The evidence is clear from early Christmas trading and from this week’s retail updates, including Marks and Spencer that Christmas sales shifted significantly online.
M&S.com reported a 20.9% increase in sales today, John Lewis reported 21.4% increase in online sales and Next online also reported growth this week, reflecting the slump in High Street footfall in December. However it was not all good news as decreases in retail sales offset many gains.
For High Street retailers that have a well integrated online and store operation, there is an opportunity to bring customers back into store, for advice, service, order collection and should the need arise, returns. Next, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer have that and have the results to show for it.
Attracting customers back in store is key for the Spring season as the Sale activity dies down. Marks and Spencer in particular are in desperate need of footfall in general merchandise and with a new CEO in place it must be top of his agenda. They cited poor availability as well as warm weather for falling general merchandise sales but this simply does not add up. If the weather was poor then there should be an excess of stock. Of course stock has a nasty habit of sitting in pockets, one line selling out and another just sitting there. This says that Marks and Spencer simply have problems with its ranges.
The other big issue Marks and Spencer have, and we have said this before, is navigation and confusion in store. There are just too many sub-brands which are not easily identifiable in store leaving the customer baffled. If she wants a pair of jeans, she has 4, 5 or even 6 possible destinations in store to select from. No wonder she gives up and searches online, possibly even on the Marks and Spencer website.
Next on the other hand, have a strategy that is working very well for them. Sales up online, retail sales pretty much flat, echoes what we are witnessing across fashion, but the strength of the brand and deep customer knowledge has supported the Next profit line well. There have been some murmurs predicting a change in fortunes for Next, where its lead is being eroded by the competition. The numbers on their own do give rise to concern, however, Next has a good base of strong management, desirable fashionable ranges, and excellence in logistics.
Key priorities for fashion retail this Spring are brought into focus with the results this week: it is about channel integration and the customer journey as it flows between online and in store; it is about in store excitement, navigation and service. These are not new priorities but should be given renewed management focus, and in the case of Marks and Spencer, a new manager to do it.