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High Street Hit or Miss autumn 15: the final verdict

Zara autumn 15

Boring product and bad customer service: as we unveil the final instalment of our comprehensive seasonal high street Hit or Miss series, analysing what the biggest womenswear, menswear and footwear retailers have to offer for autumn 15, fashion editor Graeme Moran highlights the key issues how retailers can tackle them.

H&M autumn 15

H&M autumn 15

H&M autumn 15

Burton autumn 15

Burton autumn 15

Burton autumn 15

For Drapers’ autumn 15 undercover shoppers there were three deciding factors across the womenswear, menswear and footwear retailers we visited: most points were awarded – or lost – on the strength and appeal of the product, but customer service and value for money were also important.

Weak or uninspiring collections were the biggest let-down this season – in particular the repetitive ranges at Gap, American Eagle, Jaeger and Forever 21. There was often a sense of déjà vu when going from store to store, as many retailers played it too safe. It got frankly boring going into shop after shop and seeing almost identical collections. While most ticked off new season trends, many regurgitated old styles and did not offer enough fresh or enticing product. Individual stores need to offer their own unique personality to persuade shoppers to spend their hard-earned cash.

Take the tailored single-breasted camel Crombie coat that was ubiquitous across menswear retailers for autumn. Apart from varying price points (£95 at River Island, £129 at Uniqlo, £399 at Jaeger), there was little to distinguish them. Only a couple of retailers tweaked their versions to make them stand out – for example, Zara’s zipped pockets added a modern touch.

Obvious unique design details or more subtle additions such as a hidden internal pocket or unusual lining will catch consumers’ eyes and make them want to part with their money. In such a competitive, crowded market, where customers are shopping more comparatively, the winners this season will be the retailers whose collections offer appealing points of difference.

Customer service was a disappointment at too many retailers and often contributed to less than satisfactory shopping experiences. In Forever 21 and H&M, for example, staff were non-existent on the shop floor and in the changing rooms, so no one was on hand to offer any help. Elsewhere staff appeared to actively ignore customers. Although some of the premium retailers did offer a higher level of service, many stores would benefit from encouraging  staff to at least acknowledge shoppers when they walk in. Whether it is a £400 coat or a £4 T-shirt, pleasant and helpful staff can make all the difference to the shopping experience. A simple smile or a basic “hello” would go a long way.

On a brighter note it was refreshing to see retailers such as Topman, Burton, Marks & Spencer and Next better signposting their value-added elements and drawing attention to aspects that did offer a point of difference. For example, swing tags and signs showing off real leather or cashmere pieces, Made in Britain fabrics or details such as special wider fits or additional sizes were good and certainly caught my attention.

Importantly, this can help to instil a sense of value for money, justifying punchier price points by highlighting added-value aspects. As the high street becomes more competitive, retailers can do more through simple signage and labelling to persuade shoppers to buy from them. For example, I found a £399 coat in Jaeger, but only discovered it was this expensive because of its luxurious cashmere blended wool fabric when I later checked online – even a discreet swing tag explaining the premium fabrication could help.

As the battle for customer spend gets tougher and tougher, high street retailers need to ensure that they are offering product that stands out from its competitors and the sea of sameness, offering customers clothing and footwear they cannot get elsewhere. Simple steps, such as improving in-store signage and upping the most basic elements of customer service will also make a huge difference.

Read all our autumn 16 High Street Hit or Miss reports here.

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