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High street hit or miss: menswear autumn 16

Topman

Which menwear retailers delighted, and which disappointed, when Drapers went mystery shopping at Meadowhall in Sheffield?

Our second autumn 16 secret shopper survey took to the aisles of the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield on 10-11 October to investigate the offering from its biggest menswear retailers.

As always, Drapers went undercover to shop in the stores and judged each on a variety of elements ranging from the strength of the product offer and excellence of their customer service, to the pleasantness and seamlessness of the in-store experience, and the balance of quality and value for money.

The shopping centre, which is undergoing an overhaul and is in the middle of a centre-wide facelift, offers a varied spread of retailers, from a large Primark at the value end, to a run of neighbouring premium names including Reiss, Ted Baker and AllSaints.

Shopfit ranged from old and shabby to super-sleek and high end, which could help reduce or elevate the impact of the product.

Customer service was certainly hit and miss: some retailers’ engaging and knowledgeable staff excelled, while others disappointed.

In terms of product, the best names knew how to cater for their target shopper as well as acknowledge trends, but tweaked and updated collections for a real point of difference.

Whether it be via an excellent in-store experience or fresh product, the real winners gave shoppersa reason to pick their stores over all competitors.

 

Store rankings

Premium

 Young fashion

Mainstream

Value

 

 

Premium

AllSaints

AllSaints

AllSaints

Excellent customer service and a quality offer make for a strong season

Score: 8/10

Pros

Customer service is excellent, and unobtrusive while browsing. A staff member near the changing room introduces herself by name and engages me in a pleasant conversation. I hear her offering great styling advice to others, managing to upsell additional products. The collection is varied yet unique, featuring AllSaints’ takes on trend-led pieces (leather, embroidered and suede bombers from £198 to more than £350), as well as classics with a twist (such as a lovely double-breasted pea coat in textured wool for £328). It is nice to see the “signature bikers” arranged on a standout rail in the centre, drawing attention to its “iconic” – and most expensive – items (from £298). More colour and pattern has been used, particularly across shirting, which peps up AllSaints’ palette while nodding to seasonal trends.

Cons

Some pieces offer good value for money – lovely fabrics, chunky hardware and design details elevate the quality. However, there are a few that feel a little overpriced, such as a fairly basic cotton bomber at £228. While the “signature bikers” rail does a good job, lots of items are missing price labels, which is a shame.

 

 

Reiss

Reiss

Reiss

A sophisticated store design elevates a winning collection that is let down by lack of service

Score: 8/10

Pros

Reiss offers the most premium experience in terms of shopfit and atmosphere – the light and airy space filled with glass and marble speaks of quality, particularly the h and luxurious changing rooms. This works well with Reiss’s premium offer, full of modern takes on classics with a sophisticated spin. This includes the lovely and substantial tailored coats – the quality is obvious, particularly a paler cream crombie (£295), which is a point of difference from the ubiquitous darker camel. The arrangement of the store has improved – its more casual elements (joggers, T-shirts, sweaters) and trend-led updates (a suede version of a denim jacket £325) are better integrated into the smarter, classic mix, rather than grouped with similar product styles.

Cons

The biggest let-down here is the customer service. I personally appreciate a less hands-on approach, but I was in the store for around 15 minutes and no one approached me, even though there were plenty of staff on the shop floor. I was only greeted as I left.

 

French Connection

French Connection

French Connection

Unique twists on classics create a strong offer, but the store lacks the premium experience of competitors

Score: 6/10

Pros

There are some lovely standout products here – ranging from great classics to unique updates that offer a point of difference. A top-of-the-range classic pea coat with a soft fake shearling collar for £245 sits alongside a more entry-level version at £165 – this pricing architecture is good to see. There is also a more trend-led hybrid style with roomy bomber jacket-style nylon arms (£169). Roll-necks come with unique contrasting boiled wool panelling (£95), while perennial checked shirts get a new season update with a patterned body and plain, colour-blocked arms (£45).

Cons

Although this French Connection store is light and airy, it does not feel as much of a luxe or individual a shopping experience when compared with the other premium retailers, particularly regarding the changing rooms. Staff from the shop floor rush to help me in the unmanned changing rooms, but the level of customer service lags slightly behind some competitors. Its 1990s FCUK line is back, featuring quality printed T-shirts for £25, although it feels a little young and out of place compared with some pricier, classic items.

 

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Ted Baker

Ted Baker

Unique products in an eye-catching store that could do with some editing

Score: 6/10

Pros

Classy windows feature Ted Baker’s of-the-moment “Mission Impeccable” “spy it, click it, buy it” theme, and the store’s colourful interior is just as eye-catching. Quirky light fixtures and unique fittings give the store a real identity. High price points appear throughout, but signature details, such as patterned linings and luxurious fabric choices make these more acceptable, as can be seen in an attractive chevron-patterned wool bomber jacket with silky lining at £249. Staff are busy helping customers, providing a good level of service.

Cons

Visiting on a chilly and rainy day, I’m sure many shoppers’ minds will be turning to winter outerwear. At Ted Baker, chunky coats are squeezed messily on to a random rail at the edge of the store, where a lovely – and pricey – £379 pea coat is quite hidden. This is a shame, especially as other stores are promoting their outerwear. The store feels a bit jam-packed and would benefit from some editing. It is confusing that blazers are not positioned beside their matching trousers, and are not promoted as a suit.

 

Young fashion

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters

Leading the trend direction with a well-curated mix of brands and own label in a lovely, stylish setting

Score: 8.5/10

Pros

The shopfit is one of the best seen at Meadowhall. It has a cool and well-executed arty-meets-industrial vibe that appeals to its young customers and creates a more premium feel than its competitors. The offer is bang on trend, mixing a great curated branded selection (ranging from Levi’s and Fred Perry to Adidas and Columbia) with excellent own-brand collections – the range of elevated Urban Outfitters printed and embroidered T-shirts (£26) is particularly great. Urban Outfitters is nailing the young shopper’s trend direction this season, while stores such as Topman attempt to keep up. Prices can be punchier (£145 for an Alpha Industries bomber), but quality and hot brand names justify this. The unique addition of records, books and homeware is a nice touch and creates a sense of a shoppable lifestyle.

Cons

Despite all the positives, customer service is lacking. The assistant manning the fitting room is stand-offish, and all other staff are busy having private conversations in far-off areas of the large store. It is good that the Sale area is so discreet, but in some cases it is hard to tell what is actually in the Sale.

 

Topman

Topman

Topman

A great collection is boosted by some excellent customer service

Score: 8/10

Pros

Topman remains one of the high street’s trend leaders. The strength of its collection is that it covers everything from Kanye West-inspired oversized streetwear, to menswear pinks and an excess of bomber jackets. Sub-collections such as Topman Limited (£125 for a substantial parka) and Topman Premium (£65 for a pared-back bomber) differentiate the offer and help to justify some higher prices. Topman excels at signposting, from denim fit explanations through to swing tags on clothes – such as a label that explains a top is part of a co-ordinated set. A branded area featuring Kappa and Nicce London and a We Are Cow vintage section are nice additions. Staff do not approach me, but the fitting room assistant is excellent. Although there is a button to press for extra assistance, they are already primed and waiting outside the door. When they cannot retrieve an extra size, they return with an iPad to order online.

Cons

While the fitting rooms look fresh, the rest of the store is dated and does not match the cool collection. Dedicating the window to Sale signs is a waste, when it could be showing off the product.

 

Jack Wills

Jack Wills

Jack Wills

Good service and a smart store are let down by predictable offer and boring windows

Score: 6/10

Pros

A well-executed shop fit and extremely pleasant staff help to create a premium shopping experience that beats most other young fashion retailers. In line with this, prices are also at the higher end – such as £89.50 for a quilted bomber jacket and £198 for a long parka. However, both feel well made and great labelling shows that the parka is filled with duck down. Other pieces, such as a basic hoodie at £59.50 and a basic cotton T-shirt at £34.50, although well made, are rather pricey.

Cons

The windows do not do a great job of catching the eye – the mannequin wearing a plain grey jumper and standard jeans is uninspiring, not to mention the fact that the jeans are far too small and are stretched on to the mannequin. Jack Wills sticks to its predictable classic version of preppy dressing, but it would be good to see a little more variation or originality. It is annoying that items have 20% off labels but the prices have not been reduced on the ticket, leaving customers to work out reductions themselves. A seat in the fitting room would be a welcome addition, too.

 

River Island

River Island

River Island

An engaging and inspiring store fit is home to a hit-and-miss product selection

Score: 6/10

Pros

Fixtures and fittings are a little more inspiring than at stores such as Topman. There is a sleeker store fit and some cool engaging features, such as a six-foot-tall Instagram frame in front of mannequins promoting the #imwearingri hashtag. It is nice to see the season’s key trends covered – there are lots of bomber jacket variations (quilted camo styles, oversized designs, fancy jacquard fabric versions). There are also unique designs here, such as a longline dressing gown-style wool coat, and twists on seasonal trends more fitting for the River Island shopper – such as a less-directional take on the silky souvenir jacket, made more wearable with graphics and embroidery on a jersey body with silky arms.

Cons

The denim area could be better signposted – while the spread of 10 jean fits across the space, an assortment of washes and long, short and regular lengths are good, they could be more clearly labelled and organised. Fitting rooms, which are uncomfortably warm, are unmanned. There are some fluctuations in terms of quality, too – for example, a silky printed shirt (which is rather summery) is £25, but feels very cheap, and a £60 bomber is covered in badges that look barely stuck on.

 

Superdry

Superdry

Superdry

Lots of samey product in a cluttered store means the highlights are hidden

Score: 6/10

Pros

Unique wire mannequins in the windows add an individualistic touch, although they could be used to show off more than just outerwear. Well-made fixtures and fittings, although the same for several years, give the store a strong identity and more premium feel. Prices can be high, but quality fabrics and high levels of construction sometimes balance this out – for example, such as £49.99 for a basic but sturdy bomber jacket.

Cons

The first thing that greets you as you enter is a messy table of gift items – hats, wallets and aftershaves – that looks a bit like a jumble sale. Rails and displays are jam-packed and piled high, which feels cluttered and overwhelming. Much of the product is very samey and classic Superdry – there are many similar logo T-shirts, hoodies and coats – and there is little newness. On top of this, there are too many sub-brands, labelled as Superdry Originals, Military, Navy, Sur, Supremacy and Sartorial, which do not seem to mean anything. Buried at the back of the store is the standout sportswear collection and strong Idris Elba collaboration, which is a waste.

 

Hollister

Hollister

Hollister

A lack of autumnal clothing lets down this summery store

Score: 5/10

Pros

A large, eye-catching video screen at the entrance draws shoppers into the well-kitted-out store – although, as always, it is a little dark. Some weighty thick cotton T-shirts with embroidered details are a nice move-on from Hollister’s signature printed and logoed styles, and are decent value for money at £22, while styles with prints down long sleeves are a nod to on-trend streetwear-inspired styles. A functional sporty shell jacket (£59) is one example of innovation and fresh product, but it appears to lack the real technical detailing of a similar style at Superdry (£64.99).

Cons

The beachy, surf style of Hollister is one that fits the summer season best, but it is a weakness in the autumn season. Mannequins in windows promote light, summery layers, while much of the product inside is still quite lightweight compared with the chunky knits and heavy coats seen elsewhere. A quilted bomber worn by a mannequin near the entrance is impossible to locate on rails, and there are no staff around in the front areas of the store to help. Printed T-shirts, checked shirts and denims are all pretty similar and unremarkable.

 

Zara

Zara

Zara

A real let-down – utter chaos makes for a terrible experience

Score: 3/10

Pros

Zara’s premium-looking windows catch the eye via an injection of bold colour. Quality is sometimes better than that of its competitors, which can justify some higher prices – such as £49.99 for a fairly simple but well-made bomber jacket and £119 for a wool crombie. Trends are ticked off but in fresh ways – there is a lovely bomber featuring astronaut-inspired patches that feels quite expensive (£69), alongside some unique items such as a fake suede and shearling duffle coat (£119).

Cons

During my mid-afternoon visit on a Monday, the small menswear area is in total disarray. I am shocked at its awful state, which is worse than Primark. Displays look as though they have been ransacked, table tops contain jumble-sale piles, discarded clothes are everywhere and customers’ litter is left on shelves and floors. Some rails are jam-packed and heaped with odd items, while others feature just one or two pieces. The tiny, dingy fitting rooms are equally messy. Nonchalant staff casually make some attempts to tidy, while chatting loudly among themselves.

 

Mainstream

Next

Next

Next

Practically perfect, and home to a top tailoring offer

Score: 9/10

Pros

Next succeeds in carefully catering to its core customer, while also offering something original and referencing trends in a way that is relevant to the Next man. The vast tailoring offer is the best on the high street once again, full of variety and balancing competitive prices and quality. As always, the variety of choice, size range (XS to XXL) and broad price architecture are admirable. For instance, there are seven denim fits and myriad knits, from classic cables and casual ribbed styles to more interesting fabrics and ombré colourways that never feel samey or repetitive, available for £25, £28, £30, £32 and £35. The store layout is logical, the space is immaculate and the sleek shopfit elevates the offer, while stylish chill-out spaces are an added premium store-style touch.

Cons

While Next generally reinterprets trends well, there are some styles that seem a little out of place, such as its silky souvenir jacket and bomber jacket covered in patches. Compared with some other stores, Next could up its in-store labelling and signposting to help differentiate the broad mix of products.

 

White Stuff

White Stuff


White Stuff

A masterclass in visual merchandising is used to display some standout products

Score: 8/10

Pros

The visual merchandising of this store is really great – from the eye-catching windows that feature winter weather sculptures made from coloured straws, through to the interesting props, displays and decorations throughout. The male mannequin at the entrance of the menswear area complete with fake bulldog on a leash is a nice extra touch – appealing to those dog-walkers looking for a cosy winter coat. The product range is a smart/casual blend of off-duty weekendwear with some unique quirks. For example, there is a very sturdy waxed jacket with fleecy-lined collar (£99.95), a crombie in a textured tweed (£150) and a fleece-lined technical jacket (£95) that is available in brighter orange.

 Cons

While there are some products that stand out thanks to interesting detailing, there are quite a lot of similar items, particularly in shirting. Staff are smiley and greet shoppers on entry, but there are none at the back of the store in the menswear area. Some pieces are pricier – a £140 wool blazer is only £10 less than a full crombie and £20 less than a pea coat.

 

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer

Some pieces stand out in a very broad and otherwise samey offer

Score: 7/10

Pros

The Denim Studio features inspiring imagery of smart and casual outfits showing ways of wearing each fit. As always, price architecture is broad, from simple jeans (£15), to waterproof “Stormwear” denim (£29.50) and selvedge styles (£65). Classic, well-made staples – such as numerous checked shirts (£35) and pure cashmere jumpers (£89) – abound and are perfect for the M&S man. It is also good to see the retailer offering unique and trend-led styles, such as a lovely peak-lapel crombie coat in an unusual chestnut shade (£149), and a wide range of bomber jackets, including a leather version (£129) and a pared-back style (£89), similar to something you would find in a store such as Cos. A large “browse and order” computer point in the middle of menswear is not seen in other shops.

Cons

There is so much product here. There are whole swathes of chinos, suits and shirts, for example, but unlike competitors such as Next, a lots feels quite samey. Much of the tailoring area is untidy, which is a shame when customers might be there to invest in suiting. Staff are almost impossible to track down.

 

TM Lewin

TM Lewin

TM Lewin

Pleasant customer service really sets this retailer apart – unlike its product offer

Score: 6/10

Pros

The staff in this TM Lewin store are some of the friendliest and most professional I come across on my visit, greeting me on arrival and asking questions and returning to offer more help throughout my time in the store. This is particularly good because the staff are knowledgeable about the product, which would be helpful for shoppers looking to invest in a suit. The multi-buy offer of four shirts for £80, making each shirt just £20, seems quite a bargain and is sure to appeal to office workers.

Cons

Sale suits are too tightly packed and hang side by side (rather than forward-facing) making it difficult to actually see product, which is a shame. In the main suit section, the offer focuses on grey or navy, and only a couple of pinstripes perk it up. If you compare this with stores such as Next, which has a huge and appealing variety of original fabrics and fits, it falls a little flat. A continued criticism of this retailer is the signage and labelling of the vast shirt wall – the layout of it is quite hard to navigate, keeping staff busy with customer enquiries.

 

 

Burton

Burton

Burton

This hit-and-miss store with some strong elements is a bit rough around the edges

Score: 5/10

Pros

Visual merchandising is good, from five window mannequins that reveal the variety of the collection, to a group inside showing off the Montague Burton range. This collection focuses on a smart and slightly dandyish look of tweedy blazers and floral shirts – it is grown-up and right for the Burton man, and is a unique offer. A nice grey crombie coat for £89 stands out at the front of the shop, and is less expensive than Next’s £100 version.

Cons

There are some unfortunate let-downs here. For example, the store is quite shabby – even the cheap card Sale signs stuck to rails look old and dog-eared, as though they have been reused. This negates the store’s good visual merchandising and the premium aspirations of the Montague Burton collection. The music is too loud. Although there are quite a lot of staff on the floor, only one acknowledges me, while others shout across the store. Some pieces feel incongruous in the collection, such as the random zany printed T-shirts (£18).

 

Fat Face

Fat Face

Fat Face

Quality service and in-store experience, but a fairly average collection fails to inspire

Score: 5/10

Pros

Pleasant, smiley staff greet customers and check up on them throughout their visit. Despite the menswear area being rather small and at the back, the overall shopfit is nice, and has an on-brand outdoor feel, but it is not overly remarkable. It is nice to see Fat Face elevating some of its more basic items, such as signature printed T-shirts that have textured, flocked details (£22). A well-made multi-pocket utility jacket with removable fake shearling trim is good value at £85, while a patterned fair isle knitted jumper (£45) is of a similar quality but cheaper than a version spotted at Jack Wills (£69.50).

Cons

The window displays are a let-down (especially when compared with those of White Stuff), featuring a rail of clothing on hangers, which does not show off the product well. The collection is classic weekendwear with a rugged outdoor feel – think plenty of checked shirts and sturdy outerwear – but it is average and quite uninspiring. There is not a lot on offer to differentiate much of the range and inspire shoppers to pick Fat Face over other retailers.

 

Value

 

New Look

New Look

New Look

A strong collection gives the store a real point of difference

Score: 7/10

Pros

Points are awarded this season for a strong collection that includes all of autumn’s trends but adds new directions to offer the customer something different. Bomber jackets are everywhere, but New Look offers a range of affordable styles, including longline silhouettes (£39.99), camouflage print (£34.99) and smart suiting fabric (£39.99), and a silky souvenir jacket (£39.99). Other highlights include a wool jacket with a silky arm stripe (£49.99) and a real suede version of a denim jacket (£99) that is also seen at Reiss. There are also classics, such as a wool crombie (£74.99) that is just as good as the £89 Burton version, alongside the retro sportswear trend and nods to urban streetwear à la Kanye West.

Cons

While the collection offers something a bit fresher, the store fit looks quite tired – the only memorable feature is a neon sign above the denim area. The tailoring offer, which is basically three standard suits with boxy blazers (£59.99), is not the strongest.

 

H&M

H&M

H&M

Some strong pieces among plenty of filler product, but the experience lacks customer service

Score: 5/10

Pros

Windows show off the strong David Beckham collaboration via an appealing campaign image and well-styled mannequins wearing key pieces, including a chunky jumper (£14.99) and a nice wool jacket with a fake shearling collar (£49.99) that feel more premium and offer good value for money. Items such as vintage-style band T-shirts (£12.99), ripped jeans (£12.99) and several bomber jackets (from £29.99 to £39.99) tick off autumn’s trends. An acid-washed denim jacket (£39.99) – again with a fake shearling collar –  is similar to one from New Look (also £39.99) and less expensive than Topman (£65).

Cons

The arrangement of the menswear area is illogical. Boring basics greet me at the entrance and more appealing pieces are nearer the back. There plethora of bomber jackets dotted throughout the store is easily missed and there is also a lot of boring filler product, including basic T-shirts, hoodies and chinos. Generally, the shop is not tidy, fitting rooms are unmanned, and staff on the shop floor are having a loud and inappropriate conversation in front of customers.

 

Primark

Primark

Primark

Unbeatable low prices are let down by a messy and chaotic store experience

Score: 4/10

Pros

There is still no beating Primark on low prices, and the value retailer draws large crowds of shoppers to its Meadowhall store thanks to its bargain-basement price points. Thin fabric jeans are sold for as little as £5, a basic bomber jacket for £19 and a machine-washable two-piece suit for just £28 – although these low prices do equate to the lowest quality across every store. The offer is vast, from basics through to tailoring, and there are some nods to trends including a technical parka (£35). A huge range of printed T-shirts featuring Pokémon and popular TV, music and film characters from £5 is sure to catch the eye of pop culture-engaged shoppers.

Cons

As has come to be expected from previous experiences, this store is a mess. Chaotic piles of clothes, items discarded all over the store and a floor littered with rubbish and old hangers make for a less-than-satisfactory shopping experience. No music, hot temperatures and a lack of helpful staff on the floor only make it worse. Low prices still do not excuse this kind of in-store experience.

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