Bricks and mortar retailers have dominated the narrative surrounding the challenges in fashion retail, as their iron grip on the market has been loosened, and their traditional monopoly over growth opportunities has diminished. We've heard endless groaning about the business rates burden borne by those with prime location property estates, and the purported advantages such affords the online sector.
We've heard much less about the challenges facing the wider online retail market. That prime location is available at a discount on the virtual high street compared with the physical high street is an outright myth. Added to which, an additional class of digital landlord is even more deeply embedded in the revenue stream for pureplay online retailers. Meeting customer expectations on shipping and return logistics adds a chilling additional operational cost base to an already highly competitive market on product pricing.
The troubles facing legacy industry giants like Arcadia, and the runaway success of online giants like Boohoo.com, frame the debate at the expense of a more nuanced understanding of what's happening in an increasingly complex and diverse sector.
Comment on: ‘Exceptional' November for online sales
Also no mention of the fact that Black Friday weekend’s Sunday, together with Cyber Monday, fell in December this year. Given such, I’d be surprised if the opening week of December didn’t see a boost market-wide.
Comment on: How can fulfilment be made more sustainable?
Paper is the greater scourge than plastic.
Follow the link to the Environment Agency report to HM Government on the relative environmental impact of plastic versus paper and other materials for shopping (and, by extension, shipping bags.
The evidence-based guidance is prefaced by the conclusion that:
1) The environmental impact of all types of carrier bag is dominated by resource use and production stages. Transport, secondary packaging and end-of-life management generally have a minimal influence on their performance.
2) Recycling or composting generally produce only a small reduction in global warming potential and abiotic depletion.
The analysis goes on to demonstrate that a paper bag would have to be used three or four times, compared to a single-use plastic bag, to have a lower environmental impact.
The disparity between the evidence and the public mood in this area is well-known, in content and cause. For policymakers serious about sustainability, Blue Planet II has been widely identified as an unfortunate distraction — leaving people prioritising the undoubtedly awful effects of oceanic plastic pollution and its effects on marine life, over and above climate change, which instead presents an existential risk to all organic life.
Comment on: The perils of 'highly sexualised' advertising
Brands’ messaging is in a reflexive relationship with its audience: corporate media is inspired by the social media activity it’s reputed to inspire.
Culture is certainly changing, but in a subtly different way than reports suggest. What’s new is the escalating disparity between what we say, and what we do.
Boohoo has long understood this anomaly of public opinion, and successfully navigated it; while industry commentators have been distracted by trending narratives that customers identify with, Boohoo has maintained a laser-clear focus instead on their behaviour.
By example, in a climate reported to be increasingly hostile to brand failures in sustainability and worker rights, Boohoo’s judgement that the public appetite remains driven mostly by price is vindicated in each reporting quarter; by contrast, I can’t recall the last Draper’s headline that a sustainable brand’s revenues have ‘rocketed’ towards eight figures.
In the Instagram sphere, the choice image accompanying a bold statement about social justice and gender equality is very often a gratuitous thong bikini shot with pouted lips. Increasing tolerance of non-binary notions of gender has done nothing to diminish the public’s celebration of the original dichotomy: Caitlyn Jenner is still a sideshow to the living gender stereotype that is Kim Kardashian.
Stepping into the user-generated visual culture, Boohoo will be curating content tested for engagement and click-through. Never before has marketing content been so driven in response to customer tastes, rather than in an effort to influence them.
Frances Griffin, cited in the article, makes the poignant point that the regulator’s role is, then, to chasten retailers against endorsing irresponsible trends. But that’s a different point to the suggestion that the regulator is doing so in reflection of a wider public intolerance to such imagery; the public has never been so tolerant, complicit, and actively involved in gender stereotyping than it is now. Only the language has changed.
If you think having a prominent high street presence is expensive, check out the cost of making yourself visible on the Internet’s high street! Then add delivery and return shipping, and you’ll discover that the base cost of e-commerce is far more challenging than property costs. Those that have navigated that cost base profitably have a well-run business, not a structural advantage. Look at the wafer-thin net margin Asos has endured over the years, owing to the operational cost of the online experience that customers demand.
That bricks and mortar retailers have the chutzpah to insist e-com retailers share their property costs, says more about the commercial mindset of the old guard than it does about business rates. I’ll share your property costs when you share my shipping and digital marketing bill guys.