For the third in our series of undercover shopping reports, Drapers puts Milton Keynes’ menswear retailers to the test.
From outstanding product and service with a smile to shoddy store fits and uninspiring offers, the results are in for Drapers’ third high street Hit or Miss survey of the year.
Following last week’s womenswear edition, we once again went undercover at The Centre:MK and adjoining Intu Milton Keynes shopping centres to secret shop the Buckinghamshire town’s spring 17 men’s offering.
Located 55 miles north-east of London, both shopping centres offer the big-name retailers across mainstream and young fashion for men, but only H&M represents the value sector and no premium retailers have any standalone stores – they are instead represented in the centres’ department stores.
All retailers were judged on the same measures used across our Hit and Miss series, looking at the strength of the product offer, customer service, overall shopping experience and value for money, balancing quality of product with competitive, relevant price points.
Points were awarded for some excellent and interesting shop fits (such as Jack Wills and TM Lewin), attractive visual merchandising (particularly seen at White Stuff), attentive staff (well done, Joules) and for offering well-targeted, on-trend and appealing variety of product that is likely to inspire shoppers to spend (points to Next and Topman for interesting and unique clothes their customers cannot buy better elsewhere).
One of the biggest gripes this season was the state of many retailers’ changing rooms – surely one of the most important elements of the shopping experience and where customers make the final purchase decision. Often unmanned and neglected, full of discarded items or downright dirty, retailers such as River Island and Zara need to pay more attention to this too-often-ignored area.
Stores were visited on Monday 13 March.
- Topman: 7.5/10
- Superdry: 7/10
- Jack Wills: 6/10
- Hollister: 6/10
- Jack & Jones: 5/10
- River Island: 5/10
- Zara: 4/10
- Next: 9/10
- Moss Bros: 8.5/10
- Joules: 8/10
- TM Lewin: 7/10
- Fat Face: 6/10
- Marks & Spencer: 5.5/10
- White Stuff: 5/10
- Gap: 4.5
Topman spring 17
A great young fashion shopping experience and a strong collection, but lacking service
Topman excels at signposting and drawing its target shopper’s attention to key items. There are several signs and labels featuring attractive fashion-led imagery reading “new season style rules”. These not only promote key items, but also show how to wear and style them into outfits – promoting add-on sales when merchandised together. A sleek and stylish store with a logical layout and appealing visual merchandising makes it a pleasure to shop. Well-priced product balances trend-led items with some unique and attractive updates to everyday styles. Retro sportswear, various bombers, embroidered denim and graphic slogan top are sure to appeal to a spectrum of shoppers, while higher-priced branded areas from labels such as Hype and Nicce London give a point of difference.
Several staff are on the shop floor during my visit, some chatting loudly among themselves, but no one acknowledges me, despite the store being quiet. The suiting area could be better – when the rest of the product is trend led or trend setting, it is a shame to have such little variety in tailoring.
Superdry spring 17
Some winning pieces and a pleasing changing area lost in a sea of product
Superdry Sport is the best sportswear seen during our visit, providing an impressive offer of performancewear in good-quality technical fabrics – the pared-back logo used that runs up the zipped pockets is a sleek design touch and much less shouty than its other products. Equally, the Idris Elba collection continues to offer great buys, such as a lovely Harrington jacket in soft cotton, which is good value at £95. The spacious changing rooms are pleasant, and the sofas and large mirrors with signs pushing social media engagement create a sociable shopping space for groups. Staff in the changing room are pleasant and helpful.
Despite some impressive elements, the impact of these is lessened by the overwhelming amount of samey stock. The store is filled to bursting with logo T-shirts and branded hoodies in endless colour combinations piled high on tables and hung from every surface with little differentiation between styles. The signature store fit lends an air of quality, but the sheer amount of stuff along with the dark fittings and moody lighting creates a cramped feel.
Hollister spring 17
Lack of service lets down a strong overall performance
More often than not, Hollister’s higher price points are balanced by good quality, such as £25 for a heavy T-shirt, £69 for a well-made bomber and £44 for sturdy ripped-hem jeans. Size stickers on the front of all tops is a neat introduction, meaning you no longer have to search inside the item for the swing tag. While its signature summery surfer style continues to dominate much of the range, it is good to see some items trying to move the offering beyond this look, such as the camouflage prints, retro branded tracksuits or graphic print tops channelling a more streetwear and trend-led influence. The Sale area is also particularly discreet and neat.
I struggle to find any members of staff in the menswear or communal till area and then find the unmanned changing rooms locked – I am so frustrated I leave. Some areas, rails and shelves are quite packed, so it is difficult to actually look at the product, and the store is uncomfortably hot.
Jack Wills: 6/10
A smart shopfit and fresh logo, but there are no noticeable standout pieces
The fresh store fit is impressive – it now has a sleek, light and modern look that is reminiscent of a cool and quirky café or trend-led boutique. This translates to the modern font and pared-back logo, which gives a fresh feel to its branded basics. This pared-back feel also makes these items feel more mature and less shouty, thereby accessible to a broader audience. Staff are busy maintaining the store’s perfect tidiness, but acknowledge me and later direct me to the changing rooms. The video screen in the changing area is a nice touch.
The collection features classic menswear staples and Jack Wills signatures such as smart shirts, T-shirts and hoodies, but there is not a lot of newness that jumps out as particularly unique, fresh or different. The full-price offer looks very similar to the items on the Sale rails. Quality is good, but some higher prices can seem quite steep, such as £64.95 for a hoodie and £249 for a blazer. The store is also very warm during my visit.
Jack & Jones: 5/10
Jack and Jones spring 17
Some unique designs, let down by a disrupted shopping experience
Some nice items catch my eye, such as a bomber jacket with a graphic slogan printed down the placket and a military-inspired overcoat with patches. Both are unique designs not seen elsewhere. There are also takes on the season’s trends but filtered in a way that might be more appealing to the Jack & Jones shopper, such as floral prints in tonal grey shades, rather than loud or bright colours. Television screens behind tills and vibrant music are well targeted elements.
The store is a mess. For example, the table at the open entrance – clearly visible from the outside the store – is in disarray, covered with discarded hangers and random items in piles. This continues throughout, and the changing area is particularly untidy. A member of staff apologises for the mess, saying they are having a “sort and a tidy” – but this could have been done in a less disruptive way. Price architecture is quite random, such as a pricey £75 for a simple jersey blazer, and the collection seems quite disjointed, trying to offer something for everyone.
River Island: 5/10
River Island spring 17
A less-than-appealing shopping experience spoils some well-targeted product and decent service
Shoppers are first greeted by two tables of clearly labelled “just arrived” stock, which promote some well-targeted pieces. One is full of trend-led items – a pink sweater (£25), a pink checked shirt (£35) and ripped denim jacket (£50) – while the other appeals to the less trend-driven shopper with classic shirts and simple denim. A fellow shopper asks for an extra size and staff immediately check on a handheld device, confirm it is available and retrieve it, rather than leaving the customer waiting while they aimlessly search.
The experience is rough around the edges, which cheapens everything. Walls are grubby and many items are already badly creased – one pair of jeans is filthy and covered in dust. The store tries to use interesting signage but even these cardboard signs are dog-eared. The changing rooms are worse. In my cubicle, discarded hangers litter the floor, the back of the door is covered in old stickers and what looks like gum, and black and yellow tape hangs off the side of the mirror, which makes me think it might be unsafe.
Zara spring 17
On-trend product let down by messy store and uninspiring experience
A longline bomber with letters printed around the middle (a touch pricey at £69.99) stands out in the window, nodding to a number of trends yet in a way not found anywhere else. The rest of the collection covers a lot of trends and styles (tailoring, sportswear, Yeezy-influenced streetwear) with some appealing and unique items that offer Zara shoppers a good point of difference. The staff member at the changing room is smiley and engaging.
Despite visiting mid-afternoon on a Monday and the menswear area being quiet, the store is a total mess. Rubbish litters the floor, displays are jumbled and clothes are discarded everywhere. The changing rooms are grubby and the curtain is so filthy I’m put off changing. The bomber jacket that caught my eye in the window is not on the shop floor. I ask a member of staff but they seem reluctant to help. I push them and eventually they find it in the stockroom. I ask why it was not out and they do not have an answer.
Trend-led items catch the eye at appealing prices, but messy areas are a distraction
Images of musician The Weeknd and his “selected by” collection dominate the store’s menswear windows – a fresh and more youthful choice compared with the recent David Beckham collection focus. This range and mannequins greet male shoppers as soon as they enter the space – a nice bomber jacket with a unique printed back and statement appliqué badge (£34.99), and a fake suede shirt jacket (£29.99) are highlights. Elsewhere, Yeezy-inspired tour merchandise is another key trend, alongside lots of unique products giving a point of difference. An OK-quality pink hoodie at £24.99 and jeans from £19.99 represent good value for money.
Some areas are cramped and rails are jammed with product. Lots of items are badly creased, particularly in the suiting area – tailoring looks very cheap as it hangs messily off hangers. The unmanned changing rooms are also full of unpurchased clothes and discarded hangers. The Sale area is also untidy, although it is hidden around a corner. Strong products stand out, but there are also tons of filler items and standard basics.
Next spring 17
Top marks for strong tailoring, variety and service let down by changing rooms
Tailoring is a highlight, and half the store is dedicated to a huge offer. The variety is excellent, from check, cream, brown, grey, red and white; in wools, cottons and linens; single- or double-breasted; notch or peak lapel and shawl collar – shoppers are spoilt for quality suiting choice, priced from as low as £60 up to £200. Clothing is equally varied – the large array of styles in each category offers twists in design and covers a wide price architecture, while fashion-led trend items are also spotted, such as pink chinos and cut-off hem jeans. Next really makes good use of its windows: one is dedicated to showing off plenty of new-season stock and another just to tailoring. Service is first rate. One staff member almost runs across the store to open an extra till for a customer and another measures a shopper to help find his size.
The changing rooms let Next down. The sleekness of the store does not convert to the unmanned and untidy changing area, where laminated signs hang off walls and a hanging peg is broken.
Moss Bros: 8.5
Moss bros spring 17 (6)
Variety and helpful staff create a real occasionwear destination
Windows show off a variety of stock and draw attention to special offers and the store’s branded mix, such as a sign promoting Ted Baker wedding deals that include a free suit for the groom. It is nice to see nods to fresher styles and variety of colours beyon the standard black, grey and navy. Nothing is too “out there” and pieces remain well targeted for the Moss Bros shopper, but interesting fabrics and different colours offer good choice – more than TM Lewin, but less than Next, starting at £149 for a suit. Branded tailoring from DKNY, French Connection and Ted Baker also gives a good point of difference. Deals like a free shirt and tie with certain suits are appealing, while nice touches include ties sold with matching pocket squares. Staff are friendly and attentive, and the sleek store is a pleasure to shop.
Although staff are attentive, they are engaging in loud conversations about how much money they have taken that week, which is inappropriate. The store really focuses on being an occasionwear destination, but might benefit from also pushing its office-appropriate side more.
Joules spring 17
Excellent service and personality, although the changing rooms need attention
The store’s bright yellow entrance is particularly eye-catching inside the rather bland Centre:MK, and its windows are just as bright and full of personality – product hangs from a rail underneath a paper cloud, as if the clothes are raining down. Service is excellent: a smiley member of staff greets me at the door and says goodbye as I leave. Another attentive assistant approaches me while shopping, helps me to the changing room and waits to check on me until I’m finished. Although the menswear area is very compact, it feels like there is a little less repetitive product than at some competitors. While classic and quality casual weekendwear at acceptable prices are the mainstay, items such as a raincoat with taped seams are a fresher, more contemporary touch compared with its closest competitors.
The changing rooms are a little run down – there is chipped paint and marks on the walls. As the menswear area is limited, the space is a little cramped and rails quite packed.
TM Lewin: 7
TM Lewin spring 17
A sleek store fit is refreshing, but it lacks as much choice and variety as competitors
This TM Lewin store has a very slick and professional feel and creates a more premium atmosphere through modern fixtures and fittings. Details on windows and in store refer to “Jermyn Street style rules”, hinting at a luxury and tailoring heritage, but with a modern spin (“rules” include “wear battle dress to the boardroom”). Staff are friendly and helpful, but not overbearing. The more casual items at the front are well targeted and feel less like an afterthought this season – there are some standout “business casual” wool blazers (from £149) and a thick quilted coat (£99). Prices can be high, but quality is often elevated and promotion such as including four shirts for £100 and two chinos for £70 are appealing. Rails hung with a blazer, then a shirt, then a knit are a nice touch, promoting the full outfit.
Compared with Next and Moss Bros, the variety of tailoring is missing – there is much less choice. I struggle to find the price tags on some items.
Fat Face: 6
A pleasant store and good service, but lacking enough standout product
A nice store fit and visual merchandising create a surf shack vibe, while a quirky camper van door is used on the back wall, its curtained window creating a fun opening into the changing room.
Pleasing lifestyle imagery and descriptive signs are used to good effect – a standout sign explaining the special dyes used to create unique washes on certain pieces successfully draws my attention. Smiley staff are attentive and eager to help. Quality is of a good level, and the more casual, beachy, surfer-style pieces such as printed T-shirts (£42) and worn-in checked shirts (£42) stand out. This differentiates Fat Face from the countryside character of Joules and White Stuff.
The open store front design lacks anything to catch your eye, particularly for the male shopper. The long windows down the side of the store are not used to display anything, which seems a waste. Although the surfer styles are not seen at competitors such as White Stuff or Joules, the Fat Face offer is quite samey.
Marks & Spencer: 5.5
Marks and Spencer spring 17
A hit-and-miss experience where some standout styles are lost among too much product
Hanger displays and mannequins wearing outfits next to rails with corresponding items displayed are successful, highlighting key pieces and making them easy to shop, while also upselling full outfit purchases. Denim from £15 and a brown real suede bomber for £129 are good value, and a thick nylon bomber (£69) is cheaper than at Next (£75). A “Browse and Order” computer point – not seen anywhere else – is used by shoppers.
As shoppers step off the escalator, they are greeted by a messy Sale area. The lack of music creates an eerie silence. There is a lingering food smell from the cafe, and a lack a staff on the shop floor. Styling of the mannequins needs improvement – in the tailoring area the suits don’t fit, so look messy and cheap, while trousers rolled up high and shirt cuffs pulled out and folded back over jacket sleeves look dated. Some pieces catch my eye, but that is among a sea of too much stuff – the huge suiting space is awash with similar styles.
White Stuff: 5
White Stuff spring 17
An attractive store that unfortunately does is not matched by the clothing
Window displays are striking: fun paper scenery and flying clocks relating to the slogan “Time flies when you’re having fun”, tap into the weekendwear vibe of the clothing. The interior is pleasant and has more unique visual merchandising elements, while the small menswear area is very neat. There are some nice touches, such as a label on a shirt that comes with free spare collar pins, and a table with “free drinks and nibbles” for customers who sign up for the retailer’s newsletter.
While the window displays are a plus, the men’s mannequins are uninspiring – I doubt they will catch anyone’s attention. There are lots of staff around chatting, but no one approaches me and although the store is very tidy, I am almost put off picking up some items to avoid ruining the folded clothes on shelves and tables. Although items such as a quality tweedy waistcoat (£69.95) are not seen at competitors, much of the rest of the men’s collection is very samey – standard check shirts (£39.95) and jeans (£49.95) lack the quirks and personality of brands such as Joules.
Deals and newness are let down by a messy store
Strong signs do well to promote some things, including a new “athletic” denim fit, which has roomier thighs and is tapered at the calf, that is on brand for Gap. A promotion for khakis now at £29 (rather than £39.95) is an eye-catching deal, although it is difficult to know which products it refers to as there are so many signs in store and individual swing tags are not marked down. The punchier prices of the core offer of basics are sometimes balanced by good quality, as with a thick bomber jacket for £64.95.
No menswear imagery or window mannequins means my attention is not drawn outside. Inside, the store is quite shabby – mannequins are in a poor condition with chipped paint, some rails and shelves are messily jam-packed while others are sparsely stocked, and some items are badly creased. There are no staff around. Attractive imagery promotes several items I can’t locate. There is a lot of samey, filler product – almost too much piled on to shelves, tables and rails – and few things stand out. Much of the offer is classic items that might appeal to a mainstream shopper, but items such as a youthful white T-shirt with a super-oversized Gap logo across the entire front feel out of place.