Natural Selection – Is There An End In Sight For ‘Stack Em High, Sell Em Cheap’?

This year has been a bit of a crunch time for many of our larger retailers, and this festive season seems particularly strained. Continuous sales since November – Black Friday – Cyber Monday – Super Saturday – have not eased concerns. We were told the Boxing Day sales started on 21st December and there are still a plethera of catchy hashtags to negotiate – Christmas Eve, (actual) Boxing Day, New Year and the January sales which will no doubt stretch right in February before anyone admits total defeat.

On top of that, smaller shops are trying to cash in with ‘Small Business Saturday’ and we’re constantly being reminded to shop ethically, mindfully and with consideration to all. And yet noone is making a killing either on the high street or online.

Large retailers with an online presence who have been continuously discounting have not rallied. Their sales may not be low, but the price of items mean profits are out of reach. The simple fact is, selling cheap does not bring in profitable sales. It just cheapens you still further and you can’t return from that. It’s a known fact that once you train your customers to buy cheap, they won’t touch anything you sell at full price. All they have to do is wait, and the sales soon follow. Many of these brands, I suspect, have now sealed their fate in 2019.

Following a poor season for Superdry, comes news that Laura Ashley is downsizing and Asos is now so cheap it can’t sell enough to hit targets. That has had knock on effects with companies like Boohoo as shares have taken a big hit. The sales season at this time of the year easily stretches into two months and there’s no sign that anything is going to improve. For some of these companies it’s already too late, and the only way is down.

On the backend of news earlier this month, that some 200 shopping centres are in serious financial trouble, for similar reasons, and the move to online selling (which still isn’t providing profit solutions for many companies) where does retail go next?

Are we looking at a turn around, a full circle in high street use? If shopping centres continue to flounder where will bricks and mortar shoppers go? We still have high streets, some in a better state than others. They are the ever changing face of shopping, hanging on, whatever the market. Shops may be unoccupied. They may cater for pop up shops, bookies or charity outlets but we also have hundreds of independent companies all waiting for a chance to step up to the challenge and desperate for that pavement presence.

Two things are happening at the moment. Customers are reining in to the point where even cheap is above budget. Other customers are getting the message that buying higher price and less quantity, but at a better quality will get you a better product. Longevity is becoming am attractive selling point. So is the domination of the fast fashion store finally coming to an end? They still get a bad press. Despite thinly veiled attempts to improve their practices, it’s just not cutting it with shop savvy fashion buyers. Information is easy to find. Questions are asked. Answers are not satisfactory.

Whilst H&M has attempted to do just this, and not for the first time, it isn’t convincing anyone. A drop in profits means it’s finally having to take a serious look at its production processes, following reports of a shameful $4.3 billion of unsold clothes. And as more and more ethical, sustainable and small UK businesses spring up and continue to spread their message about treating the planet with some kind of dignity, so their grip on a more conscious population, takes a hold.

Department stores here in Manchester are trying to counteract some of the damage by inviting independent businesses to rent pop up space under their roof. But is it working? And is it too late for the likes of Debenhams and House Of Fraser who occupy two of central Manchester’s biggest retail spaces?

This change in direction can only be a good thing. We have reached saturation point in all areas of manufacture, distribution and sales. But that’s easy for me to say, as a small business, who is eclipsed by pretty much everything around me and feels like it is waving a very tiny flag. I don’t mourn when a high street brand goes under. We’re just looking for a bite of the cake and we can’t do this in the current climate.

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