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Comment: Two very different approaches to digital

Kirsty McGregor

The same question occupies the thoughts of most of the leaders in our industry: how should fashion retailers respond to fast-changing consumer behaviour, particularly the increasing dominance of digital? Today, we heard from two very different businesses on the very different ways they are tackling this challenge.

2012 regent street store 01 tall

2012 regent street store 01 tall

On the one hand, there is Burberry. The luxury brand has revealed that digital is becoming a “much more prominent” part of its business. In its words, digital now “influences” around 70% of its customers’ buying decisions. So, where once a Burberry customer might have popped into its Regent Street store for a browse, nowadays they will identify what they want online and visit the website several times before finally purchasing the item either online or perhaps in store.

As a result, Burberry has decided that there is no need to increase its net retail space – it has just over 200 stores globally, as well as 200 concessions, 60 outlets and 48 franchise stores – in the next financial year. Instead, it will focus on refurbishing some of its existing stores and look at how to improve their “productivity”.

At the opposite end of the fashion spectrum, Primark is merrily continuing to open stores and still refuses to go online – although it does recognise the influence of digital channels on its customers and has attempted to harness this with its “Primania” initiative and general social media presence.

Primark primania

Primark primania

Primark has increased retail selling space by 0.8 million sq ft since the end of the last financial year, including five new stores in the UK and the expansion of its Oxford Street flagship. The question is, what happens when it reaches saturation point in the UK and Ireland? If it continues to resist the pull of online trading, it will need to invest heavily in expanding internationally.

Burberry and Primark may be worlds apart, but the luxury brand’s decision to curtail its retail expansion and focus on the lower-cost opportunities afforded by digital channels is one all retailers should keep a close eye on.

These are the sorts of issues we will be exploring at the Drapers Digital Festival in London next Tuesday. Find out more at digitalfestival.drapersonline.com or to book tickets contact Mark O’Donnell on +44 (0)20 7391 4500 or via mark.o’donnell@emap.com

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