To say a store is the biggest in a fashion retail chain is a mixed blessing. Because it is the biggest, the expectation is perhaps that it will be in some way different and certainly better.
Address 473 Oxford Street, London W1
Opened June 8
Number of floors Three
Ambience Mid-market, proud of it and stylish
There is also the notion that massive size confers flagship status, with all the raised hopes this tends to carry as well.
It is a moot point, however, whether the new River Island, located in the Park House development at the western end of Oxford Street, is a flagship. It is certainly bigger than the store directly across the street that River Island has vacated for this one. It has more merchandise and is definitely glitzier. But is it better than the branch about 600 metres away that is closer to Oxford Circus?
Shoppers will decide, but what it does do is provide a young fashion alternative to Primark, which is just a few metres distant.
01 VISUAL MERCHANDISING
River Island is one of the titans of mid-market fashion and has always been good at visual merchandising and the business of making more of what’s there. This store embodies this skill and does it better than any other River Island to date.
A quick shimmy round the ground floor, home to womenswear, goes a long way towards illustrating why this store is worth a visit. There’s a giraffe, close to full size, next to a pair of mannequins. Then the shopper may notice the yellow spiral staircase. This actually serves no purpose other than to serve as a mid-shop footwear display prop of the kind that might almost distract from the merchandise, but it certainly gets you looking.
Brick, brick and more brick. River Island has been using the material as the defining characteristic of its interiors for a while now and this store is that idea writ large. On the first floor there is a brick wall with a video screen embedded in it - something not seen in its other shops. But it is the subtle segmentation of the offers that marks this one out. It would have been easy to put mid-shop walls in, but the suspended rails are made to do all of the work.
There are always staff on the floor in a River Island store, but they are frequently engaged in keeping the rails, tables and perimeter units filled, meaning they don’t have quite as much time as might be desirable to help the shopper. Not so in the Marble Arch behemoth. Perhaps it’s the size, maybe it’s the prestige of the project, but there is a member of staff on hand every time you clear your throat. This might actually be off-putting, but it is a whole lot better than the alternative.
The point about this store is that it is very large and the task of keeping it filled and maintaining variety on each level is never going to be straightforward. That said, there is never a sense of repetition and the bright and pastel stories in womenswear are both well represented. The women’s footwear department looks particularly strong with most of the major looks captured. This is a mid-market fashion store and the product offer is robust enough to make the shopper feel that almost every fad has been covered.
Say anything you like, but don’t use the ‘P’ word. Primark is a few steps away and there will certainly be variations on the many themes on offer in this store, it’s just that they will be cheaper. However, if you choose to shop somewhere other than Primark in this part of Oxford Street, Urban Outfitters, Bershka and Zara all put their best foot forward and all of them represent strong competition for River Island.
And that’s just on the same side of the street. Cross over and you can choose from Topshop, New Look and Marks & Spencer. This is a tough environment in which to trade.
06 VERDICT: Bigger is better
If you’re a fan of River Island, then this store will warm the cockles. There’s a lot to be said for having the courage of your convictions and this retailer is clear about both format and product range and both are shown off to advantage
in this store. There is also much to admire about its street-facing persona, with the ‘Summer in the City’ campaign looking at ease with the shopfront. River Island has taken a major step forward with this store and it should find favour with those who make to this end of Oxford Street … on their way to Primark.