Reputations will be made, lost or revived in the coming weeks as fashion and “non-essential” retail is forced to shut down due to the Coronavirus crisis. While we don’t know what the industry will look like when we emerge from this extraordinary time (it’s seems fair to say that many of the shops obliged to shut will never open again), experts are united in their belief that those brands that behave well during the shut-down will be the ones to reap the rewards when the bounce-back comes.
Each month TheIndustry.fashion tracks 2,000 nationally representative consumers’ spending habits with, and attitudes towards, 100 leading fashion brands and retailers across the board from online-only players to luxury experts, via its brand and retail tracker The Index, produced in partnership with Klarna.
In our newly published report, we discover how consumers felt about fashion and the brands within it, during the month of February, before the crisis hit our market. In the next edition – to come in the next two weeks – we will publish how the were feeling just after the lock-down began to give a sense of which brands may emerge with a healthy reputation, and maybe even a healthier one than they had before the crisis, and which have failed to impress.
Each brand in our list (which has been selected on the basis of national reach and with varying groups of consumers in mind) has been awarded a “Buzz Score” which is derived from netting off the positive versus the negative consumer sentiment towards it.
Since we began this exercise in October of last year, the same clutch of brands have dominated the Top 10, such as Selfridges, John Lewis, Primark, George at Asda and JD Sports for instance, and two former stalwarts, Ted Baker and Superdry have dropped out. But one has dominated and that is one that is not known for its fashion reputation at all: Amazon.
When you dive deeper into our data and look at who rates Amazon, the reasons for its appeal are clear. Service, choice, ease and appeal to a wide range of ages, regions and social-economic groups all come into play. Amazon, fairly or unfairly, however is not necessarily known for its ethics or good works but the Covid-19 crisis appears to be offering an opportunity to change that as for many in isolation it’s a lifeline and could become even more so, if talk of the Government employing its distribution infrastructure to get virus testing kits into the hands of the population proves true.
Another strong performer in the Buzz Score charts has been John Lewis. This is unsurprising, given its reputation for fairness, service and quality, but its Buzz Score has been dropping considerably over the past three months as negative stories about exiting bosses, poor financial performance and a minuscule staff bonus were clearly penetrating the consumer psyche.
In January John Lewis’ Buzz Scores slipped from 25% to 21% and in February, it dropped further still to 17%. While that is still enough to place it in our Top 10, it is a significant decline. However, that could change for the positive next month. Even though retail is facing its biggest challenge in a decade John Lewis showed great leadership in moving to close its stores before the enforced shutdown and launching a tranche of community support measures with impressive speed. The Buzz Scores have in the past shown that consumers pick up on these stories, so we should see John Lewis regain some lost ground next month.
Another one to watch is Kurt Geiger. The premium fashion footwear retailer barely troubles the Buzz Score charts. People seem to have neither strong positive nor strong negative feelings about it and in the grand scheme of the high street, with 55 stores, it is something of a niche player (many in the country will not have access to one of its stores). However, it received wide-spread love and positivity in the media and on social channels for the quick and thoroughly decent response of its management to the crisis.
CEO Neil Clifford gave up his salary for a year to help ensure staff continued to be paid and stores were closed early to free the teams up to do work in the community. All of its stores sent out free shoes to NHS workers and once they re-open NHS workers will all be able to receive 50% off their shoes for a year. That should burnish the brand’s Buzz credentials and we expect it to gain a few points next time.
At the other end of the scale, could Sports Direct have undone all its good work of the past few months? When we began our Buzz Score exercise back in October, Sports Direct was languishing in the negative territory with a -2% score. It has steadily made its way into positive territory and now has a respectable score of 7%.
However will Mike Ashley’s audacious, but short-lived, bid to keep his Sports Direct stores open during the crisis, prove to be damaging? To his credit Ashley apologised quickly for his company’s actions, offered the NHS access to its delivery fleet and its management took a pay cut to £40,000 so staff (including those on zero hours contracts) could be paid in full at least until the end of April.
It would be a shame if in the midst of a crisis, an ill-timed action, were to send it back down the chart but the subsequent quick, corrective action may not have gone unnoticed by consumers. It’s worth pointing out that as a brand, it is the most polarising in our list. Those who love it, really love it and those don’t, really don’t. In many respects that is better than people having no strong feelings one way or another.
Let’s see in the coming weeks, where the public’s feelings lie.
The Index is published in two parts each month. Part 1 examines The Sectors, The Channels, The Formats and The Behaviours, showing where and how our consumers shopped and what their intentions are for the coming months. In Part 2 we look at The Brands and The Buzz Scores, examining in detail the performance of our 100 tracked brands. Part 2 comes with an Appendix with a tracking chart of each of our 100 brands showing whether our 2,000 shoppers (surveyed by leading consumer insights experts at Savanta) visited or shopped on-line or in-store.
The Index is now FREE to access, visit it here.
The Index is produced in proud partnership with Klarna.