The shops in London’s West End this past week have never been so busy. Maybe it’s the promise of amazing bargains, or maybe its denial of the media obsessed impending gloom.
One thing that struck us and something we have been mulling over for a while now, is that certain brands will survive the recession and may even thrive in a time where the competition is panicking and can’t see the wood for the trees.
Having worked in retail during the last recession we feel we know a thing or two about what’s ahead. Closed office doors meant imminent redundancy and buyers, designers and directors all blamed each other for poor sales. It wasn’t a pleasant time to live through but we survived to sell another puffball and perhaps learnt a lesson or two.
What did the really clever retailers do and how did they survive? Well, while those around them endlessly copied each other and played safe, the confident ones stuck to their brand values, were true to themselves and continued to do what they instinctively knew was right. They clearly defined their customer profiles and made sure their brand had a point of view and told a story. In a time when everyone else looked the same and was focused on price points, they were amazingly successful and had the rest of the high street wondering what it was they were doing right.
It seems the same may be true of the recession this time round. When times are hard, the brands that offer an all round shopping experience will be the ones to survive. That means the store environment, the staff and most of all the product. You may get sick of us saying this, but if we are going to shop in the future, it has to be useful or it has to be beautiful and preferably both. A brand has to connect with the customer on every level and has to tell a story. Whether that’s about heritage, technology or aesthetics, we have to feel that the brand speaks to us in some way.
So who do we think are going to be the leaders in the year ahead?
No 1 has to be Apple. Who doesn’t covet an i phone, shiny bright purple nano or sleek white Mac book. The shops are amazing, the staff knowledgeable and engaging and the products are both useful and beautiful. A winner on every level. The Regent Street shop was absolutely heaving this week and there were no special offers on anything.
No 2, you may only heard of if you have a teenager or live in a university town. Jack Wills is a British phenomenon. More than a little inspired by Abercrombie and Fitch some might say (and be right!) they have captured the middle class teen and twenty something market perfectly. The shop fits and staff are aspirational without being intimidating (listen up A & F) and the clothing is pretty preppy/safe sexy for women and trendy preppy/country gent/city boy for men. They call themselves Fabulously British, University outfitters and are located in all major British University towns. They recently opened a store in London’s Covent Garden and judging by the queues outside it last week, they have their target market well and truly covered.
No 3 is a personal favourite and one that has all the younger people in the office looking at us in astonishment when we start banging on about it. Lakeland fits the ‘is it useful?’ category perfectly. It may not always be beautiful, but OMG how did we ever live without it. Middleagedad.com calls it plastic porn, and even ‘he who never cooks’, gets very excited when a new catalogue pops through the door. In a time when cooking and baking are regaining popularity for either economic or health reasons, Lakeland is spot on. Really useful products for every domestic situation are clearly displayed in the catalogue, website and shops, so all buying options are covered. Knowledgeable staff and amazing customer service, make the customer feel they are dealing with a trusted company who know what they are talking about. They also engage with their customers, asking for feedback and suggestions about new products they would find useful, featuring customer’s favourite products and products specially designed after customers have suggested them. We LOVE Lakeland.
And lastly ASOS, while we are not so keen on some of the product (maybe that’s an age thing, all the young girls in the office love it)) we have to admire their thinking. While other clothing retailers still view the internet as some kind of new invention that’s not really relevant to them (wake up and smell the printer ink) ASOS have forged ahead making use of the all the clever elements of other websites. Maybe it’s because the owner Nick Robertson has come from a marketing background rather than retail, he thinks outside the box. Without the constraints of shops and visual merchandising they have much more flexibility with their ranges and are able to offer a wide variety of looks and labels with out it looking like a hideous mess. With plans to offer an EBay type market place to sell unwanted and old clothes and an up and coming children’s wear range, they can only go from strength to strength. We can’t help feeling more retailers should take a leaf out of their book and start throwing out the old paradigms about the way we shop.
Well that’s our take on the state of the British high street for now, it will be an interesting year ahead and we will have lots more to say. We’d love to know if there are any brands you think meet your ‘is it useful, is it beautiful’ requirements?