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Give shoppers what they actually want

If you’ve been blitzed by gloomy headlines about retailing over Christmas, you might have thought that the ‘Woolworths syndrome’ was beyond the control of the managers and buyers of that once successful and iconic business.

But trawling the shops in a south-east London suburban high street ahead of peak Christmas trading, it became evident that many retailers were short of fringe sizes and best-selling colours of key lines. My guess is that by trying to ‘hold the stock tight’, buyers and merchandisers overreacted in panic to management edicts to try and get stock levels right at a macro value  level, rather than at the more important line unit level. 

This made it almost impossible to buy goods in key selling categories during the critical pre-Christmas selling weeks. Good merchandising control and planning should have coped with the downturns that occurred this season.

On top of that failure, many large high street multiples tried it on with unrealistically high
prices that were no match for the price/value/quality proposition of the supermarkets. There is no way UK consumers will ever pay more again. 

People increasingly tell me how hard it is to find clothes in stores. Friends who once “never shopped online” now spend hours on their computers searching for colours and sizes they can’t find in the shops.

I sometimes wonder if buyers ever come out of their ivory towers to see what most people
actually wear in their everyday lives. Maybe the arrival of the celebrity buyer will happen, but not until the right stock level of the right
product at the right price becomes available – all of the time.

David Shaw is a fashion writer and a lecturer at fashion college Institute Marangoni in London

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