Continuing our autumn review, Drapers’ secret shopper investigates the menswear offer at Intu Lakeside in Essex
As online pioneers continue to challenge traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers, the latter should be upping their collective game to lure shoppers into stores and win spending.
For the fourth instalment of Drapers’ autumn 17 Hit or Miss reviews, we ventured to Intu Lakeside shopping centre in Essex on 16 October to investigate its menswear offer. Our visit revealed that not all high street retailers are doing enough to engage their customers, nor offer them enough of a point of difference to choose the in-store experience over the convenience of online.
Shabby store environments were a real let-down. Old and tired shopfits at Burton and others were off-putting but, even when fresh fixtures and slicker designs were found, at Next and Marks & Spencer, for example, retailers often let themselves down with untidy areas or a disappointing lack of attention to detail. Why would shoppers want to spend their time in messy, dirty or unappealing stores when they can shop in the comfort of their own homes?
The swish Superdry store, with its digital frontage, unique design and intriguing displays, offered a well-targeted space that felt new, fun and engaging to explore – other retailers take note.
Customer service should be the bricks-and-mortar retailers’ winning ticket, but there was not enough focus on this. A simple hello or a person on hand in the changing room area would make a huge difference. While AllSaints excelled in this area by offering an impressive level of service to match its higher price points and premium positioning, TM Lewin and Jack & Jones also showed excellent care for their customers, proving that you don’t have to be a premium retailer to get this right.
Finally, to win sales over the competition, whether they be online retailers or neighbouring stores, product still needs to impress. Too many collections were plagued by boring, repetitive or filler items, often crammed on to rails and creating a sense of overwhelming sameness. Even when the product is good, it needs to be edited and curated in a way that allows it to shine. Find out which retailers managed to achieve this.
A premium experience thanks to first-rate staff, swish shopfit and quality products
As you’d expect of a premium store, staff are welcoming and helpful.
Prices are high but often reflect top-quality fabrics and construction, plus premium design details – for example, a simple jersey jumper elevated with ribbed wool collar and cuff details (£88), or a short-sleeved shirt in an unusual striped fabric (£85).
Signature leather jackets are pricey (£380), but feel superior to others, such as Superdry’s (£274).
The lovely interior befits a premium store, and a large iPad-like screen next to the till for ordering items online is a nice omnichannel touch not spotted elsewhere.
While Lakeside is stocked up on knitwear and winter coats, AllSaints still seems jarringly focused on the warmer months. There are lots of short-sleeved shirts and I can only find two heavy coats.
On several occasions I notice only two or three sizes on display, which is slightly annoying.
A quality experience and excellent variety of product
The window’s shimmering backdrop and digital screen catch my eye, complemented by attractive mannequins promoting a variety of product.
The entrance is light, bright and welcoming. Once in menswear I’m greeted by a plush seating area and quality fixtures, fancy plants and other details, borrowing from premium stores.
Staff greet me and, although the changing rooms are unmanned, they are pleasant, with premium-style back-view mirrors and seating.
There is tons of product but, unlike close rival M&S, most items feels different. The variety in tailoring is, as usual, excellent.
A pair of indigo selvedge jeans for £50 exemplifies Next’s balance of quality, a nod to style and value for money.
Imagery throughout, featuring models of different ages, is well targeted.
Things look good on the surface, but a very dog-eared magazine lessens the impact of the premium-style seating areas, for example. And while the changing rooms appear clean, dust and discarded plastic clips are simply brushed into the corner behind the seat.
Good suiting offer let down by a shabby store
There are some strong tailoring styles with a nice variety, giving Burton a point of difference, such as double-breasted and checked styles, as well as more classic designs.
A smarter focus permeates much of the offer, particularly smart-meets-casual blazers and shirts.
Mannequins in the window and in the store do well to show off key items.
The store looks tired. There are strange stains spoiling the ceiling, and fixtures and fittings are battered and worn.
The suiting area at the back of the store is a let-down, considering that there are some appealing styles. It is very cramped, rails are packed and there is little space to manoeuvre.
There is a formal hire area – signposted with a “groom goes free” deal – which is a mess: suits are in piles on a shelf and items are on the floor. It is a particularly disappointing space, given that it is meant for special occasions.
While a lot of the store is well suited to its mainstream shopper, some items feel out of place, such as heavily ripped skinny jeans.
Marks & Spencer
Quality and value are well targeted, but samey product is boring
There are some well-styled mannequins and good use of imagery, which will appeal to the M&S man.
Quality is often M&S’s strong point – a sturdy herringbone crombie for £149 and thick basic jeans for just £15 offer good value. The price of £89 for pure cashmere jumpers is excellent, although the premium-style packaging wrapped round the product is annoying and means you can’t inspect the garment.rombie
The activewear section has grown impressively.
Rails are crammed with samey styles and nothing stands out. The swathes of similar items are quite overwhelming.
Statement areas fall flat. The lovely Autograph space gets lost behind other sections, while the Savile Row tailoring area tries to be premium but looks cheap. Its displays are crammed full, suits are crumpled and discarded items litter the floor.
Staff are nearly impossible to locate, and the store’s silence is eerie.
Points for service but a scruffy store is disappointing
One window features two appealing mannequins and aspirational campaign imagery, while the other is dedicated to neatly promoting the Sale.
I particularly like the large mirrored wall near the centre of the store – perfect for trying suits on with the help of assistants without squeezing into the changing room area.
Customer service is good – one member of staff is diligently assisting a shopper.
While quality is good, products don’t shine in this scruffy store – a £329 suit reduced to £249 is still pricey, and I prefer the higher-quality shopping experience at the likes of Next.
Despite slick windows, inside I find a table of messy boxes as part of the Sale – literally bargain bins, which is unsatisfactory.
TM Lewin’s signature wall of shirts is also untidy. A deal of four shirts for £100 could be appealing, but the messy display is off-putting.
Suits are quite samey and almost everything seems to be in the Sale.
A first-rate shopping experience and a strong product offer
The entire store front seems to be one huge flashing screen, the most appealing of the whole day. The interior is dark but full of bright colours, and the blaring music gives it a buzzy atmosphere. Excellent fittings and unusual displays are a feast for the eyes, creating an engaging, glossy feel.
Some trends are nicely ticked off, for example retro 1990s sportswear, while collections such as the premium Idris Elba range shine. It is also nice to see more diverse product, such as pared-back basics with uncharacteristically minimal branding – cosy and high-quality at £39.99.
The sportswear area is engaging and continues to offer a strong point of difference, with eye-catching product and fun use of mannequins.
The layout seems to have been rethought, with Superdry’s standard logoed hoodies and signature branded T-shirts given less prominence. Staff are friendly.
The excellent sportswear section feels a little lost at the back. Same for the Idris Alba collection, although some additional signage attempts to help with this issue.
Some items appear crushed and creased, which cheapens them.
Great branded offer, while trend leadership excels
Topman has prioritised its branded offer this season, with label Vision Streetwear dominating the retailer’s windows and front section. Other brands – including Vans, Nicce, Champion, Levi’s, Selected Homme and Tommy Hilfiger – also feature, offering a point of difference from its Lakeside competitors, and reminding me of an Urban Outfitters concept.
Topman’s own-brand designs remain the high street’s trend leaders, with a focus on retro sportswear styles throughout, but also pushing new directions such as a focus on cord, interesting tailoring styles and a push on coach’s jackets as a replacement for the perennial bomber, alongside the strong basics and the denim range.
The store is smart and youthfully stylish, with great use of trend-driven imagery throughout.
There are lots of staff around the store but none approach me, and the changing rooms are unmanned. My cubicle has dirty marks up the wall and a broken bulb means it is only half lit. Some wall-hung rails wobble dramatically when touched, and do not feel very secure.
Some good product overshadowed by a messy store
Mannequins in the windows and at the entrance promote a good mix of different products, with smart use of attention-grabbing colour.
The variety of product is good, particularly knitwear and tailoring – a suit in a window-pane check costs a reasonable £125, while a party season-ready houndstooth blazer for £80 stands out.
A shabby store environment and lack of attention to detail are disappointing.
A display greets me at the main entrance housing River Island’s Style Insider magazine – a nice touch. However, the display has been used as a rubbish bin, which has soiled the magazines.
The store is untidy, with numerous discarded items throughout and a messy Sale space. The rail of used items at the changing room is a chaotic pile. Two ladders are simply folded against walls in the store, rather than put out of sight.
A nice visual merchandising element of boards dangling from hangers to show off items styled as outfits is good, but the card is often ripped and dog-eared, looking very cheap.
Jack & Jones
Engaging staff don’t save a hit-and-miss experience
The store front is appealing – I like the unusual collage of campaign images (showing off lots of product), compared with the standard large single image (showing off one outfit), plus the mix of mannequins and hanging items.
I am almost spoilt for choice in outerwear styles. I particularly note the more technical styles, tapping into the Canada Goose trend at more affordable price points.
A member of staff is the chattiest and most genuine of the day, coming back several times to start different conversations, pointing out products and offering help.
This store is quite messy and the piles of shabby cardboard boxes at the back don’t help.
Pricing varies; the £120 price tag for a camel crombie is justified by details such as special branded buttons, whereas £80 for a rather thin cotton bomber seems expensive.
The offer could do with some colour, as the collection, is quite dull – and, by extension, so is the store.
Impactful windows let down by a jumble sale-like store
Zara’s windows are striking. One side is dedicated to classic smart-casual, but still on-trend, styles (camel crombie coat – tick), while the other focuses on more directional streetwear-inspired looks (such as oversized, slogan-printed bomber jackets). They are sleek, tidy and impactful, showing a breadth of well-styled product with wide customer appeal.
While other stores lack variety, the breadth of product on offer gives something for many tastes – although it’s verging on the contradictory.
The windows are good but none of this is reflected in store. None of the window items are prominently placed and, even when deliberately searching, I find only one coat from the six outfits.
The well-styled, considered windows are also in contrast to the jumbled, cramped and messy interior.
There doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind the organisation and placement of most products in store and it feels a little like a jumble sale. Prices can be punchy, for example, £149 for a Crombie coat, which is not appealing in the poor store environment.
A strong and unique offer in a lovely store
H&M makes the case for less being more in its windows – crisp white and empty but for a row of five standout mannequins wearing the key items of the season. It’s simple but effective. More mannequins are successfully used throughout the modern, tidy space, helping to divide areas and catching my attention while promoting full outfits.
The collection selected by pop star The Weeknd is a highlight: a thick, silky bomber jacket with fake leather arms stands out and looks like great value at £39.99.
The season’s key trends are here alongside unique products that bring a point of difference from its competitors; the exclusive Justin Bieber tour merchandise still draws a crowd of shoppers, while the grungy, trend-focused area is also good.
The store is pleasant to shop in, particularly the changing rooms – large, well lit and with a huge mirror and additional rear-view mirror.
The store is uncomfortably chilly. The L-shape of the menswear area means the space at the far end feels almost forgotten about, and most of the product in this area is either boring basics and filler product or repeats, which is a waste.
Bargain prices don’t forgive this shopping experience
One of the first things I see is a Harris Tweed blazer for £85, which is high quality. This is considerably cheaper than a slightly similar version at Next for £185, but I question whether the Primark shopper, used to £5.50 casual shirts and £12 joggers, will be drawn to it.
Primark wins for bargain basics and novelty Christmas jumpers, though a thick, technical-style parka at just £35 is an affordable winter investment.
The Farrell London brand area, nicely sectioned with different flooring, contains some appealing items with a nod to trends, including a collarless shirt well priced at just £12.
The store is uncomfortably hot. An awkward silence is interrupted only by an irritating buzzing noise that follows me around the space – I hear several other customers complaining about both.
I visit early in the morning and it is already a mess, with staff walking past clothing items discarded on the floor – despite the low prices, this isn’t acceptable.
There are some standout items, but entire areas are packed with samey products.