How retailers get it wrong: Product is right but messaging is way off

Karen Millen August 2016

Karen Millen

John Lewis’s weekly sales figures came out yesterday and one of the most interesting points was that shoppers are still buying plenty of summer clothes and accessories, even though the summer clearance sales are over and last minute bargains are hard to find.

Now that may seem like a bit of a no-brainer given that the sun is shining and it’s warmer than it’s been all year (at least in the south of England) at the moment.

But look around the stores, or even online, and the big story is all about transitional pieces in autumnal colours. I even walked past one window that had a faux fur jacket in it and it made feel like I needed to go and sit in front of the fridge with he door open. It just didn’t feel right when the temperature outside was close to 30 degrees.

Which brings me to the point of this piece. A new report from researcher Verdict shows that consumers like to buy clothes to wear now. And no, that’s not  about the latest designer obsession with instant availability once the catwalk show is over.

It’s about you and I walking into a store or browsing online, buying something and wearing it next day either because new stuff feels great or we just need something to keep us feeling comfortable in the heat/rain/wind/snow etc.

Karen Millen August 2016


Verdict says 85.6% of us shop this way and while we do still shop ahead of the season, more than half of us (51.4%) prefer not to. That means, buying summer clothing in grey March/April when retailers drop their tropical looks in-store, is a no-no. It also means that most of us will walk straight past those ochre, bottle green and berry-toned knits and jackets at this time of year.

Verdict says the weather means the current model of deliveries, where clothes appear in-store months ahead of the weather they’re most suited for, is outdated, even obsolete.

But there’s another factor at play that’s undermining the traditional two-season model and that’s social media. “Social media has shortened fashion cycles, and created a see now, buy now, wear now mentality while generating constant desire for new products,” it said.

It cited Superdry and Zara as two good examples of brands playing the multi-drop, weather-relevant game very well. But they both do it differently.

Topshop August 2016“Superdry’s core offer is made up of predominantly transeasonal ranges, ensuring it is not aligned or over exposed to any particular weather, while Zara uses its vertically integrated supply chain to be weather responsive via flexible phasing, reactive product drops and frequent visual merchandising updates,” Verdict said.

An almost-equally-big issue though is the marketing behind all the product for many retailers. Verdict’s survey also showed around three-quarters of consumers feeling there’s enough of the right product in-store at the right time, but they’re put off by the wrong messaging and merchandising.

Essentially, the problem is that messaging and merchandising still seems to be living in a two-season world even though the product itself is more aligned to what we really want/need to buy.

Zara August 2016


“A quick glance at retailers’ current store propositions, which are showcasing new autumn/winter coats, fur and jumpers while the weather remains relatively warm, highlights why this system is counterintuitive,” Verdict said.

Verdict thinks some businesses are on the right track, crediting Burberry’s move to see now, buy now, wear now as the right path, and at the opposite end of the scale saying Asos and boohoo are good online examples of the right messaging. Of course, it’s easier to switch to a sunny weather push on a website if the temperature rises than it is to change the merchandising in 100, 250 or 500 stores nationwide.

But Verdict says while retailers and brands may not be able to predict weather extremes when they plan their merchandising, they do need to bring their buying cycles, marketing and in-store merchandising more in line with the real world. And they need to bright them in line with real consumers, rather than the waiting list-obsessed investment dressers they assume us all to be.

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