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Barratts, Oxford Street, London

Footwear chain Barratts has raised its game on Oxford Street with a revamp that brings one of the thoroughfare’s more tired stalwarts up to date

There was a time when if you heard the name Barratts your heart might not have skipped a beat. The chain was something of a value-led also-ran in which you might have found some perfectly good footwear, but might equally have been deterred by the somewhat lacklustre appearance of the shops.

But for the past couple of years the retailer has been developing a new look - first trialled in Sheffield’s Meadowhall - that it has now installed in five stores. The latest to receive the treatment is London Oxford Street - a 3,800 sq ft store spread over two floors, which reopened last week following a £400,000 facelift that took six weeks to complete.

Michael Ziff, chief executive of Barratts Priceless, parent company of the Barratts chain, said the Oxford Street store is a refinement of the Meadowhall template and will be rolled out to 50 of the 100 branches “over the next five years”, with the remaining stores getting a “toned-down version”.

The new look is certainly different from Barratts’ previous Oxford Street presence. Ziff says that the intention is to give Barratts a true flagship on Oxford Street and, along with the chain’s Westfield London store, this branch may mark a turning point for Barratts.

Key looks and merchandise

The store’s two floor geography has been used to its advantage and has made splitting the offer simple. Women’s footwear, bags and sports footwear are on the ground floor. Head downstairs and the entire area has been set aside for men.

In general, the price architecture is lower for women than men, with core line prices starting at close to £30 and topping out at £60 for the more obviously designed styles grouped under the Black Gardenia own brand.

For men, prices start at £45 and there are branded ranges on offer at a little over £100. And there is a clear division between the branded and own-brand merchandise. Ziff says there are “four to five major own brands” and “close to 20 brands in the store”.

For women, the brands run from Kickers to KangaRoos, Ravel to Rocket Dog, but all of them are what might broadly be termed mid-market. Men can choose from names such as Hush Puppies, Loake and Rockwood, with a wide range of formal and casual styles.

Ziff says there are more than 200 additional women’s and men’s lines in this store when compared with a normal branch, with much of what is on display normally found on the web. There is also a small range of big shoulder bags, displayed on a perimeter panel close to the ground floor cash desk.

The range is broad and the sheer size of the store means it will also appeal to lower mid-market shoppers.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

Ziff is keen to point out that the two window displays, either side of the entrance, are completely new at Barratts and there is a pleasing clarity here. The scheme is simple with white and glass shelving backed by wood-vinyl arches and equal prominence is given to the men’s and women’s windows.

Lifestyle graphics sit in the middle of each of these windows with the models set against white backgrounds, allowing a concentration on what they are wearing rather than the usual feeling of envy as you stare at models cavorting in exotic locations in lifestyle imagery. The lifestyle graphics are used in the same manner throughout the store, giving continuity between what appears at the front of the shop and what lies within.

Ziff highlights the use of tables at the entrance to the store. In the Westfield London store, there is a wooden ski-slope style display, which he says looks good but ultimately proved impractical from a stock density perspective.

Elsewhere, different wallpaper treatments are used on different parts of the perimeter to indicate the type of merchandise and there is a good use of shelves and forward-facing arms to break up the bag and boot display.

The men’s floor is more simply laid out, with brand graphics around the perimeter allowing easy navigation, and own-brand merchandise on the mid-floor. Simple and unflashy.

Score 7/10

Service

Self-service is the name of the game, initially, and so the shop has to be judged largely on how easy it is to find what you want and then how efficient the back-up is when a member of staff is required. The men’s floor scores well on this reckoning, as the layout is simple.

The same is less true of the ground floor, where there is a certain amount of confusion about the offer, principally owing to the diverse nature of the ranges, but staff are on hand to simplify things as required.

Other than in a few discounters, footwear retailing does require knowledgeable staff to get the selected style in the required size from the stockroom. This is where the whole system either works or fails completely, and watching the process in action it was clear things were functioning efficiently.

And the real positive in all of this is that the cash desks are easy to locate on both floors; essential if things are to work well in this part of the market.

Score 8/10

Store design

The original Meadowhall store template was created by Dalziel + Pow and Barratts continues to work with it as the design is honed. The heavy use of free-standing cantilevered wooden slatted walls in the mid-floor, which gives the store its essential identity, is likely to prove a real signature for the brand as the roll-out gets under way.

Equally, the use of colour to determine which part of the offer you are heading for works well and is a simple means of providing in-store navigation.

In essence, this store is about simplicity, from the stripped-down logo at the top of the glass-line to the cash desk arrangement. This is not the most amazing piece of store design, but it is contemporary and workmanlike.

Score 6/10

Would I buy?

The big struggle for Barratts has probably been getting people through the door. This new look will encourage them to come in and, once inside, there is a fair chance that customers will find something to tempt them to spend.

Score 7/10

Verdict 35/50

Barratts on Oxford Street has always looked like one of the weaker players and there has never been any compelling reason to venture through its doors. This new design gives it a sporting chance of changing this opinion.

Essentials

Address 297 Oxford Street, London W1C

Size 3,800 sq ft

Design Dalziel + Pow

Refurbishment time Six weeks

Reopening date March 25, 2010

Principal design features Cantilevered slatted free-standing walls in the mid-shop and use of colour around the perimeter

Number of Barratts stores 100

WebBarratts.co.uk

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