During Drapers’ visit to Watford last month, to kick off the autumn 12 Hit or Miss series by analysing retailers’ womenswear collections, the World Retail Congress was taking place and I was following the event on Twitter.
Two tweets, in particular, caught my attention. One referred to Asos chief executive Nick Robertson, who questioned the need for physical stores. Another concerned J Crew chief executive Mickey Drexler, who said over the past four years we have seen a lot more discounting, more competition and less creativity in retail.
The two days I spent in Watford could certainly go some way to proving Robertson wrong. With all the doom and gloom surrounding the state of our high streets, I was half expecting to see some sort of ghost town on a Wednesday and Thursday. Not at all.
Mainly, I saw groups of mums and their babies, mothers and daughters, some husbands accompanying their wives and, during lunchtime and after school, hordes of noisy school girls mainly heading to Primark. Shopping continues to be an important leisure activity; sitting next to your mum in front of a computer screen hardly offers the same form of engagement and entertainment, for now at least.
As for Drexler’s comment, he has a point. Given that I visited Watford relatively early in the new season, several stores were already on Sale and many had one-off discounts. With retailers fighting for consumer spend, the need to innovate is more important than ever, and while many of the retailers showed solid collections, expertly interpreting trends to suit their customers, at times there was little to differentiate one retailer’s offer from another. While many ticked off key trends – military, leather, prints, gothic, Victoriana – some retailers’ collections lacked the wow factor.
Nonetheless, there were some clear winners and it was good to see that physical shopping is still very much alive and kicking.
The stores were visited on September 19 and 20. Marks for each category are out of 10.