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Hit or Miss: womenswear spring 19

Fatface 1072237

Drapers heads out to Intu Watford, to put this season’s womenswear offers to the test.

As the days start to lengthen and blossom engulfs the trees, Drapers make our seasonal pilgrimage to test out the latest shopping offers from high street fashion retail’s biggest names.  Following last week’s review of the menswear offer, this week womenswear is in the spotlight.

For spring 19, Drapers’ mystery shoppers headed north of London to Intu Watford. With the centre having undergone a £180m makeover that added a 380,000 sq ft extension that opened in September 2018, hopes were high that the 1.4 million sq ft shopping centre with strong, modern store designs would offer a pleasant shopping experience.

Unfortunately, this was not always the case. The centre itself has benefited hugely from the refresh: the space feels modern and pleasant to wander around, while a miniature train that trundles through the top floor crammed with excited children is a fun touch. However, several stores had not kept pace with the wider modernisation. All too often impressive store fronts concealed dingy, dated and disappointing stores that often did not do justice to solid product offerings.

Despite a large number of mid-season Sales dominating stores, the new product on full-price sale was more appropriate for the spring season than in previous Hit or Miss outings. Trans-seasonal raincoats, trenches and macs were popular across all stores.

Elsewhere, two spring 19 trends stood out: midi-dresses and animal print. Every retailer tested had its own take on the midi-dress – from trend-led styles at Zara to more muted shirt dresses at Marks & Spencer. As a flattering, relatively safe option, it is no surprise that the high street is banking on midis to lure in customers.

Once again, the lack of service was a huge disappointment during the shopping experience – staff in most stores were happy to help when approached, but greetings and unprompted attention were rare. When done well, however, good service elevated the store experience hugely and made up for some shortcomings in other areas.

Time and again during Hit or Miss, retailers make the same, simple mistakes. When the high street is in such peril, ironing out these details should be a priority for all.

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 the overall shopping experience. Each category is rated out of five for total scores out of 25. Drapers visited Intu Watford on Friday 22 March.

 

Retailers: 

Fat Face 19/25

Quiz 17/25

Jack Wills 16.5/25

Lipsy 15/25

Primark 15/25

Topshop 15/25

H&M 14/25

Monsoon 14/25

Next 14/25

River Island 14/25

Zara 13/25

Karen Millen 12.5/25

Phase Eight 12.5/25

New Look 11.5/25

Marks and Spencer 11/25

Superdry 10/25

Fatface 1072241

Fatface 1072241

Fat Face 19/25

A store with real personality and good-quality products. Fat Face Watford transports shoppers to the beach

Product: 4/5

Presentation: 5/5

Customer service: 2.5/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Shopping experience: 4/5

Shopping centre stores can feel homogenous and characterless. Impressively, Fat Face in Intu Watford manages to convey a quirky sense of brand identity, and the store brims with personality and individuality.

The store front is decorated with pale wood panelling that continues throughout on both walls and floorboards. The space takes full advantage of an unusually high ceiling: display shelves with product and additional decor – including suitcases, hanging pictures and bicycles – are dotted all the way up the walls. The attention to detail in the design of the store is impressive, and encapsulates the relaxed aesthetic of the brand.

I am particularly charmed by the creaking floorboards at the back of the store, which give a real sense of seaside authenticity and transport me away from the city shopping centre.

The product is spaced well throughout the store. This gives a pleasant, spacious feeling, and displays a satisfyingly large range without being overwhelming and making it easy to browse. Walking around, I see several items with large paper tags attached, which tell a little more about the “story” of each item – or offer styling tips as I browse. This is a nice touch.

The product is not trend led, but instead appeals well to a more mature customer seeking well-made staples. Overall, the value and quality are impressive: a sturdy, British-made, waterproof mac is excellent value at £110. However, an embellished 100% cotton vest at £30 feels a bit too expensive, as it is a very small item.

There are posters directing me to order online and collect in store dotted throughout the space, and staff are friendly and knowledgeable when I enquire more about this service. A chart on the shelves of the footwear section displays UK/EU/US shoe size conversions, which is a helpful touch. 

Although I am not greeted as I enter the store, when I seek out and engage with staff, they are helpful and pleasant, and happy to offer fit advice and tips. The service is fine – but more attentive staff would have elevated the shopping experience to excellent.

Quiz 17/25

Excellent, personal service and well-positioned product make up for a tired store design

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Product: 4/5

Presentation: 2/5

Customer service: 5/5

Value for money: 3/5

Shopping experience: 3/5

The staff in Quiz are some of the friendliest and most helpful I encounter all day, and despite a fairly basic store design, their efficiency makes the experience pleasant.

Although I am not greeted on entry, staff offer help as I browse. In the fitting rooms I am given advice and guidance on styles and shapes I may like in a friendly and unpressured way. There only two members of staff on the shop floor, but I note that the other woman in the fitting rooms is receiving similarly attentive service.

The shop assistant is able to browse the Quiz website on a tablet, and offer styling advice and size options that are not in stock in the shop – and she is clearly happy to do this. As the day is characterised by reluctant or non-existent help, this authentic approach is very refreshing.

The store itself is neat and tidy, although dominated by a large Sale section at the back. The rest of the space is well organised according to style, making it easy to browse – despite being quite cramped. The shop fit does feel quite cheap, and has harsh lighting and plain decor.

The fitting rooms are particularly ramshackle, and the lighting in the three small cubicles is unflattering. If it were not for the good service, shopping with Quiz online would be a far more enjoyable experience.

Products hit several big trends for spring 19: leopard, snake and fluorescent colours are popular themes. A sunset-coloured ombré leopard print jumpsuit is a highlight, and reasonably priced at £34.99 – it is trend-led and good quality. The offer is dominated by formal dresses with beading and embellishment that feel well made, and are good value at £79.99 – if a little expensive for its target customer. Quiz caters well for its audience with glamorous, statement occasionwear.

Jack Wills 16.5/25

A charming service and store, but a very basic product is offer overwhelmed by promotions 

Product: 2/5

Presentation: 4/5

Customer service: 4.5/5

Value for money: 2/5

Shopping experience: 4/5

I am greeted very warmly the moment I enter the Jack Wills store and offered immediate assistance should I need it. I am asked whether I have been to the store before, and when I say I have not, the assistant briefly and cheerfully explains where things are, as well as talking me through the promotions Jack Wills is running. After this brief interaction, I am left to browse on my own. The greeting feels genuine, and is a useful and pleasant start to my visit.

I am similarly impressed when I head to the changing rooms. Before I even reach the doors, I am spotted by a staff member and ushered inside. The fitting rooms are empty, and the assistant directs me to a specific cubicle, as she says it has the “best mirror for dresses”. Her approach feels personal, and would absolutely encourage me to buy in store, or to return in the future.

The design of the store itself is also impressive. Wood panelling, framed portraits and sturdy wooden fittings fit the preppy, university style of the brand and lend a sense of personality to the space.

I particularly enjoy the accessories and lingerie displays in wooden cabinets and dressers in a style reminiscent of a grand stately home.

The fitting rooms are equally h: different photos of retro university life hang on the wall of each cubicle. The one downside is a broken lock on the fitting room door.

Despite the pleasing store space, it is difficult to gauge a true sense of Jack Wills’ offer, as almost every single product is on Sale.

Basics dominate the range. The overall the offer is quite boring dominated by plain T-shirts and other block-colour jersey basics, and few items catch my attention. However, the basics are cleverly displayed on mannequins in smart casual outfits – a hoodie is paired with a crisp trench (well priced at £99) and smart jeans.

Hoodies are the dominant item and come in a fresh array of colours – including a peachy, rose pink and grassy green. They are well made and super-soft, but expensive at full price – £49.95 – although on Sale at £24.98 they are a bargain.

A particular highlight is a lavender-coloured mini-bucket bag, which is dainty and appealing – although for £44.95 I am disappointed to find it is 100% coated polyester.

Lipsy 15/25

Oozing glamour, and with a strong trend-led product offer and store to match – poor service is Lipsy’s downfall.

Lipsy 1080413

Product: 4/5

Presentation: 4/5

Customer service: 1.5/5

Value for money: 2/5

Shopping experience: 3.5/5

I am initially pleasantly surprised by the shopping experience in Lipsy. From the moment I step inside the store oozes glamour. Marble, gold, leopard and snakeskin make for a distinctive and dramatic aesthetic.

Products are displayed on lovely curving gold racks, and numerous quirky and opulent objects are dotted around. A giant golden shell, a replica of a hotel bell-push trolley and a branch of cherry blossom all feature – giving a sense of lavish, Insta-friendly glam. To top it off, most of the ceiling is taken up with a giant, crystal chandelier, which has the double effect of creating a soft light in the store and also looking very chic.

The product also impresses. The brand’s collaboration with model Abbey Clancy draws me in as I enter. Daring and feminine with deep V-neck wrap dresses and slinky animal print slip dresses, the range is a good way to entice shoppers in from the shopping centre.

Although designs are nice, some are a touch pricey. A fake leather mini-dress (£62) is nice but does not feel particularly well made or good value. A snakeskin print wrap dress (£62) is a similarly good product, but for the fast fashion, glamour-hunting customer used to the low prices at PrettyLittleThing and Asos, it does not justify the price point and is a little too expensive.

Despite the nice store design, I am disappointed by the fitting rooms, which are pretty but impractical. A curtain that stretches to the ceiling does not close all the way and bears some dubious stains. My cubicle also has an emergency exit door in the wall. I do not feel comfortable getting changed in a space that someone may well enter from the other side.

Added to this, my interaction with the store staff is virtually non-existent. Although the store is small and empty, I am not greeted, and when I ask for more sizes, I am told to look online rather than being offered any assistance.

Primarkuk 1079679

Primark 15/25

A strong, good value product is undone by Primark’s overwhelming scale and confusing layout.

Product: 4/5

Presentation: 2/5

Customer service: 2.5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Shopping experience: 2.5/5

Primark’s store in Watford is a confusing place to shop. A narrow entrance without any obvious window display funnels me through a sea of basics into the main store. It is difficult to discern where to begin shopping.

The store is piled high with product, with displays stacked all the way to the ceiling, which feels quite oppressive. The racks are relatively neat, and the store is generally tidy, although there are a few large plastic boxes dotted around as staff fill the shelves. The overall effect is more like a warehouse than a shop.

Sifting through the mass of product on offer there are some good-value trend-led styles to be found. The midi-dress range – a staple for all young fashion retailers for spring 19 – is good. A wrap midi-dress (excellent value at £15) is fairly well made and very on trend. A Tencel cargo shirt – good value at £12 – is perfect piece for those hunting for the utility trend.

I am impressed by the size range – styles on the shop floor range from size 4 to 22 in most of the displays that I look at. No other retailers I test match this range on so many styles.

I am also impressed by the large beauty section in the store. Neat and tidy, it offers a comprehensive range of skin care and make-up in a modern space with a minimalist design.

The staff in Primark are relatively helpful. I easily find someone to help me, and she is able to direct me to sections I ask for. However, as Primark has no transactional online presence and all stock is on the shop floor, beyond that there is little else she can assist me with. When I go into the fitting rooms the attendants appear far too busy to fetch other sizes – they are running to and from the stock room when I approach them to ask.

The fitting rooms themselves are well designed and there are several disabled cubicles. However, they are messy, with peeling mirrors and discarded clothing throughout – even relatively early on a weekday.

Topshop (3)

Topshop 15/25

Overwhelmed by Sale, Topshop is nevertheless strong on trends

Product: 4/5

Presentation: 2.5/5

Customer service: 3/5

Value for money: 3/5

Shopping experience: 2.5 /5

It is a shame that Topshop in Intu Watford is overwhelmed by an incredibly messy Sale when I visit – as the store has a huge amount of potential.

The space is fresh and bright. A vast skylight makes the store beautifully lit and very pleasant to walk around. The design is equally good: exposed brick walls, neon signage and boudoir-inspired panelling hint at Topshop’s playful aesthetic.

Yet the changing rooms are a big disappointment: chilly, dirty, unmanned and unkempt, they are incongruous with the rest of the store.

Aside from the Sale, the store is clearly and sensibly organised. The mannequins near the entrance sport trend-led, slightly daring styles, such as a pair of wide-legged white trousers and a head-to-toe beige ensemble. Items worn are placed next to the mannequins, which is helpful. There is an advert for Topshop’s hit bias-cut satin midi-skirt (£39) placed prominently in the store, but frustratingly this item is nowhere to be seen, although staff offer to order it in for me from the website.

The front of the store features some fantastic trend-led products. A heavy black denim boilersuit – well priced at £52 – is a stand-out style that hits the utility jumpsuit trend more effectively than any of the other young fashion brands tested.

However, further back, the store is overwhelmed by jersey basics. While these are well priced – a T-shirt dress is £19 – it is a shame to see Topshop, which usually leads on trends, focusing on such generic product. Furthermore, within the jersey range I am cannot find a single full-length T-shirt. Every style on offer is cropped, and this limited range is frustrating.

By contrast, the denim offer is more comprehensive, and offers a far wider range of cuts than other young fashion retailers. They are reasonably priced at £40, and feel more sturdy than cheaper competitors, offering good value for money. However, much of the denim section is blocked by a large, abandoned clothes rail, which is filled with stock to be added to the Sale.

The staff are difficult to locate, but when I find them are knowledgeable on questions about sizes and stock, and they offer to order in products for me. They are also able to tell me when the Sale will finish and the store will return to offering a full range of new-season products.

H&M 14/25

A pleasantly designed space with some strong, trend-led products, is let down by a messy store

Conscious exclusive 2019 campaign images (8)[1]

Product: 3.5

Presentation: 3

Customer service: 1.5

Value for money: 3

Shopping experience: 3

H&M sits in Intu’s new extension, and is appropriately modern and well designed. The store is brightly lit and minimalist in design. Creamy white walls and floors are dotted with millennial-friendly design details such as: large plants, marble display tables, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and wire arch displays which lend a youthful aesthetic that befits the product mix.

The clothing in store is strong. I am drawn in by a window display brimming with springtime midi-skirts, dresses and blazers in a suitably trend led colour palette of pale blue and red. All the styles in the windows are easy to find when I enter the store. There are a lot of beautiful, trend-led items on offer – including a ditsy-print ruched top (excellent value at £12.99) and a snakeskin print cotton jumpsuit (well priced at £34.99). Floaty midi-dresses, graphic T-shirts and skirts all emulate Instagram-favourite brands such as Ganni and Reformation – but at a far lower price point, and represent good value for money.

The quality is fair, considering the low prices – but many of the basic items feel overpriced and poor quality. A £24.99 unlined blazer is limp and shapeless, and has numerous loose threads.

Although there is a lot of strong product on display, much of the store is messy, even though it is only 10am. Items on hangers are in the wrong places, folded items are well rummaged through and even the trend-led styles are badly creased on hangers.

This continues in the fitting rooms, which are well designed with flattering lighting and large mirrors, but are unattended and a little unkempt. Several cubicles contain discarded coat hangers, there are no seats and in my cubicle I find chewing gum on the clothes rail, which is unpleasant.

There are no staff in the fitting rooms and, wandering around the large store, I am unable to find any members of staff for several minutes. When I do, they seem very surprised to be asked questions, but are fairly helpful.

Monsoon 14/25

A strong boho-inspired offer and engaging product storytelling – but the store does no justice to the clothing

Monsoon 1071170

Product: 4

Presentation: 2

Customer service: 3

Value for money: 3

Shopping experience: 2

The maroon frontage of the Monsoon store looks dated, and the design has not changed in a long time. The window is dominated by a huge Sale notice, obscuring the pretty boho dresses behind. The dark interior does not feel like an inviting prospect.

However, the inside feels nicer than I expect. It is a touch too dark, but has a pleasant boutique feel thanks to mirrored walls, ornate hanging lamps and mosaic detailing on the floors.

Monsoon is one of the only stores I visit in Watford where I am greeted by a member of staff, and after a morning of shopping with uncommunicative assistants, I am surprised by how much of a pleasant difference it makes to my experience. When I ask for assistance, staff are very helpful – but do not suggest click and collect or other services, even though Monsoon offers this function on its website.

There are a lot of well-designed, boho-style products on display and there is a focus on sharing the stories behind the products. A sustainable denim dress (good at £60) carries a brown paper tag explaining the fabric’s origins, as do items made out of Tencel, a sustainable textile made from wood pulp. This is good to see, and suits the slightly hippie vibe Monsoon is known for.

Among other strong products is a red, satin-finish, brushstroke print dress (great value with high-quality fabric and design for £99), which would easily compete in style with items from higher-priced brands.

However, the design of the store does not do justice to the products. As I walk to the back of the space, the assortment becomes muddled and stand-out styles, such as the red dress and several statement midi-dresses, are hidden from view. There is a steamer next to the cash desk and children’s section, which is turned on and emitting steam – this must be a health and safety hazard.

To access the fitting rooms, which are unmanned, I walk through a strange, white corridor. The fitting rooms themselves are designed in an outdated style and need modernising. They are clean but a little scruffy and quite dark.

Next 14/25

A comprehensive offer in a pleasant store, but a little cramped and without Next’s signature good service

Next 1069300

Product: 3

Presentation: 2

Customer service: 2

Value for money: 4

Shopping experience: 3

The warm lighting emanating from Next makes it an appealing and inviting store to visit, so it is a shame the window is dominated by Sale signs. As with other retailers tested, these hide nice products, such as an eye-catching yellow rain jacket, which is well timed for spring.

As Next stores go, the Watford space is relatively small, but manages to pack in an impressive number of ranges. Jeans, swim, tailoring, petite and trend all have their own dedicated sections – but the result is a touch cramped.

Tailoring is a strong point from Next’s spring 19 offer. A saffron yellow suit (blazer £65, trousers £30) is a stand-out for style and value, and a checked, wrap midi-dress (£55) is well made, sophisticated and good value.

Elsewhere, the focus is more on accessible basics and there is a huge amount of leopard print on display, across jersey styles and more daring options – a pair of leopard print culottes (£25) are a trend-led bargain and well suited for spring.

I am disappointed to find that there are several empty display tables dotted around the store, one of which is by the Emma Willis collaboration display. This range is strong, and includes a pair of impeccably made, beige wide-legged trousers – a bargain at £45. However, the store only offers a tiny selection of these products, and it is not at all showed off to its full advantage.

Next often excels on service, so I am disappointed when I cannot find any assistants to help me on the shop floor. Those I see are all busy behind the tills. When I enter the fitting rooms, which are well designed but dusty, I find an attendant. But when I try to ask for another size to try on, she has completely vanished.

River Island 14/25

A pleasant, playful store – but most product is overpriced for its target market 

Riverisland 1068084

Product: 2

Presentation: 4

Customer service: 3

Value for money: 2

Shopping experience: 3

River Island stands out in a sea of similar store fronts thanks to its bold, blue-tiled frontage, neon lighting and dramatically arranged window mannequins. Standing in a diamond formation, they are dressed in bold, trend-led styles that are sure to tempt in young shoppers. Neons, camouflage and high-octane glamour are all striking themes in the windows.

The inside of the store is similarly impressive. An exposed white brick shop fit with false railway arches gives an urban feel, which contrasts with  the glamorous and youthful fixtures and fittings, which include chandeliers, neon lights and gold hardware. Mannequins are used particularly effectively – always showcasing the best, trend-led products.

The fitting rooms have a playful vibe, sturdy doors and a beachy aesthetic. They are brightly lit and have a large number of mirrors but unfortunately they have been vandalised with a lot of graffiti, which is not overly offensive but is a little unpleasant. They are manned by an attendant, who swiftly radios for alternative sizes when I seek assistance, and is very kind and helpful.

As with several other young fashion retailers tested, denim is a massive focus. There is a huge array on display, artistically presented on ladders with neon lights. At £30 the jeans are good value and feel well made, but there are a limited number of styles on display, and I find myself hunting for anything other than a super-skinny cut.

Generally, River Island’s product offer feels slightly muddled. While there is no doubt that the trends are ticked off – leopard print, snakeskin, scarf prints and camo are dotted throughout – prices and quality vary wildly. A scarf print dress in a stretchy gauze material feels cheaply made and not worth the £42 price tag. Equally, £55 seems a hefty price tag for a relatively basic, boxy camouflage jacket with neon writing a neon printed across the piece. Many of the styles offer fast fashion trends but at higher prices than consumers would find at competitors – and I am tempted to find and compare alternatives online when I am in store.

Nevertheless, there are some stand-out items: a well-made, sturdy, heavy fake suede and houndstooth checked trench coat is one of the strongest items I see all day. At £85 it is relatively expensive, but worth it for the quality – although I find myself wondering if any of the teenage shoppers in the store would pay for it.

Campaign (2)

Zara 13/25

Poor service and an uninspiring store design, but Zara’s trend-led product is a winner

Product: 4/5

Presentation: 2.5/5

Customer service: 1/5

Value for money: 3/5

Shopping experience: 2.5/5

Zara’s ultra-modern store front has glossy white panels, shimmering stone tiles and boldly dressed mannequins. It catches the eye and looks very sophisticated, especially next to neighbouring kitchenware retailer Lakeland and several cosy cafes.

I am drawn in to the store by several towering mannequins dressed entirely in white outfits. Although these make a pleasingly dramatic impact, the all-white beachy, boho looks feel far too summery for the early spring weather.

Elsewhere in the store, however, the assortment makes more sense. There are several unique twists on trench coats, including a reversible scarf print design for £99.99, which is fairly pricey, but the item is well made and unique.

Zara also has an excellent range of long-sleeved midi- and maxi-dresses. The shapes and prints are slightly more directional than other retailers but comparably priced – at around £39.99 – and there is also a wider variety: from boho florals to slinky slip and shirt dresses.

Products are arranged into trends, which makes it quite easy to browse. However, many items have been moved or rummaged through, and the overall impression of the store is one of messiness and disorganisation.

The changing rooms have three attendants, but none are available when I want to ask for alternative sizes. I am instead, slightly brusquely directed to look online before the attendants return to their conversation.

In contrast to the glamorous frontage, the inside is devoid of personality and is identical to other Zara stores. While the clothing offer is strong, there is nothing else interesting about the shopping experience at Zara.

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Karen Millen 12.5/25

A dated design and lack of attention to detail makes shopping at Karen Millen a far from premium experience

Product: 2.5

Presentation: 2

Customer service: 3.5

Value for money: 2

Shopping experience: 2.5

Karen Millen is almost a nice store, but it is badly let down by pricey products and dated store design details.

The shop front’s mirrored panelling and a luminous logo draw me in with the expectation of a premium experience. However, the store itself feels muddled: sophisticated, modern clothing displayed in tired space.

The glass and metal fittings match the brand’s aesthetic, and products are displayed in a pleasing way: neatly spaced and arranged by colour schemes and themes, which makes it easy to shop for entire looks. Having co-ordinating shoes and accessories displayed next to each item is a helpful touch.

Several spring styles in vibrant yellow and florals catch my eye as I enter the store. However, there is a heavy focus on snakeskin print, which is overwhelming and gives the impression of limited product variety. Some of these styles are appealing. A ruffled snake print midi-dress – slightly overpriced at £190 – is a youthful take on the trend, but the dominance of the pattern is overpowering. I am also disappointed that relatively expensive dresses are made from fabrics such as polyester. A £199 wrap dress is 100% polyester, which seems poor value.

The lighting in the store is unflattering, the wooden floor looks plasticky – with a cheap sheen – and the clothes hangers are extremely battered. In a premium store I expect better.

The floor itself slopes down at an unexpected angle, and I can imagine customers with pushchairs, wheelchairs or walking difficulties would find this problematic. Similarly, when entering the fitting rooms, I stumble on a step that is not easily noticeable, or highlighted as a hazard.

The fitting rooms are unmanned and badly need a refit. Small, cramped and with scuffed walls, the fluorescent lighting does no favours to the clothing or the customer.

The staff in the store are very helpful and friendly when I ask for assistance. I am given tips for shopping online, and using click and collect, and the friendly assistant gives me advice on styling and fit. She also offers to order items to the store for me.

Phase Eight 12.5/25

Forgettable and dated. This Phase Eight store is stuck in the past

 

Shot 15 azana silk blouse 143

Product: 2.5

Presentation: 2.5

Customer service: 2.5

Value for money: 2.5

Shopping experience: 2.5

My entire shopping experience in Phase Eight is extremely forgettable. While the store is neat and tidy, and there is a good range of products – from occasionwear to everyday styles – in pleasantly arranged displays, the overall effect lacks impact. The dark store has brown walls and soft lighting, which makes it difficult to browse.

The store feels dated. The rails are scratched silver and clothes hang on basic, plastic hangers, so the premium pricing seems out of kilter with the distinctly average store set-up. I would be less willing to pay a high price for products in such uninspiring surroundings.

Several items have unreasonable points – for example, £69 seems wildly expensive for a plain jersey T-shirt dress. An embellished formal dress at £199 is relatively expensive, but is better value for money. However, the generally uninspiring offer, which includes predictable occasionwear designs, does provide some stand-out items. A watercolour print, billowy silk blouse is well made, good quality and a decent style that warrants its £89 price tag.

The fitting rooms are large and luxurious, and have good lighting and soft carpets, but feel quite exposed. The curtain between the two cubicles could easily be pulled aside, and there is no barrier between the fitting rooms and the rest of the store space. As it is a small store, passing shoppers would be able to see the fitting room entrance from the street.

While the staff are friendly, swift and helpful, there is no mention of multichannel options when I ask about alternative sizes, although I am told to try online.

Overall, the experience feels like it has not moved on in several years.

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New Look 11.5/25

A nicely designed but otherwise average store and offer. Marks are lost for a lack of customer service. 

Product: 2.5

Presentation: 3

Customer service: 1

Value for money: 2

Shopping experience: 3

 

New Look in Watford appears to be young, fresh and cool – but overall appears quite cheap.

The store is relatively new and is well designed. It feels fresh and bright, and in the large space, the low rails allow me to clearly see through the store and spot styles I like from a distance. The black and white fittings are minimalist, but appear to be quite basic.

The denim section lures me in the moment I enter. Painted black with a huge neon sign, the shelves of jeans are arranged by style and size, and are very neat. There is a huge range of colours available, although the styles are dominated by super-skinny shapes – I would have liked more variety in fits – but jeans are good value at £27.99, and feel pleasingly stretchy and well made.

There is also a wide range of dresses on display. A large selection of midi- and maxi-dresses in floral prints caters to the midi’s booming popularity in young fashion. However, the average £30 price tag is high relative to other items New Look is selling, and is too much for relatively fragile products. Prices are generally very low, but sometimes this does have a noticeable impact on quality – for example, a snake print blazer (£19.99) is extremely flimsy, making it poor value.

Despite a smart shop fit, the layout of the store is incoherent. Products placed next to each other have no obvious similarities in style – a dainty, boho-inspired gingham camisole top is on show at the front of the store alongside a heavy black tracksuit and gothic, snakeskin motif sweatshirt.

There are no attendants manning the fitting rooms when I enter, and I struggle to find anyone on the shop floor. There is a long queue at the tills – only one is open – and the only other staff I can see disappear into the stockroom chatting before I am able to ask them for any assistance.

Marks & Spencer 11/25

Dated, dreary and dull. M&S’s product deserves better.

Solar summer m&s collection tshirt £8.50; m&s collection trouser £39.50; earring £12.50; trainer £45

Product: 2

Presentation: 1

Customer service: 4

Value for money: 3

Shopping experience: 1

Marks & Spencer is a complete muddle when I visit. The womenswear floor is overwhelmed by a huge and messy Sale, which has displaced other sections from their usual locations in the store. I spot several people wandering around in confusion, and when I ask a member of staff where the lingerie area is, they are unable to point me in the correct direction.

The merchandising is similarly confused. It is a struggle to find any of the trend-led products M&S promotes as its main womenswear offer. Instead, the store is dominated by dated basics.

However, within the rails of chinos and beige midi-skirts are hidden the few trend-led items. A metallic pleated midi-skirt – reasonable value at £29.50 – is randomly displayed alongside a basic pencil skirt, and elasticated-waist midi-skirts. It is difficult to understand how a customer would find what they are looking for and I am hugely uninspired by the items on offer.

This frustrating experience continues throughout the store, where more strong items are hidden from view. I find a trend-led, zebra print midi-dress – good value at £49.50 – shoved at the back of a clothing rack.

And M&S is suffering from another dated shop fit. Low ceilings, rails of crammed-in product and harsh, sparse lights make for a dingy atmosphere that cannot be elevated by the addition of a few pot plants. Apart from the hum of lighting, the store is silent and feels a little eerie. Even though I do not find the cafe while I’m in store, the whole place smells unpleasantly of hot food, reminiscent of school canteens.

The changing rooms are similarly dated, with scratched walls and rattling doors. However, they are manned by an extremely helpful and friendly assistant, who is able to fetch me alternative sizes quickly and offers to order additional sizes to the store for the next day if I wish. The good service in the changing rooms is a small saving grace for this sorry example of an M&S.

Superdry 10/25

Superdry suffers from confused, overpriced product offer and a muddled store layout

Superdry 1025007

Product: 1

Presentation: 3

Customer service: 2

Value for money: 2

Shopping experience: 2

As I enter Superdry I am dazzled by a huge LED screen informing me of the Sale. While this addition to the store certainly makes an impact from a distance – I can read the sign from across the vast Intu Watford courtyard – it makes for an unpleasant start to my shopping experience.

The design is of this new store is nevertheless impressive. Chain-link fence-effect fittings, wooden floors and tables, and a high ceiling create a cool, urban effect.

However, I find the product offer very confused. Superdry’s signature hoodies and T-shirts in bold colours and stand-out prints dominate. But displayed in the edgy store design they feel dated and juvenile – and in some sections of the store I feel like I am shopping in the kids’ section. The products feel well made, but the prices are too steep. A pastel pink zip-front hoodie does not justify its high £54.99 price point – especially as it is clearly geared to young consumers.

I also find myself baffled by the variety of sub-brands Superdry seem to offer: Superdry Sport, Superdry Boutique, SDRY – all have such wildly different aesthetics, but are clashed together with no clear explanation of the differences between them.

Within these sub-brands there are some stand-out products – a black and white checked trench coat is sturdy and well-made – well worth the £99.99 price tag. A T-shirt dress from the same collection is soft, minimalist and a good solid basic for £29.99. However, these pieces are the exceptions, and most of the range is disappointing and stale.

The store is in the midst of transitioning to Sale as I visit, and, as such, there are some empty display tables dotted across the store.

When I try to engage staff, they are all busy moving stock from one place to another and are unwilling to help me. When they do, they are a little abrupt, but are knowledgeable and helpful nonetheless.

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