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Drapers Fashion Forum: US shoppers less loyal but more enthusiastic than UK shoppers

US shoppers are much less loyal but more enthusiastic and willing to trial new concepts, more conservative in their fashion choices and more likely to shop from catalogues than their UK counterparts, according to retailers already operating in the market.

Speaking at the Drapers Fashion Forum in London today, Simon Hill-Norton, chief executive of Sweaty Betty, told delegates the retailer started opening stores in the US last year and now has five sites. It also operates a US dollar website. “In the US, they don’t need more stuff, so you have to think hard about why your product is relevant.

“Your product has to be fantastic. One thing [competitor retailers] are very good at in the US is working out what your bestsellers are and presenting them to customers in the shop next door to yours at a lower price.”

Julian Granville, deputy chairman and chief executive of Boden, which is currently gearing up to open its first US stores next year, agreed, saying rival retailers in the US “are staggeringly competitive”.

He added: “British customers are much more loyal. US customers are more enthusiastic; they are more keen to trial new things but they are not nearly as loyal as the British, which is due to the choice that they have.

“Our US customers are slightly more conservative and slightly on the smarter end of the spectrum, but they are slightly less fashion-aware. Strangely, they are slightly slimmer in the US and slightly younger.”

He said the retailer had emphasised its British heritage when entering the territory, using iconic British symbols and landmarks such as black London cabs and Buckingham Palace in its marketing, which he admitted “might be slightly toe-curling in this market”.

While many UK retailers like Shop Direct are moving away from catalogue retailing, he said this channel was “a huge driver of demand still” in the US. However, he added that many consumers receive up to 35 catalogues a week, so it was important to make yours stand out: “We can mail 30 million catalogues a year in the US profitably.”

The retailer also ran trunk shows (parties to highlight the collections and attract new customers), but these were so successful they started to cannibalise core sales so were dropped.

Liz Simon, president of Sears Apparel, explained that the retailer’s US core shopper was changing, with the Hispanic population now its biggest market, while the plus-size and activewear markets were also strong opportunities. She said nearly 70% of her customers are now plus-size.

“The challenge for me, within this very diverse and populated retail landscape, is how do you stand out as a lot of people are addressing [these sectors] very well?”

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