The news this week that H&M has posted another decline in like-for-like sales this quarter underlines again the fact that huge pressure on retailers in the current market means you are only as good as your last collection.
With competition in the UK market as fierce as it has ever been, it is interesting that industry observers quote a ‘pincer movement’ by two British companies, Asos and Primark, as being partly to blame for the continued slowdown in sales at the Swedish young fashion chain.
So what’s gone wrong for the retailer which at one time led the fast-fashion segment and grabbed countless millions of column inches with its high-profile and critically acclaimed collaborations?
First, in arguably the most price-sensitive part of the fashion market, if H&M is not going to be the cheapest (that honour goes to Primark) then it needs to offer its shoppers something more fashion forward than its direct competitors or invest in quality, store experience or customer service to offset the extra cost.
For a while H&M was doing just that, using clever collaborations to give product the wow factor and give shoppers a reason to visit - we all remember the queues around the block for the Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Lanvin collections. But this trick has lost its effectiveness and some of the more recent efforts - notably Versace and Maison Martin Margiela - were lacking in commercial pieces and, not to put too fine a point on it, looked cheap. They ended up on Sale, not a good sign for a collection that is meant to pull people in store.
Meanwhile, the quality of the standard collections has certainly not outshone Primark and the store environments now also arguably lag behind too, after Primark upped its game with stores such as its new Tottenham Court Road flagship.
But in my view the main problem for H&M lies online.
I was chatting to one retail chief executive a couple of weeks ago, before these latest results came out, about what customers now expected online from fashion retailers. H&M came up in conversation at least twice in the context of how not to do it - a bad sign.
Asos is wiping the floor with most good etail offerings, and it is tough to compete, but check out the H&M website and you’ll see how far off the mark it is. It looks basic, lacks functionality and, where Asos gives you content and community, H&M sticks with grid format product listings - not inspiring to the younger shopper.
But my top complaint is delivery. H&M only delivers in the daytime to a domestic address, and it usually takes a week to arrive. So you receive a ‘we tried to deliver but you were out’ card and have to wait even longer.
I’m not going to lie - I’ve stopped ordering online with H&M altogether, and you can bet I’m not the only one.