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Shopwatch: H&M, The Oracle, Reading

With a new mezzanine level, a shoe lounge and a home department, H&M’s refit at The Oracle in Reading raises the bar for the chain’s regional stores

The refurbishment of H&M’s store at The Oracle shopping centre in Reading breaks new ground for the retailer by taking its more lifestyle-focused concept into the regions.

The store, which reopened on April 1 after an extensive three-month refit overseen by H&M’s in-house team, follows the Swedish fast fashion chain’s international design direction, which includes a greater focus on footwear and home, to create a shopfit up there with its London flagship.

It includes a new mezzanine level to house its men’s range, an expanded womenswear offer, a shoe lounge that is H&M’s second in the UK after the Oxford Circus store, and one of its largest UK home departments - the first outside London and Edinburgh.

The store, which occupies the ground and first floors at the shopping centre, has been expanded to 28,500 sq ft of selling space, up from 19,500 sq ft. The shutters are still down when Drapers visits on the morning of the reopening, with the 65 store staff - 20 extra jobs have been created as a result of the expansion - busy preparing for the big relaunch.

The main entrance on the first floor is adjacent to House of Fraser, Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge. Three double-height windows are punctuated by two large open entrances with the H&M motif hanging between them.

The left window is dedicated to the Modern Essentials collection selected by David Beckham, while the large central windows showcase spring womenswear with shorts at £7.99 and a dress, jacket and jeans each at £14.99, all merchandised on mannequins.

A final, smaller window on the far right is dedicated to H&M’s home offer, with plant pots and soft furnishings displayed on tables and shelving. A pretty vine leaf weaves in and out of the display. 

Customers step inside into a large, double-height atrium. Lighting is used to maximum effect, with two eye-catching cascading circular chandelier-like designs and multiple spotlights focusing on the product.

Womenswear now takes up the entire first floor, having nearly doubled in space to 13,400 sq ft from 7,000 sq ft as a result of menswear moving up to the mezzanine level. Key styles, including monochrome dresses put together with jackets, and staples such as T-shirts, are displayed on mannequins in the entrance.

A central wall divides the floor in two, with the right side housing suiting and dresses, before opening into the 930 sq ft shoe lounge, where styles range from £24.99 sandals to £49.99 leather mules. Accessories including bags and scarves are also here, along with a till point.

Walking around to the left side of the floor, customers will find jeans, chinos and collections that are new to this store, including women’s sportswear (from £7.99 for a top to £29.99 for running tights), plus-size range H&M+ (from £7.99 for a pencil skirt to £49.99 for a coat) and casual classics range LOGG (priced from £7.99 for a T-shirt up to £29.99 for a lightweight cotton jacket). There is also another payment area and 16 changing rooms.

At front right on the first floor, a staircase leads up to the 9,000 sq ft mezzanine. The floor is again split in two with a smaller section, about one third of the space, dedicated to H&M’s comprehensive home offer. The product is merchandised in a style you would expect to see in department stores across tables, shelves, hanging or in mock room set-ups - but with the chain’s recognisable Scandinavian twist. The large assortment ranges from bath towels and mats to soft furnishings and woven bins.

The men’s department is accessed via two walkways on the mezzanine and occupies the majority of the floor, complete with five changing rooms and payment area. It stocks everything from £3.99 sunglasses to padded gilets at £29.99, denim shorts from £12.99 and suiting (£14.99 for a waistcoat to £79.99 for a wool jacket). The extra space gained from separating men’s from women’s has also allowed for the men’s sports range to be introduced, starting at £7.99 for a sports top and going up to £59.99 for a padded ski jacket.

The ground floor kidswear department occupies the whole of the ground floor, as it did before the refit. It has been refreshed with new fittings and stocks the full range, from £7.99 T-shirt and shorts sets for newborns, up to options for eight to 14-year-olds, including boys’ printed T-shirts for £5.99 and girls’ playsuits at £5.99.

The Oracle store first opened 16 years ago and is one of H&M’s key UK locations - it has a smaller 11,160 sq ft store in the town at 51-52 Broad Street - and this expanded fashion and lifestyle offer demonstrates a commitment by H&M to make its regional stores stand out, with home departments planned for some new stores this year.

 

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