2019 was not good year for UK retailers. In fact, sales fell for the first time in 25 years.
You can blame Amazon, you can blame business rates — but if the British high street wants to help itself it could try being massively less rubbish.
I’m going to pick on one kind of retail in particular — mainly because I hate it so much: menswear.
I’ve heard it said that some people that actually like clothes shopping, but for most of us it’s deeply dispiriting. Let’s start with something really simple like finding an item of the right size. You’d think that clearly displaying this information would be in everyone’s interest. And yet it’s concealed it in the form of microscopic lettering on one of the multiple tags and labels attached to each piece of clothing. As often as not, you eventually find they don’t have your size anyway — but not before you’ve wasted 15 minutes and reduced the clothes-rack to the state of a jumble sale.
But let’s assume you luck out and the entire stock isn’t devoted to the lucky few who can wear slim-fit without suffocating. What awaits you next is the horror of the changing rooms. These combine stygian gloom with harsh overhead lighting — in which no one looks good and thus neither do the clothes. That new shirt? No thanks, I’ll just take a paper bag and wear it over my head.
If you haven’t already run out of the shop screaming, the final stage is the sales desk — where as well taking your money they also try to lend you some — via some dodgy store card. This is a great way of slowing down the queue. A savvier retail sector would push loyalty cards instead of debt. That way they could do smart things like ask their customers which purchases they liked best (the proof is in the wearing) and offer second pairs, complementary items and timely replacements.
The online retailers have stolen a march through their mastery of data, however this can be harvested in a shop just as easily as through a screen. In fact, the real world retailers have the great advantage of meeting their customers in person.
So why is the experience so depressingly impersonal?