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Topshop to top flop — established retailers need to embrace the future or be left behind

Posted by Shaan Sidhu on 13th September 2019

I recall the fashion of my very early teenage years being dictated by the trends I saw appearing at Topshop and Topman, and the necessity to deck myself out in striped Breton jumpers, three-button V-necks, classic leather jackets, novelty socks and underwear.

Fast forward a decade and the once hugely influential sartorial powerhouse is now in steep decline. Although I never shopped at other Arcadia-owned brands like Burton or Miss Selfridge, the retailers’ fall from high-street grace is still somewhat surprising. Just last week, Arcadia announced losses of £177.3 million, citing that “the retail landscape has changed drastically over recent years and the increased competition from the high street and online retailers in particular has had a significant impact on our performance.”

The retail industry is being shaken up in an unprecedented way. Last Wednesday, it was also revealed that Marks & Spencer were to drop out of the Financial Times Stock Exchange for the first time since the index was introduced. The convoluted measure of success in the retail industry poses a puzzling question to those concerned about the sanctity of their local high street. How will it survive? And in what capacity will it exist in the future?

I personally cite the lack of innovation within retail as the reason for declining high street sales. The UK public never lost their flare and desire for shopping. In fact, research from Episerver discovered that UK consumers shop the most in the world, with 38% of us shopping online at least once a week. I would argue that it’s the experience (or lack thereof) of the high street compared to easy, streamlined, and convenient online shopping that’s turning consumers off brands — and their business elsewhere.

High street retailers need to innovate and deliver immersive experiences that match and exceed the streamlined convenience offered by online shopping. For me, the fundamental drawback of online shopping has to be that the things I’m shopping for are, well… online. Consumers can’t scope out a product, sniff it or check whether their bum looks big (or small) in it. I believe through this perspective; retailers should bridge the gap between online and physical retail experiences — ultimately delivering consumers a service they can’t purely get online.

Nike is a great example of this kind of tech-led retail innovator. Its Oxford Street store is experience driven, with a strategy that harnesses the power of the smartphone. Fans of the brand who have the Nike app will be electronically greeted upon entering the store through geolocation tagging. Analytics will alert shoppers to new products they’ll surely love. Other features include the ability to reserve items before embarking to the store, allowing ease of ‘try on’. You can even request for items to be placed in specific parts of the store through the app. Shoppers in Nike’s New York store are able to scan a mannequin, and whatever it is donning will be swooshed to the nearest fitting room.

Last year, Zara trialled augmented reality mannequins in 120 of its stores, supplying a catwalk-style mirage of models sashaying designs — Pokémon Go style — via a nifty app, aptly titled ‘#Zaraar’. Consumers could walk around the AR models in 360 degrees and click directly on the clothes to buy them. Six months on from this venture, Zara announced a 3% net rise in profits, and as of this year, announced its in-store and online sales saw a 9.5% increase. I therefore think it’s safe to assume that this experiment worked in the retailer’s favour.

Although these ventures at face value can seem somewhat gimmicky, they ultimately present brands as modern, tech savvy companies who are willing to go the extra mile to get with the times. I believe this mantra is what attracts today’s consumer. Elastic Path’s ‘Sci-Fi shopper’ report identified that UK shoppers are drawn in by the ‘shiny objects’, that in this instance, are manifested in new and exciting tech, like AR, mobile apps, and even facial recognition technology.

The high street of the future will be one that harnesses the exciting tech evolution and offers consumers immersive and exciting experiences. Without this kind of innovation, Sir Philip, retailers like Arcadia will be stuck in the novelty socks era forever.

Read about the changes to the retail landscape as a result of Covid-19 here.

Shaan Sidhu

Shaan combines his ability to build relationships with his creative flair to bring every PR campaign to life with the influencers that matter. It’s not all about tech for Shaan, though, as he also pursues a passion for fashion, modelling and politics. He’s also worked on the set of Netflix’s The Crown.