With major changes within the team at the helm of New Look, it seemed a good time to revisit the London flagship to gauge its effect on the shopfloor
It’s a little over a year since Drapers reviewed the New Look flagship on London’s Oxford Street and it would not normally be this magazine’s policy to visit the same store more than once for the purposes of Shop Watching. There has been quite a lot of noise about the value retailer lately, however, with a 9.1% sales plunge over the Christmas period, the resignation of group design director Barbara Horspool in February, and then last week chief executive Carl McPhail parted ways.
By any standards this would be considered an unfortunate series of events, but the heart of all are the shops and where better to look for answers than in the chain’s showpiece store on Oxford Street?
This was the one on which the chain was pinning its hopes when it opened last February and, to be fair, it does still possess the ability to pull in the punters. At the time, it had a lot of razzmatazz when compared with other operators in the value market and it was hard not to be impressed, especially if you made it to the top floor: the footwear emporium.
The only slight problem with the store was its size. A four-floor store is always a concern, no matter what the name over the door, and dragging shoppers up to the top floor can be a Herculean task unless there is something very special to make the journey for. And it was for precisely this reason that the footwear shop was located there and it’s a strategy that continues to work for women.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Given that sales on each floor are likely to be in inverse proportion to the distance from the entrance, it would seem odd that menswear is relegated to the second floor. The one feature that really hits the visitor when walking the shop is that menswear is conspicuous for its absence of shoppers.
The point being that menswear is clearly not perceived as a substantive part of the New Look offer and this looks set to continue while it is located in the store’s upper reaches. Having a raft of shaped jeans, checked shirts and cheeky-chappie hats may be fine to cover the menswear trend bases, but unless shoppers know about them, they can’t buy them.
The kids’ department that was on the same floor appears to have been replaced with maternitywear. Upstairs from this, the footwear ranges look strong with heels, wedges and espadrilles in depth - all of which were being inspected by young and not-so-young shoppers. Job done then as far as getting women through the space is concerned.
Most of the major trends have been covered, with floral prints, long dresses and short shorts all being given substantial shelf space. The jeans shop on the ground floor is also worth a second glance.
The question mark, however, has to be menswear and its positioning. Either New Look wants to be a player in this market or it does not. If it does, it needs to make more of it.
When this store saw the light of day last February, visual merchandising was one thing that set it apart from the competition. And to an extent it still is. The problem is that nothing appears to have changed. On the footwear floor, for instance, the chrome shoe-tree feature remains eye-catching, but that’s about it.
And in the windows, New Look is hidebound by the internally-lit plinths on which the many mannequins are positioned. In themselves these are not necessarily bad. But their permanence means that altering the appearance of the main window is a tall order and there is also a tendency to look at the equipment rather than what the mannequins are wearing: surely not the idea.
In the rest of the store, the ‘Spring has really sprung at New Look’ graphic has impact, as does the one stating ‘Loving Old Friends In New Jeans #NewLook’, presumably aimed at Twitter aficionados.
There are a lot of staff and they are all busy replenishing - this is, after all, fast fashion, so the shelves do need filling. Standing as the lone male potential shopper on the menswear floor, it was therefore encouraging to be approached to see if help was needed.
The same trend was apparent on other floors, with constant offers of help. Housekeeping standards were generally high, meaning the stock replenishment operation was also taking place. The acid test of this has to be the women’s accessories wall on the first floor. If this is presentable, then the staff really are doing their stuff. They were.
This remains one of the more interesting value fashion stores on the street, but something needs to be done to move it along. Across the street, Topshop and Topman seem to change at times almost on a daily basis and these are shops with far bigger selling areas.
The design is still good, but perhaps needs to be looked after or it is in danger of becoming tired. A prime example is the golden shoe on the top floor, which doubles up as a comfortable seat-cum-banquette. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that a year after opening, it is scuffed. This should be easily dealt with, but on such relatively small things rests a store’s appeal.
Would I buy?
Providing you are female, this is a reasonably good fashion proposition for those on a tight budget. Looks have been caught and the cash tills are ticking over. If you are male however, you might not know about the ranges and therefore a purchase becomes academic. Good in parts, but not uniformly so.
New Look’s problems stem from its determination to be too many things to too many people. If a presence in menswear is desirable, then what has been done is probably not the best way of achieving this.
Address 175-179 Oxford Street, London W1D
One year on New Look sales over Christmas were down by almost 10%
Menswear This looks like an afterthought and is in the wrong place
Kidswear Has been removed. Maternity ranges have taken its place