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High street designers set their sights low

The final verdict is in. All three of our seasonal secret shopper Hit or Miss reports have been completed and the retailer that has come out on top with its autumn 12 offer is Next.

But while the UK high street stalwart may be at the head of the pack, overall there have been one or two interesting developments to note.

But perhaps ‘development’ is the wrong word for my first observation. We talk at length about trends, but while all the autumn 12 boxes have been duly checked by retailers, the disappointing conclusion overall has been the lack of both risk-taking and moving on of trends. This is not to say there aren’t good products out there but the executions of any given trend are very much on the safe side, as design teams err on the side of caution in this temperamental market. My view is it’s those operating just outside their comfort zones that are the most successful, something Next has done with aplomb this season offering its customers carefully jazzed-up fashion favourites. It’s a shame those with the flexibility to trial something new are so risk-averse as no one wants to see the market stagnate. Perhaps indies should take up the progression baton?

Away from the product it’s interesting to see how varied the quality of service has been across retailers.

To invest in staff is to invest in the future of your company, no matter what the size or sector, and is especially important to customer-facing roles. The level of service ranged from being shouted at from across the shopfloor and finding it impossible to find staff, particularly at fitting rooms, to being greeted warmly, talked through product ranges and helped in finding sizes.

Product may be king, but the retailers getting the formula right are the ones that offer the whole package – take your eye off service or shopfits at your peril.

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