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Beyond basics: supermarkets sweep into fashion retail

Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are taking on retailers at the top end of the high street, stealing market share and exploiting demand for formalwear and athleisure.

Sainsburys 97127620712515

Sainsbury’s Tu

Sales of formalwear at Sainsbury’s have been growing strongly 

It is fast becoming the norm to pick up a suit alongside your bread, milk and eggs in the weekly shop. For the first time in 2016, all four big grocers’ clothing ranges – F&F at Tesco, George at Asda, Tu at Sainsbury’s and Nutmeg at Morrisons – made an appearance on Kantar Worldpanel’s list of the top 20 fashion retailers by market share.

Budget German rivals are also vying to lure shoppers away from the high street. Aldi unveiled its first full womenswear range in October last year and Lidl has launched a 58-piece denim collection, as well as introducing its premium lingerie in UK stores. Supermarket fashion aisles – once thought of as the place to buy (very) cheap basics, such as T-shirts, underwear and nightwear – are transforming into something altogether more sophisticated.

“We have a reputation for doing basic products, but customers are increasingly considering us for fashion,” says James Brown, commercial director at Sainsbury’s. “The feedback we’re getting from customers is that we’re on the right path by investing in our design team and dialling up our fashion credentials.”

Sainsbury’s tries something new

Sainsbury’s has upped its fashion game with Tu Premium, which launched in 160 stores and online in September 2016. The supermarket believes the upmarket sub-brand, which uses higher-quality fabrics and styling than Tu’s core line, can go head to head with premium high street brands such as Hobbs, LK Bennett and Whistles, despite being a fraction of the cost. Tu Premium retail prices range from £18 for a jersey roll-neck to £50 for a checked crombie coat – less than half the price of similar products sold by its premium counterparts.

F&f bardot top ú16, f&f ripped slim lightwash jeans ú16

F&f bardot top ú16, f&f ripped slim lightwash jeans ú16

Tesco F&F spring 17

“We wanted to see how far we could stretch our quality and price hierarchy,” explains Brown. “We also needed to do something that was a bit more confident style-wise and we’ve seen real success with it, particularly in key fabrications such as leather. We did a leather biker jacket, which had a really strong response online [retailing at £95, it sold out online within seven days] and leather skirts have also been strong for us. We’ve also added in new products that we’ve never done before, like a silk blouse [£30].”

Sainsbury’s has also been working on Tu’s core collection. Brown explains that better-quality yarns have been introduced into its knitwear range, alongside new shapes in jersey. Colours are bolder across the entire product range and trend-led pieces such as dungarees sit within its denim line.

However, it is men’s formalwear that has shown particularly strong growth. Sales have grown by 40% in the 12 months to September 2016. Blazers and suits have been a standout category and Sainsbury’s started selling Harris Tweed jackets online and in selected stores last November. 

“We were missing that single-jacket purchase, so there’s been a huge piece of work on formalwear – investing in tailoring, introducing in-store merchandising to show men how to pull the outfit together, changing fits and giving the photography that goes with the range a more contemporary feel,” says Brown. “The Harris Tweed jackets [£110] were a price point we’d never tried before, so we had to see whether or not we could sell it. Customers recognised the quality of the garment and that it was good value.”

Tesco’s F&F has also been raising its game.

“There’s been a focus on raising the bar in terms of quality and design, while still providing the best possible price for our customers,” explains global brand and marketing director Chris Other. “Most of our customers do buy clothing from us and we want to surprise them. It’s not just about basics and it’s not about selling great design but poor quality.”

As well as launching athleisure range F&F Active for spring 16, Tesco is opening concessions within some of its larger stores. Arcadia fascias Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge have opened in locations including Long Eaton, Chesterfield and Woolwich. This will make Tesco stores a real shopping destination for customers, argues Other.

“If you take, for example, stores where you have clothing on a mezzanine level, introducing concessions drives footfall. It might sound like a negative for F&F, but it means [customers] are coming with a clothing mindset.”

Ww look 15 premium 086 v1

Ww look 15 premium 086 v1

Sainsbury’s Tu Premium spring 17

Back to basics

Fashion-forward collections from supermarkets are all well and good, but price is still a key concern for consumers, argues Emily Bezzant, head analyst at retail analytics company Edited: “Higher price points have seen success but even though we’ve seen an increased popularity in supermarket clothes in general, customers are still expecting the most sought-after premium assortment to be priced competitively. Sainsbury’s’ most popular products in the premium range were plain leggings at £10, which have been in stock for more than a year, and were consistently sold out and replenished.”

With such keen pricing, supermarkets continue to snap at the high street’s heels, offering increasingly sophisticated fashion at prices even value retailers may struggle to match. With high street retailers warning prices may have to go up this year, it seems likely more consumers will look for fashion by the fruit and veg aisle. 






Readers' comments (1)

  • Let's hope these great price points aren't at the cost of those manufacturing.

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