt agreement- I have spent HOURS with Teen daughter recently trying to find underwear in her (average) size.
    because she had left it too late to wait for an online delivery.

    On this occasion I am looking at you M&S. We were told that the “flagship” store was almost always out of stock of her size. Why???!!! Order more stock!!!

  • Sue says:

    Thoroughly depressing trying to buy stuff in shops.Especially for children.I have all but given up and try to do the lot online, for the boys at least.My eldest son has Aspberger’s so he has very,very specific rules about what he will and will not wear and,quite frankly, I’d rather not go in to an actual shop with him given the choice.It can get quite fraught.The teenage daughter seems to do the same as your’s and we end up bamboozled by the acres of merchandise in Topshop on busy Saturday afternoons, trying to locate whatever she’s spotted with ease online.And of course we seem to spend so much more in actual shops.I completely agree with you that it’s truly bonkers facing eg thick tweedy coats in June/July when you would actually just like something to wear now.

  • Jean says:

    It’s the same in the U.S.! And with older ‘boys’. And in general. Trying to outfit a recent college graduate with reasonable shirts for work and underwear. I was out yesterday and saw that the stores are removing their summer product for ‘Back to School.’

  • Jude says:

    I love your idea of the ‘curated physical experience’ – does this mean there’d only be a couple of samples in each size in the store for everyone to try on? I had a near CPE in Nike of all places recently – I tried item on in-store with fantastically helpful salesperson (particularly needed for technical expertise) but they didn’t have colour I wanted in store, so I went back home and ordered on-line. Then it became less of an enjoyable experience. Working Mon to Fri I ordered them to be delivered to work, but there wasn’t an option for me to indicate it as a work address, so of course they turned up after hours and couldn’t deliver. So then they tried to re-deliver but due to delay turned up on a Saturday. So I think either the delivery companies need to up their game, or the retailers should improve their on-line delivery options/info/communication.

  • jill says:

    I hear you….. teenage daughter triedon 10 bras non fitted,sizes vary soo much. All pretty swimwear sold off last Wednesday (whilst we were at school/work)! No sizesof shoes,and if you are a 14-forget it too fat – all 4,6,8 and 10s left why don’t they order MORE in the UK popular sizes! Hell no. A trip to town now is usually a nice coffee and cake and a look see at colours and then back to the internet to ASOS, Ebay, or anywhere that says yes size 14 IN STOCK!

  • Becky says:

    I agree totally – on my two recent trips back to the UK I have been very excited at the prospect of going shopping in real shops. However this has without fail been a miserable experience. I find myself in the shops in the middle of the sales – which mean everything in a total mess, no sizes left and when you do find what you want it’s usually on the sale rail but not actually on sale – or got one pound 50 off. I managed a whole day shopping on Oxford Street last year – I was so excited but at the end of the day ended up with two pairs of age 9 shorts and a shirt for the 4 year old for a wedding and no sniff of an outfit for myself despite going in virtually every shop I saw – wish I’d never bothered really. I do most of my shopping online now, it’s much easier and I get exactly what I want without the crush of people and the disappointment – I never seem to find good cake either !!!!

  • Molly says:

    I have to admit I’ve started shopping on Etsy – you find a style you like in a fabric you like, in the colour you like, fire off your measurements and get a *made to measure* item of clothing through the post.

    Its FABULOUS. I’m a hippy so I like my organic eco clothing, but check out Annieschoo clothing – fascinating asian -inspired linen. There are hints of Miyake and Yamamoto in her work and its all made to measure !!

    No I am not a schill for her site !! I’m an Australian who loves fashion and I can assure you the retail situation is just as dire, if not more so in Perth, Western Australia !

    I am quite happy to wait four weeks for a quality item of clothing; and the ridiculous thing is that these pieces are often cheaper, including the shipping, than rubbish quality stuff sold here in shops.

    Choose something you like – “silk tunics” for example, and put it into Etsy. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised :)

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