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Shopwatch: Matalan signals its high street ambitions on Oxford Street

The traditionally out-of-town value retailer is raising its high street profile by packing plenty into its Oxford Street debut

“We’ve always wanted to be on Oxford Street to really put us in the spotlight, so it’s great to finally be here,” says Matalan retail director Mike Jeans, gesturing down the long, narrow store at numbers 149-151, which opened on June 4 and appears a lot more tightly stocked than the value retailer’s traditional, spacious out-of-town sheds.

“At 16,131 sq ft across three floors, it’s not the normal size of a Matalan, which is between 20,000 sq ft and 25,000 sq ft, and it’s not an ideal shape, but we’ve made it work with some clever features and merchandising. We took some important lessons from our Cardiff high street store [on Queen Street, which opened last October], and our brief was: how do we take a traditional Matalan store and make it appropriate for the high street?”

It is packed with product for a start, with more than 3,300 options in store compared with the 2,500 Matalan would normally stock in a store this size. It is merchandised three tiers high in places for practical purposes to maximise space but also to give a strong perception of volume and value, Jeans says.

Only womenswear, kidswear, women’s footwear and accessories are offered, as it was decided the store could not do menswear and homewares justice in the space available. Customers can, however, buy these using the click-and-collect service.

Womenswear, women’s footwear and accessories take up around two thirds of the space, on the ground and lower ground floors, while kidswear, complete with a large area of Disney-licensed products, is on the first. Women’s jeans are £10 to £16 and dresses £10 to £40, while a girls’ Frozen swimming costume is £9 and a full Elsa dress £18.

The store is not short of competition. Located about halfway between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road and close to a new Crossrail station due to open in 2018, it is sandwiched between Spanish footwear store Ulanka and crystal retailer Swarovski and opposite Jacamo/Simply Be and Moss Bros. Sports Direct, H&M, New Look and River Island are located close by, with Primark’s four-storey 82,000 sq ft Oxford Street East flagship a few minutes’ walk away.

Jeans says the store has been designed to offer its family clientele an easy and accessible way to shop, with customer toilets, a choice of lifts, stairs and escalators, backed up by a strong focus on service.

“We had a two-day training session for our 140 staff for the new store and we took people on five to six months ahead of opening to make sure everything was up to scratch,” explains Jeans.

Matalan worked on the store concept with Manchester-based retail design agency Phaus, which also helped create the 40,000 sq ft Cardiff store, the prototype for a big high street unit. This was the first time Matalan used a 3D modelling system to visualise the store design, which will be rolled out for future projects.

“The Cardiff store is a lot bigger but we took some of the key points such as the light wood panelling on the walls and wall-mounted toys in the fitting rooms, as well as a higher frequency of mannequins,” explains Jeans. “We would normally have 20 mannequins in one of our out-of-town stores, but in this store we have about 130 to style different outfits.”

He confirms Matalan is looking to roll out the high street format at a later date, with the potential for around 12 to 15 of this type of store across the UK: “We have no fixed plans as yet but what we can definitely take from this store is the intensity of the product. We’ve learnt we can fit more into a store with more purpose.”

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