How you CAN keep calm and carry on shopping: Yes, your favourite stores are struggling, but here’s our guide to the online outlets that can still feed your fashion habit
- Karen Millen said if shops take this time to reset, there’s hope for the High Street
- Sarah Rainey examined how the British retailers are coping amid lockdown
- Holly Willoughby’s favourite store Oasis, has recently called in administrators
Whenever I walked into a store in the 1990s, my name over the shopfront and on the labels of the clothes that hung from the rails, I always experienced a mixture of excitement and pride.
I’d become a part, quite literally, of the fabric of the High Street — the place I’d fallen in love with as a shopper in my late teens and early twenties. I can still recall the thrill of trying on endless outfits in front of the changing room mirrors, and the sheer delight when you found something that looked and fitted just right.
The High Street of the early 1980s was a place of quiet revolution, with multiple stores offering exciting and affordable ranges to the consumer. Many will remember the excitement of walking into a Next store for the first time, with its co-ordinated outfits on display and staff who made you feel special as you parted with your cash.
Karen Millen believes there is hope for the British High Street, if stores can use this time to reset. Pictured: Dress, £39, Topshop
Back then, we cherished our purchases, with no shame in being seen in the same thing twice.
Sadly, though, revolution slowly gave way to competition and profit margins as the High Street began offering ever cheaper and faster fashion, gradually losing its way. Shopping, which once felt like a special treat, became a chore.
Over-filled racks crammed with poor-fitting and low-quality products made finding what you were looking for depressingly difficult. I’d despair at seeing the same products in several stores — the only differences being the colour or a small design detail.
By the time I sold my own stores in 2004, I’d fallen out of love both with shopping and the High Street.
And I wasn’t the only one to walk away: consumers did so in their droves, swept along by another revolution that meant they could buy their clothes and accessories even cheaper online.
Today, here we are, with retail outlets forced to close due to the coronavirus and many people asking if the High Street may now disappear altogether.
Karen Millen suspects that many people will crave human experiences, after the global crisis is over. Pictured: Bag, £26, Warehouse
Yes, things are looking grim, but maybe, just maybe, what we’re living through now — deprived of touch on so many levels — will conspire to provide a shot in the arm for the struggling British High Street.
I suspect, when this crisis is over, what many of us will crave is more tactile, human experiences — and that might just include going shopping again, instead of being stuck at home waiting for parcels to be delivered to our doors.
If stores can use this time to reset, tap into that growing feeling and find a way to make clothes shopping a pleasurable, more personal experience again — as it was for me in the Eighties — then perhaps there is hope for the High Street after all.
Since lockdown started, Britain’s High Streets have become ghost towns. And while supermarkets continue to do a roaring trade, fashion retailers have seen their sales slump.
An estimated £10 billion worth of stock is piling up in warehouses as spending plummets by 25 per cent.
Even those who are still operating online are seeing sales dive, with High Street favourites Oasis and Warehouse the latest to collapse.
‘Of all the sectors, fashion is the hardest hit,’ says retail analyst Richard Hyman. ‘It’s the most discretionary. People don’t buy new outfits to stay at home.’
So who is struggling and who is surviving? Here’s how the High Street stores are faring so far . . .
Sarah Rainey examined how a selection of High Street shops are adapting amid lockdown. Pictured: Jumpsuit, £48, Oasis
It’s a favourite of the television presenter Holly Willoughby, with its floral dresses and brightly-coloured separates, but Oasis called in administrators within days of the lockdown being announced.
Two hundred jobs have been lost, with another 1,801 furloughed under the Government’s job retention scheme. Just 41 head office staff have been kept on in a bid to save the business.
SHOPABILITY: Its website appears to be operating normally still, with a new range of summery dresses and plenty of delivery slots available.
There are wardrobe edits — The Great Indoors and Video-Call Ready — designed to appeal to fashionistas stuck at home. A Clearance tab dominates the homepage, with thousands of outfits at half price.
Next was one of the first retailers to suspend online operations, as well as shutting its 500 stores, citing the safety of employees. It reopened its website in a limited capacity last week after adopting stringent safety measures for staff. Meanwhile, executives announced they will waive 20 per cent of their salaries. The chain has also put its HQ and several warehouses up for sale to raise funds.
‘Next is a very strong business,’ says Hyman. ‘It had plenty to build on before this crisis. It took decisive action and the popularity of its website is testament to how much its absence was felt while offline.’
SHOPABILITY: You need to be online before 9am each day, when it usually reaches capacity for orders that will end up at your door via ‘contact-free’ delivery.
Shoppers can then browse but not buy until the following day. Fashion, childrenswear and homeware (except large furniture) are technically all available.
Sarah revealed Marks & Spencer are operating as normal, with the option to have items delivered. Pictured: Top, £19.30, M&S
MARKS & SPENCER
With a new high-profile fan in Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, M&S has cemented itself as a High Street fashion favourite. Stores selling only clothing and homewares have been closed, while larger stores allow only foodhall customers.
SHOPABILITY: The website is operating as normal, with options to have items delivered or to collect them from your nearest M&S foodhall. A ‘loungewear’ section takes pride of place on its website, offering outfits for women ‘on camera for meetings or chasing after the kids’.
Despite revamping shops and restructuring its business in 2019, New Look reported a 7.4 per cent slump in sales last September and the closure of 98 stores. Earlier this month, it suspended payments to suppliers for existing stock ‘indefinitely’, enraging small businesses who were asked to come and collect their products. The retailer also cancelled items for spring and summer ranges, telling suppliers: ‘This is a matter of survival.’
SHOPABILITY: Online sales continue, albeit with smaller teams and enforced social distancing at distribution centres. There’s a 25 per cent sale on summer dresses (with the tagline Here’s to Sunny Days Ahead), with plenty of loungewear for your ‘new normal’ working-from-home wardrobe.
Sarah said it’s business as usual on the Warehouse website, with a push for their latest collection. Pictured: Dress, £49, Warehouse
The budget clothing giant was on track for a £1 billion profit before coronavirus hit. Boosted by new store openings, sales rose 3 per cent at the start of this year. But because it is one of the few staple High Street brands to have no online shop, Primark now has no direct income stream.
While some old stock is available on other UK websites, insiders say it has had to halt deliveries to its warehouses. Across Europe it has been donating clothes, towels and toiletries to frontline NHS workers. Senior executives have taken a 20 per cent pay cut; others have seen a 10 per cent cut.
SHOPABILITY: The website now provides a selection of reading and film suggestions.
Shoppers can browse the latest ranges but there is nowhere to buy them.
‘It may not be earning anything right now,’ says Hyman, ‘but it’s a part of a very strong retail group, Associated British Foods and they won’t let this signal the end.’
Like sister company Oasis, Warehouse is in dire straits, with job losses and huge restructuring announced last week. As well as shutting up shops, it suffered from the closure of 437 concessions in department stores.
SHOPABILITY: It is business as usual on the brand’s website, with a push for its latest collection using TV presenter Angela Scanlon. ‘Our website and app are fully operational, and we are dispatching orders as normal,’ the retailer says.
Sarah revealed that Zara has closed 3,785 stores globally and have allowed models to photograph their new collection at home (pictured)
This Spanish brand was hit early as coronavirus moved across Europe, with sales in its shops and online down 24 per cent for the first two weeks of March — though things have now picked up. Despite shutting 3,785 stores globally, it’s allowed 10 per cent of its workforce in three Spanish factories to return to make scrubs for healthcare workers, as well as clothing. The chairman has ruled out furloughing staff.
SHOPABILITY: Its new collection has been photographed on models, by the models, at home , proving popular with shoppers.
One of the first to fall, Laura Ashley went into administration in mid-March, with 70 of 150-plus stores permanently closed, 1,669 staff furloughed and 268 made redundant. The sudden drop in footfall was just too much to contend with. Another 677 employees are still working as the company winds up operations.
SHOPABILITY: Clearance lines are everywhere, with a half-price sale on all lines until the end of the weekend. Visitors to the website (there’s no mention it’s in administration) are thanked for their ‘patience’ on delivery delays.
Sarah said there are clearance lines throughout Laura Ashley, who went into administration in mid-March. Pictured: Dress, £70, Laura Ashley
A downward spiral saw workwear retailer Jigsaw demand 30 per cent rent cuts from its landlords in January. Now its 80 stores are closed, as well as its head office, with some staff working remotely from home.
Website orders continue to stream in, with employees who ‘want to work’ staffing its warehouses. ‘As well as ensuring social distancing there and in the communal areas, we are staggering breaks and shift times and have increased our already high cleaning standards,’ the retailer says. New collections are being shot by photographers working remotely.
SHOPABILITY: There’s currently 25 per cent off everything, with free contactless delivery on all orders as a gesture of goodwill.
The royals’ go-to outdoors brand was struggling before the virus hit, with an 82 per cent drop in pre-tax profits (down from £9.3 million to £1.7 million) for the half-year ending November 24.
As a result, Joules scrapped a dividend for shareholders in mid-March and announced it would take ‘prudent action’ to avoid collapse, after closing 123 stores.
‘We currently have £16 million cash . . . a strong relationship with the bank and a supportive founder and major shareholder, Tom Joule,’ the retailer said last month. More recently, it has managed to raise £15 million from investors to bankroll its survival.
SHOPABILITY: There’s a 50 per cent Spring Sale on its website, along with a 365-day returns policy on all online orders made during lockdown. Standard delivery is ten days, to account for reduced staffing and safety measures.
Sarah revealed that there are sales on spring and summer outfits, across the Monsoon website. Pictured: Dress, £49, Monsoon
Monsoon’s future has been hanging in the balance for over a year, with multi-millionaire founder Peter Simon funnelling £30 million in loans to support the retailer last year.
Sales have been ‘badly affected’ by coronavirus, with the retailer, which employs 3,500 people, reportedly considering selling the business. It has called in restructuring experts to look at potential options.
‘Enhanced measures’ are in place at its warehouses, including two-metre distancing, providing extra soap and hand sanitiser, and deep cleans between shifts.
SHOPABILITY: Online, there are sales on spring and summer outfits, a hefty clearance section, and contactless delivery for all customers.
Profits at Philip Green’s Arcadia Group — which includes Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge — were already tumbling, with a £93.4 million pre-tax loss reported last September (compared to a profit of £164.5 million the previous year).
As demand dropped, Arcadia cancelled £100 million of existing clothing orders from suppliers worldwide, putting thousands of small businesses at risk of collapse. All 300 stores have been closed and staff ‘temporarily laid off’ as operations shift to online.
SHOPABILITY: Topshop’s website now has a dedicated Stay At Home section focusing on fashionable loungewear.
They’re still offering two-day express delivery and 45-day returns on online orders.
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