'Bland' fashion retailers get a dressing down

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The Independent Online
British fashion retailers have failed to take full advantage of the high street recovery due to conservative management and lack of creative flair, according to a new report by consultants Verdict Research.

The report says the wounds of the recession have made fashion retailers too risk-averse, with more focus on cost-cutting than good design. The lack of dare and flair has meant that while other parts of the high street have enjoyed booming fortunes, clothing retailers have experienced only a muted recovery.

"There is a lot of blandness and poor performance out there," says Verdict's Clive Vaughan. "The need to keep mark-downs within budget has prompted buyers to err on the side of caution. Putting ranges together with safety at the top of the agenda is great news for the finance director but has made for rather unexciting fashions which have failed to inspire shoppers."

He said the tide had swung too far towards accountant-led cost-cutting resulting in a "pretty boring fashion statement on the high street".

Mr Vaughan added: "We need retailers to be running fashion companies. One hesitates to say it but the high street needs someone like a George Davies (the Next founder who left after a management shake-up) to go out and do something radically different."

Retailers that had continued to innovate such as Oasis, New Look and Next, had prospered and increased market share.

The report says that fashion retailers' obsession with the 19-29 age bracket is misguided as it represents a dwindling proportion of the population.

This focus on the young has left the market for older age groups to Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Debenhams, which have all been making healthy progress.

The report shows that M&S remains the dominant force in the UK's pounds 23bn clothing retailing sector with a share of 15 per cent, ahead of Burton with 9 per cent and C&A and Next, both with 4 per cent.

Those with the fastest market share growth include Next, which has grown share from 3.2 per cent to 4 per cent since 1994, and New Look, whose share has grown from 0.7 per cent to 1.2 per cent in the same period. The biggest faller was Etam, whose share has shrunk from 1.3 to 0.9 per cent.

The sale of the Littlewoods stores will have a significant impact on the balance of power on the high street, Verdict says.

If Asda takes the chain it would increase competition at the lower end of the market, affecting C&A and BhS. But if Next took control it would hit M&S.