Oxford Westgate’s menswear offer was put to the test in our seasonal secret shopper survey.
For the final instalment of Drapers’ spring 18 Hit or Miss series our secret shopper judged the menswear offer available in Oxford’s new £440m Westgate shopping centre, which opened last October.
Most retailers rolled out their shiniest shopfits – enticing fixtures, contemporary fittings, and bells and whistles to engage today’s demanding shoppers. From the multichannel digital kiosk at Uniqlo, to Ted Baker’s unique Oxford-themed design and Primark’s cooler, fashion-led rethink, Westgate’s stores exemplified best practice in bricks-and-mortar retail.
As well as creating pleasant environments, retailers upped the ante on customer service, which gives their stores a much-needed point of difference from shopping online. Attentive, informed and genuinely happy to help, staff at stores such as Reiss and TM Lewin turned great spaces into great experiences.
We scored each retailer out of 25 and focused on five factors: product and its balance of trend, newness and relevance to customer; the presentation of the store, from its window displays to mannequin styling; customer service; value for money; and the overall experience – including everything from the volume of music to the temperature of the changing rooms.
Stores were visited on 21 March.
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This Reiss store creates a unique feel with unusual fixtures and fittings, and gives the most premium experience of the stores visited.
The storefront features glass panels arranged in a diagonal pattern that looks expensively architectural and original. Inside, the store is calm and elegantly minimalist – light wood and marble reflect the retailer’s premium positioning. Wooden beams – again unusual and architectural – divide areas but keep a sense of airy openness. The shop even smells good thanks to a clean, floral perfume.
In the spacious changing rooms, a seat makes the waiting area inviting, comfortable and social, while quirky designer furniture gives each cubicle a unique, boutique-like feel.
Members of staff welcome me and check up on me in a way that is attentive but not intrusive. Reiss’s are the only staff who provide this level of service throughout my shopping experience, ending with a happy goodbye as I leave.
The collection is chic and covetable: modern takes on wardrobe staples elevated with top-
quality fabrics, alongside statement pieces. Highlights include sweaters in soft fabrics (£75), ribbed knitwear (£110), a wide-lapel linen blazer (£295), floral print shirts (£95) and a luxurious suede bomber jacket (£395). The brand takes trends such as florals, but breaks them up or scales them down to create ways for the loyal Reiss customer to buy into them. Prices are high but are generally justified by the craftsmanship, details and quality, as well as the great store experience. Footwear brand Clae is a welcome addition to the branch.
The tailoring offer is small but appealing, and details such as peaked lapels, textured finishes, unusual linings and subtle checks give a design-led twist.
One criticism is the limited colour palette, which focuses on whites, creams and pastels, alongside navy. If you are looking for anything outside of these options, there is not a lot of choice.
The customer service in this TM Lewin store is great. I am immediately greeted by two staff, and they return several times to check up and offer advice – although this does verge on being slightly too persistent. I ask one a price and they know it immediately, and also tell me the price with trousers, and with waistcoat options. The same level of attention is given to all customers.
The shopfit is very good. It is modern and masculine, and has a welcome premium air that reflects some higher prices. I particularly like the luxe marble-style floor. It has moved away from the tired Savile Row-inspired dark wood look that tailoring-focused retailers often stick to, which is a welcome change.
Mannequins are immaculate and styled to perfection, and create an aspirational look that shows off products as stylish buys. The store is incredibly tidy – not a single thing is out of place. Tabletop displays, usually tricky to maintain, are neat even at the end of the day.
The signature shirt wall, which often loses TM Lewin points in Hit or Miss surveys, is very tidy and easy to understand. The usual four shirts for £110 offer is here (shining as good value in this elevated shopping environment), and the retailer has added clear signage to explain how much you save, which is helpful.
The modern “business casual” collection is strong. An intriguing, high-quality indigo denim blazer (£179) catches my eye, while items such as a casual blazer (£199) in textured dark green wool and soft chinos in standard navy, red and sky blue (£59.95) offer a strong variety of wearable pieces in good colour options.
The mix of shirting is OK: mostly white and blue but with some attractive pinks and lilacs across checks, stripes and ginghams. There is also an on-trend painterly floral print. In the more formal area, a smart cowl-neck contrast-collar tuxedo is very appealing, and excellent value at £159. However, many of the suits are not so exciting – it would be nice to see more variety in styles, colour and fabric.
This is a great store, and features a unique Oxford theme in its fixtures and fittings. It is not just props on shelves: the references extend to details such as oars as door handles, which give the store an individual personality and a premium air. It feels luxe without being pretentious or typically “fancy”, and this extends throughout the store and the clothes. A cheeky sign reading “Baker’s boathouse – up shirt creek without a paddle” is fun.
The spring collection is strong, and the retailer’s personality comes through via prints, patterns and colours. Ted’s takes on the floral shirt trend range from a colourful all-over palm frond style, through to a tamer monochrome navy and a unique version that has florals on one shoulder and running down its side (all £89), which is a subtler way to channel the trend.
There are some eye-catching items,but more pared-back pieces are also attractive. A plain utility-style jacket with grosgrain details on the pockets is appealing. At £219 it is pricey, but the quality justifies the cost. A simple bomber jacket is jazzed up with a silky floral print lining. It is not cheap at £199, but a duck-shaped label informs me that “like water off a duck’s back”, the fabric is water resistant, which again justifies the price.
Staff are cheerful and helpful without being overbearing.
The store is a bit too warm, however, and while the changing rooms are plush, the hook in my cubicle is missing, so I have nowhere to hang my items.
The shop could do with some editing, as it is a little cramped. While the quirky props are nice, there is something piled on or hanging off every surface. Add this to the busy prints and patterns of the clothes, and it is somewhat overwhelming.
Next’s double-height entrance is light and modern, and feels expensive. The tiled floor and beautifully styled womenswear mannequins create a premium air.
Unfortunately, the menswear area is not clearly signposted, but when I find it, the visual feast continues – extravagant fake plants, repurposed cinema chairs and cool, colourful rugs are reminiscent of a luxury store’s decor. It is very neat and tidy – particularly the denim area, where the jeans hang from hooks and look immaculate.
Volume and variety is key. There are more than 10 T-shirts channelling the season’s floral trend, and Next reinterprets it for its shopper, from all-over patterns to just a floral collar. There are lots of basics, but unique additions such as these flowery pieces prevent the offer feeling too samey.
The tailoring range is very broad and offers the best choice of all retailers visited – not just in colour and fabric, but also cut and style. A well-made suit for £120 is great value, while a more premium style in a textured flecked fabric is only £20 more.
The store is well merchandised, and almost every rail features a spread of sizes from XS to XXXL. Next also offers a vast range of price points – jeans are available for £18, £22, £30 and £40. However, beyond the sturdiness of the £40 pair, I struggle to see why the styles have different prices.
Customer service is a bit of a let-down. One member of staff almost walks into me but still does not acknowledge me, although another does eventually.
The changing rooms are neglected. One dark cubicle has a broken light bulb, and a hook in my cubicle is hanging off.
The store’s windows are appealing. Four mannequins are arranged with arms in different positions, which stands out in comparison with the standard static style of mannequins seen elsewhere. The pink, mint and light blue colours of the shirts are eye-catching, compared with the all-blue styling in the windows of competitors such as TM Lewin. However, the windows’ many signs promoting different offers and styles are a bit overbearing.
Staff are pleasant and helpful, although they are having personal conversations across the store as I shop.
The store is neat and tidy but does not feel quite as contemporary or sleek as rival TM Lewin, which has a more premium feel. The store has a pleasing floral smell though, which is a nice touch, and the seating area near the back of the space is a welcome addition.
There are some modern elements, such as minimalist marble-topped tables and a neon sign declaring the store “The home of proper shirts”. However, there are also the typical dark wood antique-style fittings that jar slightly with the newer elements.
The collection has a slightly more mature feel, and a heritage-inspired, “countryside” style that seems a little old-fashioned in places. The more casual end of the range features well-made herringbone tweed blazers (£179), while a good-quality multi-pocket hunting jacket is a standout piece (£179). It is good to see more quirky use of colour here, such as in a range of checked shirts (£60) and polo shirts (£29.95) in bright and bold colour combinations, although a lot of the range is still quite plain and basic.
I see a deal for five shirts for £135 (£27 each), which marginally undercuts TM Lewin’s four shirts for £110 (£27.50 each) by “cost per shirt”.
Suits, much like at TM Lewin, stick to fairly standard styles, although it is pleasing to see a double-breasted style.
Similar to its competitor, Charles Tyrwhitt’s price points are towards the high end, but are balanced by appealing fabrics and good finishes.
Superdry’s orange storefront is arguably the most eye-catching and unique seen on this visit. However, as the front is several glass doors it means there are no mannequins or displays showing off products to draw me in.
Inside, a screen advertises two men’s polo shirts for £55 (usually £34.99 each), but none of the relevant product is nearby. In fact, I forget about the offer until I leave and see the screen again. The deal is good, but would do better if more logically placed.
It has the usual dark and industrial shopfit, which is noticeably at odds with the bright and airy styles of most other Westgate stores, and it is over-packed with product.
The large and spacious changing rooms have a seating area close by and a more social layout, which is good. Several staff greet me and offer help and, although the fitting rooms are unmanned, a member of staff runs over to assist.
In terms of layout, the division between men’s and women’s wear is easy to miss. The usual plethora of branded product is present – there are nearly 30 different logo T-shirts – but it is helpful that pieces are also arranged by shoppable outfits set up around mannequins.
The Superdry Sport area remains strong. Pops of bright colour and interesting design details appear across appealing technical athleisure pieces.
It is good to see trend-led pieces such as a heritage sportswear style jumper (£49.99) and floral print shirt (£49.99), and smart-casual pieces such as plain chinos (£44.99) and a simple Henley T-shirt (£24.99), which might appeal to a less logo-driven customer. Good-quality fabrics generally add value to justify these higher prices.
The charm is in the detail in Westgate’s White Stuff store. The attractive windows have a quirky “head in the clouds” theme using varied imagery and 3D props, although it might be beneficial to have clothing products pushed to the forefront of the displays, as the lone menswear mannequin feels a little lost.
Inside, signature shop fixtures and fittings create a unique style, and arty displays repurpose items such as old books. A comfy seating area in the changing room is a welcome addition, while a large Wendy house to entertain customers’ children is a thoughtful and well-targeted extra.
White stuff spring 18
Staff are friendly and attentive with female customers, approaching them and offering good advice. However, none approach me during my entire visit to the menswear area. In fact, the menswear offer is rather small, and the store appears to focus on its womenswear customers who may also be shopping for their partners.
It is pleasing to see good use of summery colour, fun prints and interesting fabrications.
Printed T-shirts are well targeted. A fairly simple feather and mountain print (quite pricey at £27.50) with a slightly faded finish is a more subtle approach to graphic T-shirts that should appeal to a more mature shopper.
There are a lot of additions and details that give the products an upgrade. A shirt is a little expensive at £42.50, but elements such as good-quality white metal buttons and one embossed with a “WS” logo go some way to elevate the piece. Similarly, a green military jacket at £99.95 is pricey, but it is well made and has a small leather tag featuring the slogan “Seek adventure”. While there is a casual focus, some smarter elements, such as a relaxed blazer for £125, are welcome.
There are also some good-value offers available: two pairs of jeans for £80 saves £30, as a single pair costs £55.
This Primark branch has a large shopfront, but there are no menswear mannequins in its windows – just two small images. One features an older model, and it is nice to see some diversity, but the exterior does not appeal to male shoppers. Once inside, there is very little signage directing me to menswear.
This is one of Drapers’ more positive Primark visits, thanks to an improved layout. There are sections that move away from “stack it high, sell it cheap” in favour of a more engaging shopfit that compares with those of competitors.
Colourful artwork divides some spaces, and elements such as neon signs are teamed with well-dressed mannequins. On-trend products are merchandised into areas that feel like “style capsules”, and there are well-defined sections, such as “denim” and “smart” – this is something other retailers have done for a long time, but some elements are pleasingly new for Primark.
The large till queue area, often off-putting and unsightly, is smartly hidden. Changing rooms are poorly signposted, but cubicles are roomy and have a big mirror, large seat and an extra multi-view mirror. They are manned, but staff are not very warm or chatty. Other staff are busy keeping the store tidy, but it is disappointing that only one addresses me directly.
Primark’s prices – £10 for jeans, £7 for a shirt, £8 for smart trousers, £30 for a blazer – are the cheapest on the high street, but do reflect comparatively lower-quality fabrics and construction.
In some areas, samey basics are displayed in Primark’s classic, less appealing way, but trends such as printed summery shirts (£7) and panelled lightweight jackets (£12) find a place. A functional athleisure area is on trend, and a neon jacket is good value at just £12.
As always, Primark does not play any music, which creates an eerie atmosphere that is at odds with its new look.
This branch of Uniqlo is overwhelming. It is packed with product literally from floor to ceiling and every surface is covered with clothing, signage or imagery.
The layout is puzzling. The entrance features an expanse of open space, which is pleasant, but means other areas feel cramped. The till area is squeezed behind a wall – this causes disorganised congestion as a queue forms.
There is little logic to the placement of most product, which makes it confusing. It is also unclear what is upstairs, as a sign simply reads “Further collections”. In fact, it just feels like more of the same product repeated.
However, this is the best example I encounter of a multichannel experience. A “Uniqlo Kiosk” features a digital screen for access to its website. You can scan products in store to check sizes or colours and pay for products yourself for home delivery or click and collect. When I arrive, the screen is frozen, but is quickly fixed and very easy to use.
One customer asks a member of staff who is tidying rails for help and the assistant curtly tells them to ask staff in the changing rooms, which is disappointing. The changing rooms are manned, and those staff are very helpful and courteous, but the cubicles are quite small.
There are some notable visual merchandising touches, such as a row of well-styled mannequins going up the staircase dressed in a spectrum of rainbow colours.
The product range focuses on good-quality basics. Thick T-shirts (£5.90), Oxford shirts (£19.90), merino jumpers (£29.90) and lightweight padded jackets (£59.99) are good value, and all are available in a wide range of colours.
There are also more fashion-led pieces, such as skinny stretch selvedge jeans (£34.90) and hoodies with embroidered details (£24.90), alongside a collaboration with Lego and a link-up with Paris Fashion Week label Lemaire.
Joules’ signature yellow shopfront certainly stands out in Westgate’s sea of samey glass-fronted stores – it is a jolly eye-catcher for passers-by. Equally colourful artwork with references to “the open road” and “countryside adventures” hangs in its windows. It is safely on brand, but not as engaging as White Stuff’s quirky prop-filled windows.
Inside, the menswear area is small and quite packed. A mannequin helps to signpost where the menswear space is, but it is wearing incredibly tight, badly fitting chinos that do not do the pieces justice.
The product offer has a preppy spin compared with competitors such as White Stuff, which gives a necessary point of difference, but does not feel very fresh or exciting.
Polo shirts with sports crest embellishments on the chest and arms are available at £49.95 and £54.94, but it is hard to work out what the difference is for the £5 variance.
A paisley flower print shirt (£49.95) gives a well-targeted nod to the season’s focus on florals, and a pair of chinos in a soft fabric (£59.95) and a quilted bomber jacket with ribbed details on its cuffs (£119) are pleasant but not particularly special.
While these elevated prices do reflect quality products across the range, the unique character of Joules is missing this season and some prices seem a bit of a stretch. I do see some nice details, such as the embroidered rabbit logo subtly appearing on shirting, but the collection could do with more of this.
A large seating area near the changing rooms is both practical for shopping families and a premium addition. Still, this rather indulgent use of space could possibly be better dedicated to expanding the menswear area.
Much like at White Stuff, I see staff being friendly and helpful to other customers, but they do not immediately approach me. One eventually asks me if I need any help, but only after I have browsed and am ready to leave.
I see no menswear mannequins in the window, and when I enter I cannot find any signs directing me to a menswear area – in fact, I nearly leave, thinking it is a womenswear-only store. Eventually I spot a sign directing me downstairs. I spot a rail featuring a pink T-shirt with floral graphic (£9.99), thick white denim jeans (£17.99) and a floral print shirt (£12.99) – these are all key trend pieces and offer good value for the quality.
Three members of staff are talking and
I almost have to push past them to get by.
None of them acknowledges me, but one does assist me when I later ask for help.
The store is light, minimalist and generally well presented, and plays lively music. It is clear that the most attention has been paid to the area near the entrance, where fixtures promote key items in an engaging way, across mannequins, table tops and a rail on wheels. However, when I want to look at a (slightly pricey) £34.99 white denim jacket displayed on the mannequin nearby, I have to squeeze into a tight space between the table and rail to get to it, which is annoying.
Three styles dominate this area, ticking off trends and catering to a broad shopper base: a summery smart-casual feel with white denim and floral printed shirts; streetwear-inspired hoodies and sweaters with pops of colour, printed graphics, slogans and embroidered details; and a more preppy take on heritage sportswear with college-style Harvard printed T-shirts (£12.99) and windcheater jackets (again, quite pricey at £34.99 for a thin item).
Beyond this section, untidy displays, a less-than-appealing messy denim area and rails of repetitive products similar to those already seen in the shop make the rest of the store feel a little forgotten about. The changing rooms, though, are pleasant – they have cool fixtures and lots of mirrors. However, they are unmanned, and my cubicle does not have a seat.
River Island has thought outside the box with its menswear mannequins. Instead of the standard window displays, one mannequin is creatively sitting on a white cube, and this is refreshingly different. Pop art-inspired window backdrops also lure me into the store, and a restrained 50% off Sale sign is informative but not overwhelming.
Clear signage guides me upstairs, and two mannequins beside the staircase show off more product.
The menswear area has a lot going on. I expected a little more from the presentation of the store – it is quite basic in comparison with other Westgate retailers that have rolled out their newest, shiniest shopfits. It feels quite neglected. A rail of random discarded items, which I presume are being sorted by staff, is left in a space right at the front of the area, which is untidy. The messy Sale area is also very sparse, and some rails are nearly empty.
There are lots of on-trend patterned shirts (£25-£28) and T-shirts (£18-£20). A technical anorak for £65 is good quality and I see several customers trying it on, but a £50 cream bomber in a woven fabric seems quite pricey for the quality. Some products, such as badly creased and dusty shirts, are not very appealing because of the state they are in.
Model shots promote the denim area alongside a sign featuring nine different fits, but I can only see slim, skinny or spray-on styles here.
When I arrive, staff are walking around the menswear area, but no one acknowledges me. They then disappear, and the section and the changing rooms are left unmanned.
The walls of the changing rooms are grubby, and there is a discarded hanger in the cubicle, even though I visit early in the morning.
This New Look is quite disappointing. The menswear area feels a little empty – as if products are spread thinly over the section rather than being deliberately spacious. Not a single member of staff is in the menswear area the whole time I visit, meaning there is no customer service at all.
The two oddly huge changing rooms are not signposted – I am not certain it is the changing area until I push open the door, and there is no one to ask. In the big changing area there is a small stool that has dirty shoe prints all over it, so there is nowhere clean to put my belongings while I change.
There are some positive aspects. The menswear offer is clearly shown off in the store windows by three mannequins and a large, appealing campaign image, while clear signposting is used to direct me upstairs and over to the menswear area (H&M, take note).
The mannequins at the entrance of the menswear room show off a variety of items, although they are all manipulated to have a strange outstretched arm. New Look makes use of strong campaign imagery, but I cannot seem to find most of the items the models wear for sale in this store, which is a shame.
Products are fairly basic and the colour palette is dull, particularly compared with competitors such as H&M. Trends such florals are reworked in a fairly tame way via small patterned shoulder sections on T-shirts (£12.99), which is well targeted for New Look’s less directional shopper.
In some areas, prices seem off. For example, a hoodie with rose and skeleton embroidery on the chest is £22.99, whereas similar styles at H&M are £19.99.
There are a lot of offers across the store, from two T-shirts for £9, two (thin) hoodies for £25, two (creased) shirts for £30 and “buy one get one half price” on jeans, which start at £19.99 a pair. These deals offer value for money, but the amount of them across an already small offer, alongside a messy Sale rail, is a little off-putting.