The next challenge
As UK retail giant Next announced its first fall in full-year profits in eight years, boss Lord Wolfson warned that the retailer was set for “another tough year” as it grapples with changing shopper habits. The fashion retailer has been keen to point out that it is “financially strong” and has “a highly profitable, well maintained and relatively flexible store portfolio”. As one industry commentator noted, it could be said that, relatively speaking, they have little to worry about given they still made £790m, describing them as “Starving comfortably then.”
But for me, it is that choice of the word ‘comfortably’ that should act as a catalyst for Lord Wolfson to instigate a programme of clear transformation for the Next retail proposition.
Next once used to take the lead, but today it’s just comfortable, and happy to conform in the middle ground of the market. Its collections no longer surprise, but rather confirm a sense of reliable and consistent regularity. It’s not that Next is unappealing to shoppers; it just lacks edge and has become the word ‘normal’ personified.
This consistent delivery of familiarity can breed stagnation. Next has not lacked investment or innovation, in fact quite the opposite. Compared to other fashion brands, the Next retail estate has seen heavy investment in re-siting, extending, refurbishing and upgrading stores. So, you have to question whether it’s a case of the ‘public mood’ just no longer being in its direction?
Shoppers have little patience for brands that fail to deliver new ideas and fresh interest
It’s no coincidence that in many ways the Next heyday came during the time of the mass-produced middle class ‘Mondeo-man’ – a time when wallpapering your life with the Next brand, whether that be clothing, furniture …or wallpaper, seemingly elevated your social standing. That is no longer the case, apart from in the children’s market, and it’s unusual for today’s shoppers to dress in only one brand, let alone choose that same brand to fill and decorate their homes. Surely, the once pioneering ‘one brand three ways to shop’ model has seen its day?
So where does Next go…next? In an age where our lives have been reduced to 140-characters or less, shoppers have little patience for brands that fail to deliver new ideas and fresh interest. Apart from stores now being a little more crowded with fixtures and products, little has changed about how Next sell instore. Next has spent decades perfecting its own formula, but has the retailer become ‘Next-blind’? Shoppers don’t just want to be reminded to shop, they want to be persuaded by being treated, surprised and delighted by a store that is groundbreaking and stimulating – both in terms of range and retail experience.
What is needed at Next is not a turnaround, but a transformation – an injection of new ideas and fresh thinking. It shouldn’t look to recapture past glories, that model of shopper it used to attract is no longer in the ascendancy. Next must re-position itself to seize on future opportunities and find its own more profitable place in this very changed shopping environment.