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Hit or Miss: menswear spring 19

Next spring 19

Drapers’ secret shopper kicks off this season’s Hit or Miss series by testing the high street’s menswear offer at Intu Watford

Drapers’ secret shopper survey is back for spring 19, as the team goes undercover to judge the new-season offers across the high street.

This time, we headed 15 miles north-west of central London to the Intu Watford shopping centre, kicking off this series by putting the menswear market under the hit or miss microscope.

The former Harlequin Centre, originally opened in 1990, was rebranded by Intu in 2013 when it bought the centre. In 2015, £180 million redevelopment and extension works began, to expand the centre by 380,000 sq ft to a total size of 1.4 million sq ft. In September 2018, Debenhams opened a new 86,000 sq ft store in the extension, joining John Lewis as the centre’s anchor retailers. 

As always, we analysed the stores using our established criteria: product offer; store layout, presentation and visual merchandising; level – or lack of – customer service; value for money; and overall shopping experience. Each category is rated out of five for a total score out of 25.

For spring 19, there were hits, and there were misses.

The best product ranges hit a balance between on-trend items, well-targeted staples and a sprinkle of something unique. In today’s difficult retail climate, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd and give your customer something fresh that they cannot get anywhere else – retailers who delivered these product points of difference gained points.

Although most stores were well presented and overall experiences were satisfactory, customer service continues to let certain retailers down. Once again, if retailers are to entice customers into stores and persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash, levels of service need to be improved. A hello and a smile from a pleasant member of staff goes a long way.

Read on to discover out who stood out and who lagged behind, and look out for our womenswear and footwear reviews in the coming weeks.

Stores were visited on 18 March. 

Stores

Next 21/25

Fat Face 20.5/25

Jack and Jones 20.5/25

TM Lewin 20.5/25

Superdry 18.5/25

Topman 18.5/25

Marks & Spencer 17.5/25

River Island 17.5/25

Primark 17/25

H&M 16.5/25

Zara 16/25

Jack Wills 14/25

Next spring 19 2

Next

Top marks for tailoring and an easy to shop store, but service is a little lacking

21/25

Product 5/5

Presentation 4.5/5

Customer service 3/5

Value for money 4.5/5

Shopping experience 4/5

Next’s windows are colourful and bright. Large plants are placed alongside well-styled mannequins, and the store presents itself as a premium, stylish location.

Inside the light and bright space, the retailer’s breadth of product is impressive, as is the spread of price points: denim available at £22, £25, £30 and £35, and lots of summery printed shirts from £22. It is good to see the bold, colourful, on-trend print shirts, but also pared-back versions of the trend in monochrome colourways.

A pack of three printed T-shirts for £35 makes shopping simple. Prices are competitive and offer good value for money for well-made items and generally good fabrics.

Next has implemented a new form of signage that uses small still-life images and detailed wording. Positioned above rails, the signs feature an array of imagery, phrases such as “the essential jersey” and details like “order before midnight for next day delivery”, or “go online for more options”. Another displays five different ways to wear the on-trend check trousers, or “plan your escape” promoting other holiday clothing and accessories. They are both informative and eye-catching.

Next wins points for its tailoring offer, which is the broadest on the high street and caters to all tastes. The mannequins in this area are particularly strong, and look stylishly expensive. This season, Next has focused on colourful linings – each suit features a unique pattern that elevates the offer and is a pleasing update.

An entry-point, machine-washable, well-cut suit starts at the excellent price of just £85, while a lovely pale blue checked suit for £120 is good value, alongside plenty of pattern and colour choices.

The downside of the Next experience is a lack of customer service. Apart from on the tills, I do not see any staff until I am about to leave – they are pleasant, however.

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Fat face spring 19

Fat Face

Pleasant shopping experience with high-quality, on-brand product offer

20.5/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 4.5/5

Customer service 4/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 4/5

No menswear clothes are shown on mannequins in the windows of Fat Face, which is a little disappointing. However, some small lifestyle imagery does include men, and when I walk in, I immediately see large menswear images, which makes it clear a men’s offer is available.

The interior is on brand and well executed in its beachy, outdoorsy vibe – all chipped floorboards, worn rugs and quirky details, such as a retro bike hanging from the ceiling and oars on the changing room walls.

There are lots of staff in store, and several make a point of saying pleasant hellos to me during my visit. Two assistants are stationed in the middle of the store, so are nearby if I need them at any point. However, their personal conversation is quite loud.

The product is also well targeted and on brand for the weekend-wear, beachy look. Most items, such as a thick and soft T-shirt for £25, offer good value for money.

The first piece I see as I enter is the “famous Airlie” – an over-the-head jumper in a range of new-season styles, but it is not cheap at £52.50. However, options that mix different fabrics and colours look fresh, and it is sturdy and well made, so it offers acceptable value.

Other pieces that catch my eye are an abstract floral-patterned, indigo-dyed shirt for £49.50 (Fat Face’s unique take on the patterned shirt trend) and shorts embroidered with toucans for £42. A collaboration with car brand Land Rover on an organic cotton T-shirt (£28) is also well targeted.

All the items feel like they can be worn together and are merchandised in buildable outfits – jeans, shorts, T-shirt, jacket, shirt, which helpful while shopping. However, some rails are a little too stuffed with products.

Signs and labels, such as “We love yellow – warm, joyful, well-being”, are quite odd and not particularly helpful.

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Jack & Jones

A solid product offer in a pleasant store that is well targeted at its shopper

20.5/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 4.5/5

Customer service 4/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 4/5

Jack & Jones has a good spread of five mannequins across its two windows, effectively showing off the mix of styles available inside – from casual T-shirts to smarter shirts. Unusually for Intu Watford, it also uses props, such as a skateboard, as well as appealing campaign imagery. Informative signage – a board showing the retailer’s different denim fits and an additional sign promoting a two-for-£20 T-shirt offer, which is appealingly good value for money – work well to draw shoppers in.

Inside, more signs help divide the store into segments such as a Premium by Jack & Jones area and rails for Originals by Jack & Jones. Informative displays such as its “one finger rule” advising on the fit of shirt collars, are a clever addition.

The store is very neat and tidy, which helps to create a premium feel. The denim area has many table-top displays, which can often be messy, but it is particularly smartly arranged. Even the “up to 50% off” Sale rails are neat.

A staff member makes a point of coming over to greet me, but then leaves me to shop, which is appreciated – I know they are willing to help if needed. I also hear them giving good service to another customer and upselling socks alongside a footwear purchase.

The product offer is varied and covers a good, if quite safe, wardrobe offer, from smart blazers to casual jackets, and heavily branded product to more subtle pieces. Everything feels like it would work together in outfits – this can be a one-stop shop for the retailer’s target shopper.

A fake suede Harrington jacket (£80) and a minimalist take on a bomber jacket featuring interesting utility-style chest pockets (£95) catch my eye. They are a little pricey, but are well made and offer satisfactory value for money. Well-made slim chinos (£30), a more basic bomber (£35) and a high-quality lightweight technical jacket (£40) are also good value.

Although I see a nod to the patterned trend via pared-back floral print T-shirts and polos, not many of the season’s key trend items are here. For example, almost every other retailer has focused on patterned summery shirts, particularly striped options, but I do not see them here.

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TM Lewin

A premium store elevated thanks to excellent presentation, service and high-quality product

20.5/25

Product 3.5/5

Presentation 5/5

Customer service 4/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 4/5

From the outside, TM Lewin successfully presents itself as a premium menswear store – its windows feature phrases such as “classic Italian style”. Campaign imagery has an upmarket look, and projects a smart, sartorial image, as do the well-styled mannequins. A photo of brand ambassador and football pundit Gary Lineker is also on brand and well targeted to the shopper. Inside the spick-and-span store, more well-merchandised mannequins make the product look appealing and expensive.

Items are at the priciest end that I find during my visit to Intu Watford, but generally they are balanced by high-quality materials and execution, offering good value for money. For example, a £179 blazer is well made and features a lovely patterned lining, while a punchy £299 wool coat is chunky and looks worth the price – it is also has a silky lining printed with a cartoon of London landmarks.

The store is split between casual and formal. The casual part includes a good-looking £159 casual cotton blazer and a sleeveless quilted gilet for £99, but the casual offer feels a little limited this season, and there is not a great deal of choice and variety on offer.

At the formal end, there are some great suits with nice details, such as a lovely navy peak-lapel wool suit for £349, but the offer is generally quite basic when compared with the variety of choice at Next, for instance.

TM Lewin is also known for its shirts. They are presented in a vast, yet tidy, wall display stretching almost the length of the store. It is a little overwhelming, and different styles seem to be placed in a random order. It is also slightly annoying that instead of single slots, shirts are piled in threes – it is necessary to  remove the pile to get the one you want.

The deal of four shirts for £110 (£39.95 each) is excellent value for money, and essentially gives one shirt for free. Signs promote other deals, such as the “Infinity bundle” (an Infinity “performance” suit, two shirts and a tie for £299, saving up to £70), which is also good value.

Staff are friendly and greet me as I enter. One returns several times to check on me, despite my saying I am just browsing. It is good to be attentive, but this is a little overbearing.

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Superdry spring 19

Superdry

Some strong products make for a compelling store, but customer service could be improved

18.5/25

Product 4.5/5

Presentation 4/5

Customer service 2/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 4/5

The architecture of the Superdry store is striking within the Intu centre, thanks to a vast logo that is spread across the side of the building. However, the store has no front windows, just glass doors, and therefore no products or other items can be clearly displayed to catch my eye.

A random, quite cheap-looking cardboard sign advertising the 50% off Sale seems as if it has been propped against an open door, but it admittedly gets my attention.

I enter to a huge digital screen also promoting the Sale and reduced items on display, but immediately behind this is a sign for “new season” stock. A mannequin is also used to catch my eye, wearing a stand-out over-the-head jacket with branding across the chest and arm, panelled with different fabrics and a camouflage print. It costs £69.99 but includes lots of design details and is well made. It is the Superdry take on an on-trend key item – all in all, good value for money.

Once again, the Superdry Sports collection is a highlight and the best sportswear collection on the high street, ticking both the fashion and functional boxes. A black over-the-head technical jacket from the range is moisture-wicking, shower resistant, and quick-drying, and smartly incorporates high-vis detailing. On top of this, it is stylish – it goes straight into my shopping basket, reasonably priced at £64.99.

The Watford store is not too dark, nor is the music too loud, as has been the case with Superdry in the past. Staff milling around working do not greet me.

This store does not feel crammed with too much samey product. This makes for a more enjoyable experience, but I am not sure if this is deliberate. It is not as noticeable in the menswear area, but the back of the womenswear section is very sparse – there are empty displays and very little hanging from the walls, which seems odd.

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Topman

All the trends for young fashion fans, but the store and experience could do with some work

18.5/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 3.5/5

Customer service 3/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 4/5

Topman’s window display does not work hard enough to get my attention. A Sale sign hides one mannequin, while a visible mannequin wears a simple white T-shirt, black jeans and a cross-body bag – not showing off the retailer’s product to the best of its ability.

Looking into the shop, a huge menswear campaign image displayed on the second floor pulls me in and directs me upstairs.

Topman’s young fashion demographic is catered for in this store, from the cool neon lights and contemporary music to the season’s trends and key pieces. Some of the slickest campaign imagery is also seen here, while chatty signage is used to good effect.

For example, as I enter, I find a pair of on-trend checked trousers. The fabric is quite thin, which makes the £39 price tag seem a little high, but Topman has elevated the item with a built-in wallet chain – a nice touch.

Summery patterned shirts are also here in attractive designs, from rainbow stripes to foulard patterns and polka-dots – they offer a spectrum to choose from, from calmer patterns to bolder items. However, more could be made of these pieces – some designs are lost as they are hidden behind other items on forward-facing rails.

No other retailer visited matches Topman’s strong – albeit small – branded offer, which features Champion and Levi’s. However, it feels odd to have a £70 Champion hoodie next to £25 Topman one. It makes Champion seem overpriced and Topman look bad quality.

Some items displayed in full price sections actually have reduced prices on their tags. Some mannequins are chipped and look cheap, and there do not seem to be any suits on offer in this store.

The changing rooms have also seen better days: there are holes in the curtains, dirty marks on the walls, no stool and some old chewing gum stuck to the rail.

A member of staff remains behind the till during my visit. They point me to the changing room when I ask if I can try something on, but do not ask me anything when I walk out.

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Marks and spencer spring 19

Marks & Spencer

A colourful, summery collection with a smart to casual offering that is good value for money

17.5/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 4/5

Customer service 2.5/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 3/5

I enter M&S from the upper floor of the shopping centre through a large open store front filled with womenswear product, but no sign of anything menswear. Making my way downstairs, I find a lovely display of men’s mannequins wearing colourful, seasonally appropriate products next to rails featuring the full outfits. These include an orange knit (£35), a lightweight jacket (£65) and a patterned short-sleeved shirt (£34), which are all well made in decent fabrics, and offer good value for money.

The new-season section of the store is filled with summery items, including a strong offer of shirts, shorts and T-shirts – the variety of unique colour on offer is pleasing. Having more than 15 colours of polo shirts available in a two-for-£25 offer is great.

The denim offer is broad, and has lots of additional extras such as water-resistant “Stormwear” and stretch “travel” styles across five fits.

The main area is well laid out, but other parts are quite strange. I find myself around a corner in what feels like a wasted area that is sparsely populated with a sportswear collection, alongside a rather indulgent and random mannequin display of shirts.

The tailoring offer impresses. Although it focuses on safer blues and greys, there are nice touches such as a lovely grey windowpane-checked suit (great value at £129). More casual blazers are also strong, including a pure linen option and a striped seersucker style, both well priced at £99.

There are lots of signs around declaring “We’re listening” regarding updated products and the “best-ever fits” across items such as denim and shirts, and added extras like “quick dry” fabric on shorts – it is all enticing.

As is usual for M&S, the store does not play music, so is eerily quiet in parts, while the noise from the cafe is quite annoying, even at the other end of the space.

Some parts, particularly the Sale area, are messy. Other things are a let-down, such as some styling techniques in the tailoring section, where ties and bow ties are messily and clumsily tied around collars.

No one approaches me but I hear staff on the tills engaging customers in lively conversations, which is good to see.

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River island spring 19

River Island

A good range of products, visual merchandising and newness, but poor service lets it down

17.5/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 4/5

Customer service 2/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 3.5/5

It is good to see both of River Island’s windows displaying menswear mannequins mixed with women’s and kid’s, rather than one being dedicated purely to men’s and one to women’s. This offers more of an opportunity to catch my eye, and I appreciate the retailer trying something different from its competitors.

Inside, a clear sign directs me up to the first floor for menswear, where more mannequins are positioned on the staircase.

From the windows to the stairs, these mannequins show off a good mix of River Island’s products, from a smart suit to a casual camouflage bomber and a colourful patterned shirt, and similarly well-styled mannequins greet me in the main menswear area.

On trend-items such as trousers in check patterns (£40) are here, but there is also a good number of products that you cannot find elsewhere, which gives this retailer a point of difference, such as leopard spots on summery shirts, matching shirt and short sets, and fresh colours like neon and pastels.

There is also a small but appealing tailoring offer, which is not seen at competitor Topman. An acceptable ultra-skinny fit navy suit offers good value for money, alongside checked and mini-houndstooth options.

The store features a new range of casual athleisure styles embroidered with a graphic that resembles a hand-drawn signature, but I cannot decipher what it says, which is annoying.

Another new range, embroidered with the branding Maison Riviera also catches my eye, and features lots of cut-and-sew casual pieces, tapping into the logo-mania trend.

Staff are on the shop floor but do not acknowledge me and the changing rooms are unmanned. Inside, there is an additional rear-view mirror, but there is no chair and the cubicles are a little rough around the edges – their walls are chipped and marked.

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Primark spring 19

Primark

Good product shines as part of an improved experience, but Primark could still do better

17/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 3/5

Customer service 1.5/5

Value for money 4.5/5

Shopping experience 4/5

I enter Primark at the menswear entrance, and am greeted by appealing campaign imagery and two mannequins in the window, one of which is wearing the same outfit as the model. Signage, including oversized swing tags hanging from a mannequin, highlight Primark’s bargain low prices from the outset.

Further in, there is another mannequin in the same outfit as the one in the window, and the corresponding items hang nearby. This is a simple but effective tool to direct shoppers.

The store is full of product, but it does not feel as jam-packed or overwhelming as in other Primark stores. Walkways are fairly spacious, and not every surface is stuffed with product, which makes for a more pleasant experience.

However, there are already some discarded items, hangers on the floor and litter spotted during my early morning visit, and some items are badly creased or covered in fluff and loose threads.

The first room of the menswear department has high ceilings, and the walls are used to good effect to draw shoppers into the store. Engaging campaign imagery is used throughout, as well as signs highlighting specific areas, such as T-shirts, leisurewear and shirts. Although some products are displayed too high up to be reached, they are eye-catching, and are also duplicated on lower hangers, within easier grasp.

Primark remains the high street’s winning bargain store: £2.50 for more than 20 styles of graphic T-shirts, £5 for patterned shorts, £7 for Hawaiian shirts, £15 for a denim jacket. Generally, you get what you pay for – quality that reflects the low prices.

The denim offer is broad and the tailoring section impresses. A fairly stylish unlined blazer for £35 is a bargain, while a wool-mix flecked option and a bold check style catch my eye at just £50 for a full suit.

Official merchandise, such as a Game of Thrones hoodie at only £14, is a good point of difference.

Customer service is lacking. The person manning the changing rooms does not say a word to me as I enter and I do not see any other staff, apart from one person being admittedly very helpful to another customer.

Because there is no music, the shop is weirdly silent, which I find uncomfortable.

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H&M

A smart store and some nice product, but misses the mark on layout and service

16.5/25

Product 3.5/5

Presentation 3.5/5

Customer service 2/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 3.5/5

At the entrance to H&M is a group of menswear mannequins dressed all in black, white and grey – it looks quite stylish but is not particularly eye catching. The display, which has the corresponding items helpfully nearby, features some on trend and interesting products, such as a palm tree patterned T-shirt (£9.99), a jumper with a cool reflective panel on the chest etched with palm trees – a technique I have not seen before – and the season’s key checked trousers (£24.99). The items nod to trends in a way that suits the target customer and are competitively priced, offering good value for money.

Beyond this, it does not feel like a there is a logical process behind where most products are placed and the range starts to feel quite samey and repetitive/ Different styles mixed throughout the whole space. For example, if I was coming in looking for a new hoodie, I would find it quite annoying that single styles are scattered through the whole space and mixed beside smart, casual, sporty and Sale items, and think I could easily miss some products.

Prices are a little hit or miss. £3.99 for a soft T-shirt is a bargain, but a cheap-looking, badly cut blazer does not look worth the £49.99 price tag.

The shop is fresh and modern, and feels like it has a premium store. There is a lovely, spacious changing room and large plants are placed throughout. However, some rails are too packed with product, which makes browsing difficult and looks unsightly.

Some products on show are already badly creased and some are littered with threads and bits of fluff, which is also off-putting.

Customer service is lacking: although staff are milling around, no one speaks to me at all, and the changing rooms are unmanned.

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Zara spring 19

Zara

Fresh takes on trend-led items and an offer with a point of difference could shine brighter

16/25

Product 4/5

Presentation 3/5

Customer service 2/5

Value for money 4/5

Shopping experience 3/5

Zara’s window displays are super-minimalist: just a large white box with mannequins in the centre. It is simple but does look stylish. At the menswear end there are two men’s mannequins, one of which is wearing a particularly appealing grey checked coat. The other is all in black, which is not as inspiring.

The Spanish retailer’s product offer is full of unique items that I do not see elsewhere in Watford, offering a point of difference for its target customer.

For example, the first rails I come to feature a smart nautical look across blazers, jackets and tailored white trousers, all with gold, anchor-engraved buttons. Here a blazer is £95.99, which feels quite expensive, but is acceptable quality in terms of value for money.

With striped summery shirts being a key item across the high street, Zara’s well-priced £25.99 versions feature unique prints not seen elsewhere, and the on-trend checked trousers come at an elevated price point (£49.99) but are nicely tailored.

My eye is also drawn to jumpers with unusual knit techniques, various embellished and embroidered T-shirts and a lovely patterned wool trucker jacket (£79.99).

Similarly, a classic cotton trench coat is £99, but features a removable quilted gilet, which helps to justify the higher price point.

The interior is the classic Zara white box with silver metal fixtures, but it is not particularly engaging when compared with the campaign imagery, informative signage or even plant and prop-filled stores seen elsewhere.

The store is also not the tidiest, and several of its visual merchandising tricks do not help. For example, suggested outfits are hung together on forward facing rails – T-shirts and trousers literally hang off of the necklines of jackets. The weight of the other pieces squashes and pulls on the items, which looks messy. It looks like an accident rather than a deliberate styling point.

Several staff are milling around and having very loud personal conversations, but no one approaches me, and the changing rooms are messy, full of half-empty boxes and untidy rails.

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Jack Wills

A sparse store and lack of product lets this retailer down

14/25

Product 2/5

Presentation 3/5

Customer service 4/5

Value for money 3/5

Shopping experience 2/5

This Jack Wills store felt rather lacking from a menswear perspective, and a Sale dominates half of the men’s area.

This is evident even from the outside – the windows were covered with large Sale signs, and the interior is littered with “up to 70% off” labels.

Walking into the menswear side of the space I am greeted by three mannequins. On closer inspection they do not do the best job at showing off the store’s product. A heavy winter coat, which feels quite out of season compared to the short-sleeved shirts and shorts seen elsewhere during the majority of my trip, is in fact covered in fluff, which is off-putting.

Rather than feeling luxuriantly spacious, the layout feels sparse, and it seems as if there is not enough product to fill it.

Moving past the Sale product, full-price (and what I presume is new-season) product is pushed to the back of the store. There are some fairly bare rails and empty shelves nearer the front, while the newer items are quite squashed in at the back – it is a waste.

Here items are quite simple, such as T-shirts and hoodies, and driven by branding. A cut-and-sew T-shirt (£29.95) and matching hoodie (£62.95) with a logo across the chest are good quality, and offer acceptable value for money.

Items feature different types of branding and different brand names – from modern and minimalist ‘Wills’ to ‘J Wills’ and ‘Jack Wills’ in a heritage font. While once upon a time young preppy customers clamoured for the prestige of Jack Wills branding across hoodies, these items dilute the brand in its various guises.

All in all, there does not feel like a lot on offer. For example, there is one style of jeans available in the whole store (not on Sale).

Staff did greet me when I arrived, stayed nearby throughout my visit and started conversations with me, which was good.

The store fit and the changing rooms were kitted out nicely in the standard clubhouse style. However, the ornate vintage mirror in my changing cubicle is too low. Even when I stand against the opposite wall, it cuts off my shoulders.

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