Womenswear chains’ autumn 11 ranges are impressive, but the major challenge is to deliver on price as well as trends.
Two key factors struck Drapers during the autumn 11’s Women-wear Hit or Miss analysis at Westfield Stratford City.
The first was the absence of many womenswear retailers, including Whistles, Karen Millen and Oasis, which are yet to open. As a result, you don’t get the sense that the centre is a true destination for womenswear, but hopefully this will change once these stores open.
The second was the overriding presence of the almighty Primark. Unscientific as this may be, during the two days Drapers spent at the shopping centre, the majority of shoppers were carrying Primark bags; for (very roughly) every non-Primark shopping bag seen, two Primark bags were spotted. For all the talk of shoppers buying less volume and investing in quality pieces, those at Stratford were voting with their wallets. At every other store Drapers visited, the queues at checkout were relatively small (if non-existent); at Primark, they weaved inside the store.
This also brings up the difficulty of defining the ‘value’ segment in Drapers’ analysis. A product priced at £8, for example, isn’t necessarily ‘good value’ if it falls apart after one wear. And at Primark, plenty of pieces looked like they wouldn’t last beyond a few washes. True value means a fair return for what you’ve paid, but it wasn’t always easy to adopt that definition to this season’s Hit or Miss, when shoppers were clearly backing Primark – the retailer certainly set the pricing benchmark at Stratford.
This puts further strain on the young fashion sector. Primark’ may be cheap, but the retailer knows how to expertly deliver on trends. Last month, River Island chief executive Ben Lewis warned of a crisis of confidence among young shoppers – the retailer suffered a 16% fall in profits for the year to December 25, 2010. Lewis attributed this decline to the need to maintain price competitiveness in the face of rising input costs.
On a positive note, retailers’ ranges were generally impressive. Autumn 11’s trends have allowed them to dip into those that most suit their customers’ tastes or interpret them accordingly – unlike spring 11, when Drapers felt many stores delivered similar collections due to a lack of strong trends.
Colour was key, with autumnal tones – notably burgundy – and saturated brights, or prints from florals and paisley to geometric and animal-inspired. The 1970s theme continued, but with more authority as retailers backed pleated and midi-length skirts, blouses and high-waisted trousers. The 1960s, too, were important, translated onto pop brights and shift dresses. Texture played a key role, as retailers served up cosy faux-fur coats and gilets, jackets, skirts and trousers in leather, suede shorts, feathers and lace.