Victorious value

Value retailing. Will consumers kick the habit or stay with value shopping once the recession recedes? Stuart Mitchell, chief executive of Live & Breathe gives his opinion.

Stuart Mitchell
Stuart Mitchell

There have been few winners in the recession but the discount fashion sector has been a resounding success story. Primark, the best known of the fashion value retailers, vies for consumer attention alongside household names including Peacocks, New Look and River Island.

The facts speak for themselves. New Look are apparently looking to double store numbers over the next few years and have earmarked 2010 for a flotation of the business. Investment continues apace in impressive new store openings; Cardiff’s St David’s 2 Centre is home to a fabulous new Peacocks and New Look. Confidence is clearly high.

Yet many commentators are asking whether the bubble will burst as we move gradually out of recession. Will shoppers continue to be driven by the scent of a bargain once they have more money in their pockets? This is the million dollar question. With over 20 years experience working in this space, here at Live & Breathe, we argue that they will.

The vital currency of value retailers is fashion with a capital F. They are true masters at delivering high fashion lines into their stores quickly and cheaply. The speed at which they can bring a catwalk look to the High Street cannot be equalled.

Over the last ten years they have also invested massively in the in-store environment. The combination of the look and feel of the stores and the calibre of the product has all but removed the stigma that used to hover uneasily around shopping in this part of the market. Like online dating, shopping at fashion value retailers really has attained respectability. More than that, it’s seen as a savvy, clued-up thing to be doing and many well-heeled shoppers have adopted the habit, mixing and matching value shopping with designer labels.

Regardless of their means and status, the recession has meant that shoppers feel a responsibility to hunt out value for money. Significantly they don’t want to stop shopping, and they do want the experience to be a pleasurable, feel-good one. Consumers who have only recently started to shop at value retailers are impressed by what they see. It’s a habit they are unlikely to kick. Why would they?

The focus on fashion sits at the heart of a number of other tactics the value retailers have adopted in recent years to make their offer an irresistible one. They have truly understood the value of celebrity. In the latest of these initiatives, Peacocks has just launched a range of dresses retailing at under £40 designed by Pearl Lowe and modelled by her daughter Daisy. The use of cleverly chosen celebrity endorsement is a savvy way of underpinning the retailer proposition and ironically creating longevity and loyalty among consumers who are hungry for a taste of the next hot trend.

The well designed in-store environments are complemented by POS and photography which in many cases stand up to comparison with much higher end fashion brands. The clothes are beautifully shot using models who until recently would have turned their noses up at a gig with a fashion value brand. As with consumers, the stigma has disappeared.

Undoubtedly, the elephant in the room is the question of ethics. Some value retailers such as Primark have been savaged in the press for their practices and it would be difficult for consumers to claim ignorance of these issues. But consumer have a choice, and a quick look at sales figures would seem to show that despite peoples’ claims, ethical and green values go out of the window during a recession when money is tight.

Discussion of the fashion value retailer space would not be complete without referencing the supermarkets and the inroads they have made. George at Asda is of course the leader, a stroke of genius, a store within a supermarket rather than a few clothes randomly placed within a supermarket. Sainsbury’s is a much less coherent offer which lacks definition and commitment. Tesco, with its much stronger Cherokee brand, sits somewhere between the two.

The future of the value retailers should be assured as long as they continue to excel at delivering the right product at the right price at the right time. They have truly established themselves on the fashion shopping roster. While some consumers may migrate back to more expensive retailers, those who have developed a pick and mix approach or have recently discovered the appeal of this type of shopping will more than outweigh them.

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