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High Street Hit or Miss: Menswear spring 16

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Drapers returned to Manchester to continue our seasonal secret shopper analysis at the city’s intu Trafford Centre, this time focusing our Hit or Miss attention on the mall’s biggest high street menswear retailers.

As undercover shoppers we judged each store in detail, taking into account a wide variety of factors, from the strength of the spring 16 product offer, through to customer service, visual merchandising, value for money and the overall shopping experience.

While overarching trends cropped up in most stores (there was barely a retailer that did not push at least one variation on a bomber jacket, levels of customer service varied and early spring Sales were prevalent), points were won for stores that created a unique point of difference to competitors, whether that be through product, visual merchandising, store layout or the general shopping experience.

Stores were visited on March 31 and April 1, and were, as always, divided into premium, mainstream, value and young fashion categories.

Intu Trafford Centre menswear stores

Premium

All Saints 9/10

Reiss 9/10

Ted Baker 7/10

Value

New Look 9/10

H&M 5/10

Mainstream

Next 9/10

Burton 7/10

Fat Face 7/10

Gap 6/10

Marks & Spencer 5/10

TM Lewin 5/10

Young Fashion

Topman 9/10

Zara 9/10

Jack Wills 7/10

River Island 7/10

Superdry 6/10

Hollister 5/10

 

Premium

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AllSaints

Product with a point of difference boosted by premium level service

9/10

Pros

It is refreshing to get a feel of more colour in this spring collection, breaking away from what shoppers might expect from the store’s moodier colour palette. The season’s key trend-led pieces are all here but tweaked and taken in unique directions. For instance, a bomber jacket comes with double zips and panelled details (£198) that nods to the classic military MA1 style. These sit alongside unique pieces that offer further points of difference, such as a silky floral western style shirt (£98) or T-shirts that feature embroidery (£50 and a great move on from prints). Customer service is excellent throughout, particularly the chatty and helpful assistant manning the changing rooms.

Cons

There are not enough hooks in the changing rooms – a ram’s head’s curled horns that become hooks are a cool feature but are impractical. Keeping this alongside some standard hooks would be good. There is definitely a feel of the best and most interesting product is at the front of the store but, the further back you go, it gets very repetitive.

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Reiss

Cool classics and a luxe shopping experience

9/10

Pros

Everything about this store interior gives off a luxury feeling matched only by the nearby Selfridges store, from the plush fixtures and fittings to spacious changing areas. It is light, bright and a pleasure to shop. A full wardrobe of menswear classics is on offer, from jersey joggers, light knits and summer jackets, through to suits. Prices are premium, but interesting fabrics and well-cut silhouettes tend to justify them. Trends are nodded to but in the cool and contemporary Reiss way, such as a lovely cream bomber jacket with oversized chunky hardware and zips (£245) and a zipped placket polo shirt in a unique towelling fabric worked in a graphic pattern. Reiss is the only retailer to draw attention to the upcoming Grand National with window signs, for which lots of locals will be looking for a smart new outfit.

Cons

Some shelves displaying product are too high, just above my eye level. Staff say hello when I entered but left me to my own devices for the rest of my visit, despite me picking up items to try on. The clothing offer is full of variety but the suiting could have a little more choice.

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Ted Baker

Fun windows and quirky details but a bit rough around the edges

7/10

Pros

Ted Baker’s windows are among the strongest: a fun installation of an oversized butler’s hand lifts a cloche to reveal mannequins. The quirkiness continues inside, from the decorated walls and light fittings to the fun linings and details of the collection. Well-made menswear staples have quirky details, such as a neat blazer feature a silky lining with a wall of framed paintings printed across its back (£259), or classic chino shorts with embroidered polka dots (£69). The plush velvet seating in the unisex changing room lends a premium boutique feel.

Cons

In contrast to the lovely airiness of Reiss, the store is hot and dark. Considering the premium offer, the menswear area is quite messy: packed table displays and crammed rails. Size labels on denim are ripped and crumpled, which looks cheap. Expensive items such as tailoring are not shown off to their best, which is surprising as they feature heavily in windows. A suit that costs £345 for the blazer and £145 for the trousers is messily displayed back to back on a small rail. Not many sizes are out on the shop floor and the changing rooms could do with a clean.

Value

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New Look

Strong menswear collection and staff shine in sleek own store

9/10

Pros

This is the first time our Hit or Miss survey has covered a standalone menswear store from New Look since they launched in 2015. It is a success, allowing the menswear offer to shine in its own sleekly fitted out space. Windows are used to full potential: six mannequins display the variety of items on offer, while a further three show off even more product inside the entrance. The collection is strong: a lovely fake suede bomber is good value at £39.99 and a real suede western jacket at £89.99 has a punchier price but is of acceptable quality. The silky vintage-inspired bomber jacket (£39.99) is a point of difference not seen at its competitors, while six styles of denim western jackets are appealing (£29.99). Staff are friendly – there is a greeter at the door and others always acknowledging customers throughout the space.

Cons

Although the space is fairly small, several key items appear on numerous different rails around the store, which is repetitive. Some walkways are a little cramped – for example, the denim and tailoring areas.

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H&M

A hit or miss offer inside a cramped store

5/10

Pros

H&M’s ground-floor windows are dedicated to the David Beckham collection, which also greets shoppers on mannequins at the front of the menswear area in store. From a strong range, a thick white denim jacket (great value at £29.99, the same price as New Look but nicer quality) and quilted take on a bomber (pricier at £39.99) stand out. In terms of value from the wider H&M offer, there are some great bargains, such as denim from £19.99. The in-store radio announces a promotional offer for shoppers who can text to sign up for the retailer’s newsletter and receive 25% off in store today. This is a nice touch and several customers take part.

Cons

The store feels crammed and somewhat untidy. Rails are over-stocked and it is difficult to browse or pull out sizes. Some walkways, particularly in the denim area, are too small and customers get in each other’s way. The unmanned changing rooms are littered with old labels and discarded hangers. Some standout pieces are good value, but a large proportion of the stock is very samey, and some items are a lower quality than similarly priced products at New Look or Topman.

Mainstream

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Next

Plenty of choice including an excellent suiting offer

9/10

Pros

Next is all about options and has one of the biggest selections in terms of design choice and price architecture. For example, on entering you first find an array of polo shirt styles: textured, dip dyed, contrast collar, Egyptian cotton – I stopped counting at 20 different versions – and they are well priced at £15, £18, £28, or £35. Unlike Marks & Spencer, each Next option appears different enough in terms of design or fabric to not feel samey. Size ranges, from XS to XXXL on most rails, are good. Suiting is very strong and there are a huge range of designs and fabrics choices, including shawl collar, double breasted, peak or notch lapels. Suits start at £79 – the same as Burton and M&S – and all come with waistcoats, which is a plus.

Cons

I visit the store around 11am and some sections are already a mess, particularly the suiting area, where rails are disorderly and items that have been discarded have not been tidied away. With suiting so prominent (half the menswear space), it might be helpful to show it off in the windows too.

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Burton

An improved suiting focus makes for a smart offer

7/10

Pros

Even from the outside, where the windows only feature mannequins in suits, campaign imagery of reality TV personality Calum Best wearing suits and a big sign promoting the “suited and booted” offer (a free pair of shoes with a suit from £99), it is clear that Burton is smartening up its act and concentrating on tailoring for spring. Suiting is bigger and stronger, and there are more colour and fabric options available than previous seasons. Most have optional waistcoats, as at Next. Prices start from £79 for a basic suit, which is equivalent in price and quality to Next and Marks & Spencer. The wider collection appears to have been smartened up too, featuring jersey blazers (£60) and stretch chinos (£25) rather than focusing on younger casual pieces.

Cons

Some products are very creased, which cheapens the offer. Signage could be improved, particularly for the various fits in the suit section. The suiting offer is much improved, but Next has more choice, through diverse and unique styles, cut, fabric and fit.

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Fat Face

A quality shopping experience but a samey collection could be improved

7/10

Pros

Staff are pleasant and the store is bright. Beach hut-themed decor features worn wooden floors, vintage furniture and props such as boat oars, while variations in flooring delineate men’s and women’s areas. Good signage is comparable to Jack Wills’, and an appealing campaign image with a short explanation hangs on the hangers of key pieces. The balance between price and quality is generally good: sturdy denim jeans are good value at £40, well-made T-shirts are £20 or two for £30, and thick shirts are £40. A “2 in 1” offer of a T-shirt and shirt – meant to be worn over and unbuttoned – is a nice idea for upselling with styling tips and good value at £40. There are a wide range of sizes are on the shop floor, from XS to XXL.

Cons

The windows are uninspiring: one male mannequin wears a checked shirt and jeans. The collection focuses on small range of very similar items – for example, there are several rails of checked shirts in blue and white that have little to differentiate them.

Gap

Heavy discounting lets down a solid store

6/10

Pros

A “distress your denim” stand allows customers to customise their jeans for free, which is a unique touch of retail theatre that enhances customer experience and allows shoppers to make on-trend distressed denim. Points are gained as this is one of the tidiest Gap stores we have seen for several seasons, particularly the typically disorganised Sale area, which although extremely large, is neat. The denim area is well signposted, and there are large campaign images for each of the six fits, from skinny to relaxed.

Cons

A large expanse of window is wasted as it is completely empty but for large sale signs. Although the changing rooms are large and have a comfortable waiting area, a pile of distressed, dog-eared magazines reduces the impact. The one member of staff on the floor stays behind the till, so the changing rooms are unmanned. Lots of reductions appear on key pieces that remain full price at competitors – for example, a zipped denim jacket at  £24.99 from £59.95, and bomber jackets at £29.99 from £59.95.

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Marks & Spencer

Some strong product lost in repetitive rails and bad signage

5/10

Pros

Some lovely items stand out and offer good value, such as a blazer in reduced-crease “miracle” linen (£129), a soft textured knitted polo (£35) and a neat bomber with printed silky lining (£49.50). Although suiting offers less choice than Next, a good basic slim suit is the same price at £55 for the jacket and £44 for the trousers.

Cons

Some areas are repetitive product-wise. For example, in the huge chino offer it is hard to understand why price architecture fluctuates so much. The vast array of sub-brands offer similar products: the Collezione Harrington and bomber jacket have little to distinguish them from those in Autograph and M&S Collection. The store is generally untidy, particularly the small denim area, where uninspiring shelves of randomly folded jeans are not organised by size or fit. Other signs are good – for example, the “formal trouser menu” – but the specific product is hard to locate. Elsewhere a misleading sign declares polo shirts for £19.50 on top of a display of blazers and chinos.

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TM Lewin

A basic and pricey offer cheapened by an untidy store

5/10

Pros

Points are gained for experimenting with visual merchandising in the windows: gilt-framed painting of animal heads sit on mannequin shoulders. Staff are friendly and offer sound advice to customers. Signage and labelling is decent – for example, “pure merino” labels justify some prices and helpful labels on pre-packed shirts highlight details such as double cuff, button cuff or non-iron.

Cons

Next and Burton excel at suiting, so TM Lewin’s tailoring feels more basic with less variety. Pricing is considerably higher: a basic suit for £199 compares with Next’s starter suit at £79 and most expensive version at £200. Although quality is generally elevated, it does not always seem like the best value for money. A Sale rail of suits reduced from £229 to £199 is crammed and messy, considering prices are still quite punchy. The general level of untidiness and littered floor are poor – I’d expect a more premium experience for these prices. It is positive to see the retailer introducing more casual clothes, such as relaxed blazers, knitwear and chinos, but the offer is limited and not given space to shine.

Young Fashion

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Topman

Top marks for a cool collection full of variety

9/10

Pros

There is an appealing variety to Topman this season. A strong main line is full of options in all the key young fashion trend pieces: light summer jackets in suede, wool, denim, corduroy, cotton and leather, and basic T-shirts worked in interesting textured fabrics. In addition there is a lovely premium collection of sleek basics in unusual fabrics, the A collection, inspired by a rock ‘n’ roll look, and a fun collaboration with children’s TV channel Nickelodeon – all smartly segmented by different fixtures and fittings. Topman further bolsters its range with a brand edit that includes a good collection of Select Homme and Noose & Monkey. Signage and labelling is strong, and appealing campaign imagery and informative information are placed throughout.

Cons

Despite well-merchandised mannequins in the windows and at the menswear entrance, the first rails I see are full of basic hoodies, which is quite boring. Some forward-facing rails are very deep so when different styles are hung on the same rail those at the back are lost. Changing room staff are friendly and helpful, but shop floor staff hold loud personal conversations across the store.

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Zara

Design leadership offers point of difference in premium feel store

9/10

Pros

A dedicated menswear window features a cluster of mannequins dressed in matching tonal outfits on sleek white light boxes. It does a great job of showing off a large variety of products while creating a premium feel on par with Reiss. This continues inside the bright store, thanks to sleek fixtures. Product offers a great point of difference. While other retailers, from Topman to Next and M&S, focus on a similar look and key pieces – I lost count of the number of bomber jackets – Zara branches out on its own. Shoppers are first greeted by the directional Studio collection, pushing a louche tailoring trend, alongside unique pieces such as longline silky shirts, lapel-less blazers, linen trousers and a seersucker fabric bomber. The key trend pieces and basics are here – a simple bomber jacket in a wide range of colours and fabrics is just £29.99.

Cons

Despite the store being well organised and tidy, several table displays are messy, and the changing room floors are littered with dirt and rubbish.

Jack Wills

A top shop offering quality preppy lifestyle at a price

7/10

Pros

A premium shopping experience is attained thanks to quality fixtures and fittings, spacious changing rooms and seating area. Menswear is on the first floor but a small men’s area at the bottom of the staircase by the entrance catches male shoppers’ attention. Jack Wills is the place to buy into a preppy British lifestyle, from nicely tailored wool blazers and quality shirts to casual T-shirts and thick fleece joggers, and even swimming shorts with matching towels. Nods to trends come through in neat bomber jackets, while styles like padded gilets are unique to this retailer. Branding is key, but it is good in that it ranges from heavily logo-ed styles through to more subtle logos.

Cons

While the quality is generally pretty good, some prices are a little punchy and it is clear shoppers pay for the logo and brand name. For example, £49.50 for jogging bottoms seems a little steep, and shirts from £59.50 are more than at Fat Face (£40). The menswear floor is busy but service is lacking as it takes a while before a member of staff comes upstairs.

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River Island

A pleasant store with some standout items

7/10

Pros

The store is the lightest and brightest Drapers visits. Despite the lack of menswear mannequins in the windows, a but a cluster line the escalator up to the menswear area, so male shoppers’ interest is piqued. Points are awarded for River Island’s interpretation of trends, sometimes giving it a point of difference. For instance, the leafy hibiscus printed summer shirt (seen at Topman and AllSaints) comes in a more directional trend-led silky fabric or a cotton version that will have a broader appeal (both £25). A huge elongated sofa is a fun addition to new unisex changing rooms, which are manned by a helpful member of staff. There is additional seating on the shop floor, which is a nice, boutiquey touch.

Cons

A messy Sale space is a let-down, and the handwritten price labels look cheap and tacky. The denim area does not make a statement – signage is not as eye-catching or informative as many of its competitors. The tailoring offer also lacks the choice available elsewhere.

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Superdry

New ranges and collaborations shine despite a raft of sameness

6/10

Pros

Window displays do a great job of showing off the retailer’s range, particularly product shoppers might not immediately think of from Superdry, such as smarter, tailored outerwear and the new Dry Sports collection. This sports range is a new direction with running jackets (£69) and hoodies (£64) that blend functionality with fashion. The Idris Elba collaboration looks very strong: its clean lines and minimal details stand out from the noise of everything else. I see a member of staff helping a customer using an iPad to order online for home delivery. Although some prices are punchy (£79.99 for a distressed bomber jacket), others balance a quality with a competitive price – for example, like two T-shirts for £40.

Cons

The music in store is too loud. Despite witnessing some good customer service, staff did not acknowledge me at all, brushing past me several times on some cramped walkways. New ranges and collaborations aside, the bulk of the offer is very samey, with piles and piles of heavily branded garments with little to differentiate.

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Hollister

Some quality, good value pieces found in the dark

5/10

Pros

Windows feature a nice mix of product on mannequins, although they are very dimly light and so are not as eye-catching as some competitors’. The large screen inside the entrance is a nice feature that flashes up imagery and sales information. Hollister’s Californian surfer vibe comes into its own for spring 16 and its denim offer happens to be on-trend this season – the ripped and worn white denim jacket (£44) and ripped jeans (£29) echo styles elsewhere. Quality here is fairly high, justifying some prices, such as a nice tie-dye striped T-shirt for £19 and polo shirts for £25.

Cons

It is becoming a cliché to complain about how dimly lit or sickly perfumed Hollister stores are. However, it is a fact and I hear customers negatively comment on both. The store is also uncomfortably hot. Men’s and women’s wear are divided by a wall running in the middle of the store but the denim area at the back opens out again. It is not clear which sections are men’s or women’s products, as the small signs are easy to miss.

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