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BBC: Supermarkets beating high-street stalwarts

The BBC reports on Verdict’s recent report on high street fashion, noting that Tesco is now the ninth most-used clothing retailer in the UK, overtaking Bhs and River Island.

The supermarkets have seized upon three factors in their favour:
* the have the footfall: everyone in the UK needs to eat and so will on average visit a store every 10 days
* they have the purchasing power, buying and logistical expertise to be able to source cheaply
* they don’t have the “segmentation overhead” of maintaining brands and store formats that will attract a given age or behavioural group.

This last point was until recently a competitive disadvantage: who, one wondered, would wish to be seen as a person wearing clothes from a supermarket?!?

Recently, however, there’s been a ‘canny’ aspect to fashion that’s been celebrated: the ‘look good for less’ where:

it’s almost a fashion badge of honour to have bought something that looks so good for so little.

The knack is to have a signature or anchor item in your ensemble which is an expensive fashion piece and then accessorise with cheap items. It’s all to the good if those items are themselves joyous “knock-offs” of high profile fashion pieces – eg the “Kylie dress”:

A recent example is a mint green dress from the Fred and Florence range at Tesco. It retailed for £45, while a similar design by Chloe – and worn by Kylie Minogue – had a price tag of £1,400. It was voted dress of the year in Marie Claire, quickly sold out and became known as the “Kylie dress”. They were even selling on eBay for over £100.

We can see, therefore, a combination of increased fashion awareness of trends (supported by the now-weekly gossip glossies, filled with what the stars are wearing, and ‘who’ they’re wearing!); the rapid availability of copies (“fast fashion” sourcing); and pricing so low that some items cost more to launder and tumble-dry than to replace!

With their no longer a taboo against ‘Trolley Chic’, the supermarkets can take advantage of the broader age range in the same shop to sell everything from baby clothes to winter wear via wedding dresses and football strips.

This growth is not without its problems and there are issues of yield management on store footage and of course stock issues (eg 20 dresses in Exeter, but none in Essex). The trunking capabilities and distribution strengths of the supermarkets make this less of a problem than for other retailers, but it’s still an issue. With the launch of online catalogues imminent, though, the fashion retailers (and especially the catalogue retailers) will have formidable, trusted, well-priced competition.

Still, the real transformation will be signalled with you see a Tesco Metro shop close one Friday and re-open the following Monday as Tesco Fashion… 🙂