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Is fast fashion slowing the retail market down?

UK consumers have never had more options for deciding where to buy their groceries, clothing, furniture or any other random item they desire. And it’s not even as simple as a three-way split; within each channel there is an abundance of purchase options available, be it a pop up-store, concession stand, Instagram post, sponsored video. The list is never ending.

With the continued popularity of these new channels comes opportunity for an endless list of challenger retailers to appear and chip away at brand loyalty. So surely, now more than ever, retailers need to be focussing on building a connection with shoppers, showcasing why they should be selected as the retailer of choice over and above all others.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening. In 2019, the total UK retail above the line (ATL) spend has dropped 6% year-on-year while market brand performance proves to be distinctly average.

It is a challenging time for retailers, so cutting budgets and relying on promotions isn’t an unreasonable choice to make. No-one wants to join the long list of retailers that have disappeared from the high street over the last decade. But is that how those gaining success are winning? Simply put. No.

Winning through convenience

Online, multi-category pure players – Amazon and eBay, hold first and fifth place ranking of all brands this year respectively and pull ahead significantly on every key driver. Their focus on delivering a quick and convenient service has made them brands that shoppers claim not to be able to live without (also ranked first and fifth respectively). And they’ve not done this quietly. Both brands have invested significantly in building this place in the lives of the British shopper; Amazon and eBay have grown their ATL spend by 22% and 56% respectively over the last couple of years.

Another retailer putting its focus towards driving a convenient experience is Next. Although just missing a place in the top fifty (ranked 51st), the brand jumped 20 places compared with last year (the highest growth seen for any retailer). No easy feat with no ATL spend seen in that time. The brand instead focussed on investing in the launch of several developments to create a seamless customer journey, including the likes of Same Day Click and Collect, Amazon Pick Up Points, Three Step Payment Methods, In-Store Credit Offering. You need an easier way to shop? Next is probably working on it.

Unfortunately, where there are brands on the up, more often than not there are those on the down. And one retail market feeling hit the hardest is the fashion industry, with an average market ranking of 92 (down eight places year-on-year).

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As a group, fashion under-performs on most key attributes but suffers particularly with its attempts to be seen as ‘iconic’ and ‘always looking to push the boundaries’. There are very few feelings of surprise, amusement, pride or hope towards these brands. A rather bleak view for what should be an area that most closely expresses shopper’s individuality and style.

Regular emails to my inbox and trips to local high streets suggest that these brands continue to rely on frequent sales and promotions as a saviour for dwindling footfall. Ironically, fashion retail has one of the lowest associations with ‘having great promotional offers’.

This raises the question of whether a good bargain really is what shoppers are looking for from retailers. In a time-poor world surrounded by choice, are shoppers prioritising those retailers who are taking the time to truly understand them, their needs and simply make their life easier? Potentially.

Hannah Teale, associate director at Opinium.

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