With Brexit looming, consumer confidence dwindling, and retailers seeking new ways to offer the best experience for shoppers, Drapers speaks to fashion leaders across the industry to see what they predict for the year ahead.
Christine Kasoulis, fashion director, John Lewis
“Highly networked and informed customers will become even more demanding”
Against a challenging economic backdrop, highly networked and informed customers will become even more demanding of retailers. In a world of endless online aisles, customers will welcome edited collections and more guidance – online and in shops – to help them find what they are looking for. They will also increasingly look for unique products – high-quality statement clothing rather than items they only wear a few times.
The retailers that thrive in 2018 will be those that truly understand and anticipate their customers’ needs, and delight them with amazing products, outstanding service and in-store experiences they love.
Peter Youell, managing director, Skechers
“There isn’t a lot we can do about [Brexit] aside from buckle up and do the best we can”
This year will deliver even more challenges for everyone as the evolving consumer choice of what, where and when to buy continues to move. The positive among us will say these challenges are opportunities, and that’s how I look at it.
While the uncertainty of Brexit and the tough economy continues, there isn’t a lot we, as brands or retailers, can do about it aside from buckle up, and do the best job we possibly can to attract consumers and offer the best customer service.
We are also at the peril of the ever-changing weather patterns and the “blended” seasons. A successful fourth-quarter trading period will be the make or break for many, and will no doubt define a good or bad year.
In the fast-moving world of consumer experience, and all the focus and costs that surround it, no-one can afford to forget the importance of great product. It should go without saying that product design, quality, purpose, appeal and value are absolutely vital to success. We will evolve our product ranges continually, to meet consumer expectation, adding technology, features, benefits and increased comfort that we feel sets us apart from the competition.
Paolo mascio, president – online flagship stores, yoox net a porter group
Paolo Mascio, president – online flagship stores, Yoox Net-a-Porter Group
”Customers want to experience brands on their terms, whether that is on the go, on their mobile or in the store.”
Whichever they choose, great service is vital. And today that means more flexible and faster fulfilment options, whether that’s click-and-collect or buy in-store and deliver, and a beautiful online and offline retail environment that reflects the brand’s personality, and most of all a seamless connection between the physical and digital experiences.
Omni-channel has long been a concept, but I expect 2018 will see brands actively breaking down the barriers that hold back improvements in the seamless customer experience. This is especially important in luxury where the digital experience needs to embody the same level of personalisation and exclusive service customers expect. This is an area some brands are yet to embrace and it is also a service upon which many brands will be born – the stakes are higher than ever.
Stacey Cartwright, deputy chairman, Harvey Nichols
“2018 will be another challenging year for retail, so we need to work that bit harder to win customers and to keep them coming back.”
Exclusive products and in-store theatre and experiences will be more important than ever.
This year, we’ve had huge success with Fenty Beauty which we launched exclusively in September. We’ve had customers queuing every day since the launch to get to the counter to play with product or enjoy a makeover.
We’ve already secured some exciting brand exclusives and unique in-store experiences for the new year, so watch this space.
Beth Butterwick, CEO, Karen Millen
“The revolution in our sector shows no sign of slowing down”
For many retailers, 2018 will signal the start of a massive organisational redesign. The revolution in our sector shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. Digital will continue to disrupt the way consumers think, as much as the shopping experience. Brexit uncertainty and rising inflation are not going anywhere any time soon. In short, retailers will be competing for a shrinking pot of consumer spend.
To succeed in this environment will require a renewed focus on two core areas. Retailers will need to work hard to develop a better understanding of the target customer and clearly define their brand purpose. But we’ll also see a fundamental rethink of the way many businesses are set up. This will go beyond cost-cutting as established businesses aim to shake off the more cumbersome aspects of their legacies. For many retailers, 2018 will signal the start of a massive organisational redesign.
Paul Martin, head of retail, KPMG
“Consumer confidence is unlikely to increase, and likely to decrease”
Brexit currently preoccupies more than it should do – it definitely will in 2018, and it will drive continued uncertainty. Consumer confidence is unlikely to increase, but more likely to decrease. The result is that inflation stays at the same level. Don’t expect wage growth to increase, and the UK economy will grow at a muted level.
We’ll see “need to buy” items – like food, beauty and clothing – grow, and “want to buy”, bigger-ticket items stagnate. Meanwhile, premium will do OK, as the market is polarising because people are “treating” themselves. Retailers will need to consolidate in the middle market to become cost- effective.
There are big events coming up in 2018, including the general data production regulation and the new leasing standard IFRS 16, which are important back-office topics. The consumer is looking for transparency, and [the industry] needs to be product centric, customer centric and community centric. It needs to understand the social ecosystem – it takes minutes to create a brand, and minutes to destroy it.
Colin Temple, managing director, Schuh
“There will be more casualties in the footwear sector”
The economic and political backdrop will make the consumer nervous about spending on non-essentials in 2018. Any “want to have” rather than “need to have” purchases will be carefully considered. More than ever, retailers will need to have the right stock in the right place at the right time, keenly priced with the best service proposition to ensure they survive.
Increased costs will force businesses to leverage technology to be more productive. It will be about marginal gains rather than “silver bullets” or big initiatives. This would include automation in stock handling – everybody is thinking robots. Mobile payment technology is needed to tap into the retail peaks of Black Friday, Christmas and pay weekends. Artificial intelligence or machine learning that helps get stock in the right place at the right time is in its infancy, but I suspect it will be a hot topic for 2018. As the internet goes from strength to strength and mobile takes an ever-increasing share of it, anything that makes buying via a mobile phone easier for the consumer will probably be a wise investment.
There will be more casualties in the footwear sector. Retailers will consolidate their stores to reflect the continuing demand for internet sales. Store sales will be even more influenced by online capabilities as shoppers research their buying intent before going into the physical locations to buy. In short, customers will want more for less, supply chains will be quicker and only the fittest companies will survive.
“We’re living in unconventional times and things could go either way”
2018 is probably the hardest-ever year to predict. We’re living in unconventional times, and things could go either way – Brexit or no Brexit, the currency could improve or not, and there could be a recession or not. Having already had 18 months in that position, we could be moving towards a consensus of a soft Brexit deal that will allow [the UK] European single market rights and those with skills to come into the country, and then move into a more benign environment. It’s hard to say.
It’s a fool’s game at the moment, but I’m optimistic looking forward. Like many years, the first half will be harder than the second half economically, but it’s all about certainty – if the uncertainty moves away, we could have a different world for retail and fashion.
Anthony Thompson, CEO, Fat Face
“To grow profitably, businesses must embrace new realities”
This could be a big year of change for UK retail after several years of relative stagnation. I predict quite a few leadership changes, as well as market consolidation and different strategic choices being made.
For several years now, the market appears to have done broadly the same things but expected different results. My sense is that businesses are now waking up to the reality that to grow profitably, they must embrace the new post-Brexit realities and change their approach.
“It’s a bit of a perfect storm for retail”
I don’t see the cautiousness that the consumer is showing going away – I expect it to increase and increase. For any retailer, particularly with bricks-and-mortar stores, the challenge of becoming multichannel lies ahead. As online grows, the role of the store changes and that means the business model has to change to reflect this. This can mean different organisational structures, skill and management information to support the running of the business. I’ve seen it exaggerated in 2017 and see it being exaggerated in 2018.
It all comes back to product. It’s so simple, but you’ve got to make sure your product is relevant to how and when your customer wants it. It will be all about keeping up with the speed of that change in 2018, particularly as there’s no rising tide on consumer demand. It’s a bit of a perfect storm for retail, but those that adapt their model nimbly will be winners.
Susie Stanford, associate director, asset management firm Livingbridge, whose portfolio includes Fat Face and In The Style
“The pressure on profit margins when it comes to serving customers is increasing”
I think brands and retailers will focus on [incorporating] more technology into their supply chains to ensure full transparency, in the wave of increased ethical consciousness around logistics and warehouses this year.
On a macro-economic level, the National Living Wage and inflationary pressures present real challenges to retailers, while the dollar rate will continue to cause headwinds. The pressure on profit margins when it comes to serving customers is also increasing, as returns go up and shoppers expect more free delivery options.
On the other side, there are huge opportunities for retailers in the direct-to-consumer space – especially in the UK – in terms of the digitally engaged, experience-driven customers who are usually [sidelined], such as the 40-plus shopper or the plus-sized customer. Asos Curve and N Brown Group have led the charge on the latter in terms of merchandising and marketing, and I think we will see a broader move to recalibrate the perception of what is a “normal” body type.
Daniel Rubin, executive chairman, Dune
”Retailers will invest heavily in omnichannel and international expansion”
Brexit is going to continue to dominate events. If there are signs that a deal can be done that avoids a hard Brexit, then a level of confidence will return, which will be positive for sterling and hopefully stimulate much-needed investment. The opposite is true if negotiations go badly.
Competitive pressures and more stable prices from Far East suppliers will moderate inflation in clothing and footwear. The fashion industry will push for a faster supply chain to meet customers’ ever-increasing demand for newness and individuality. On the other hand, there will be a greater appreciation of quality and comfort from the older customer. And as footfall into stores continues to decline, retailers will invest heavily in omnichannel and international expansion to offset lower UK growth.
Emma Wisden, European managing director, Urban Outfitters
“Customer expenditure is expected to go down, which is our biggest challenge”
With all the potential challenges of the world, I think it is important to keep the team single-minded on the fact there is an awful lot of competition, [especially since] people are potentially going to have less money in their pockets, particularly in the UK.
Customer expenditure is expected to go down, which is our biggest challenge. But I feel lucky that as a young brand, catering to young shoppers means that, if money gets tight, a parent will put themselves second and carry on spending on their children. We have an opportunity to grow our market share in different sensibilities – we’re in the right place.
We’ve got to keep in mind that not only do we need to carry on doing what we’re doing, but we’ve actually got to elevate it even more. We’ve got to make sure our perceived value is amazing and [that] we keep creating and innovating products and experiences. If the customer has less money in their pocket, we’ve got to keep being at the forefront of their minds. There has to be an unexpected element to keep us hot. We can’t just keep on doing – we’ve got to keep on doing, and more.
Peter Williams, founder and CEO, Jack Wills
“Product needs to be better than ever”
It’s hard to think that the outlook for the UK high street will be anything other than tough and unpredictable. The winners will be the brands that understand who their customer is – nothing new there – and communicate with them directly. Broad-brush communications don’t work anymore. Consumers don’t want just “stuff”, so product needs to be better than ever – with a great price/quality equation. It also needs to have a back story.
Finally, nothing is more important than a fully and seamlessly executed digital strategy. Stores are more important than ever, but their primary role now is to communicate what a brand stands for with laser-like clarity.
Laura Tenison, founder and CEO, JoJo Maman Bébé
“Retailers need to be ever-ready for the curveball”
Retailers need to be ever-ready for the curveball and 2018 will be no different. These days we have challenges which we can forecast including cost inflation, pensions, wages, tightening legislation and rent and rates increases. But we must also allow for the concerns we cannot predict with certainty, such as currency fluctuation, Brexit trade negotiations, consumer confidence and of course the ever-changing weather.
On top of these concerns, our biggest challenge is to keep up with consumer demands. We try to offer amazing service at all times, but our customers only want great product at great prices, with full availability at all times. Delivering on expectations is hard and we are investing heavily in attempting to do so – offering more options and increased service as the bar is constantly raised.
At JoJo we continue to trade with caution, making sure we do not succumb to the pressure to discount or sell to Amazon in the UK.
Ravi Grewal, director, Stuarts London
“It has become essential to break into new digital innovations”
This year brings us a little closer to the uncertainties that the economy may hold as a result of Brexit. Although the weak pound has brought in extra sales from our international clients, we will need to plan how we make our selections more appealing to the UK clientele.
With growing online competition, it has become essential to break into new digital innovations and methods to enhance the consumer experience. The customer journey and user experience has to be as quick and flawless as possible. For 2018, we are looking into ways to grow customer loyalty online and in store.
Maurice Helfgott, founder, Amery Capital, which owns Oliver Sweeney and Long Tall Sally among other investments
“Promotional peaks will be higher and non promotional troughs lower”
In 2018, more consumers will spend more time engaging digitally and less time shopping physically. They will want to try more “new” and more innovation, and they will be less loyal to the old and the traditional. Promotional peaks will be higher and non-promotional troughs lower.
The winners will win big but there will be fewer of them, the losers will slide further and fall harder, and there will be more of them. Damp demand and inexorable cost pressures will drive the logic of increased consolidation among retailers themselves, and the industrial ecosystem around us.
But for all that changes, one thing will stay the same - we’ll all do better and feel happier when its warm and sunny in spring, and cold and bright in autumn.
Colin Porter, chief executive, Joules
“General uncertainty in the marketplace is never a good thing”
I think the impact of foreign exchange rates and price inflation will be noticeable for us next year, as we took the stance that we would not pass any of this on to the customer.
General uncertainty in the marketplace is never a good thing in terms of consumer confidence, and where that gets fuelled it’s never helpful. But I think from a brand perspective, we’re an antidote to this.
We’ll continue to focus approaching the market with our core brand values and the positivity in these.
Claire Spencer-Churchill, co-owner, Claret Showroom
“My hope is for some clarity on European trading terms”
The continued uncertainty of Brexit looms and my hope for 2018 is some clarity on what our trading terms with Europe will be. We are very keen to keep our centralised warehousing in the UK, but if the right terms aren’t agreed, we will inevitably move our EU distribution to Belgium. [Unfavourable terms] will also result in a further weakening of the pound.
We saw strong trading from our retailers last year and I hope this will continue into 2018. The shorter lead times from brands give stores much more stock flexibility. We hope to keep trading with most of our retailers every two months. It works well for everyone – most importantly the consumer, who sees much more variety in stores.
Freddie Saul, chief executive, Kilver Court
“It has to be a completely 3D approach”
The key issue facing any bricks-and-mortar retailer (outlet or otherwise) will be continuing to try and find ways to enchant customers into visiting stores. Gone are the days where you could stock a shop well, provide great customer service, hot brands and just hit auto success. It has to be a completely 3D approach to create a truly lifestyle, relevant brand that piques interest on a far deeper level than just providing good-looking merchandise in an attractive environment at the right price – online does that already and will continue to do it ever-better.
In the current climate, customers are far from spending for the sake of it, so once/if you have managed to create that engagement with the brand, you need to be absolutely sure that the team are equipped to convert. That’s why service and communication training are going to be a big focus for us.
Ulric Jerome, CEO, Matchesfashion
“One-to-one relationships are key”
In the next 12 to 18 months, customers will be looking to have closer personal interactions and relationships with retailers and brands.
One-to-one relationships are key, and the retailers and brands that are including this in their strategy through the use of smart technology and innovative physical activity will be the winners.