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!