Monday 17 June 2019

Caitlin McBride: 'Topshop has been letting down its customers - and by default its employees - for years'

A model presents a creation by TOPSHOP during a catwalk show for the Spring/Summer 2018 collection on the third day of The London Fashion Week Women's in London on September 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J RATCLIFFE
A model presents a creation by TOPSHOP during a catwalk show for the Spring/Summer 2018 collection on the third day of The London Fashion Week Women's in London on September 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J RATCLIFFE
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

It’s a dark day for retail in Ireland.

The increasingly complicated landscape has taken four more victims, all impacting the consumer landscape around the country. On Wednesday, it was announced that Arcadia, the UK’s biggest retail group, would be closing 23 stores, six of those being Miss Selfridge, Evans, Wallis and Topshop in Ireland.

Topshop, once the jewel in Arcadia’s glistening crown, is essentially retreating from the Irish market at an aggressive rate, closing down two of the biggest stores in Dublin city.

When they launched the three-storey flagship store in Stephen’s Green in 2005, it was, like all Celtic Tiger launches, the source of much fanfare. Sir Philip Green, the chairman of Arcadia who has become increasingly reclusive as both his personal and professional brand continues to suffer, flew over for the occasion and described it as a “little bit of Oxford Street in Dublin”.

He wasn’t wrong. It was an accurate read of the shopping environment at the time and while countless stores suffered closures during the recession and recovery; Topshop endured.

It was seemingly untouchable, surviving the worst economic conditions in Ireland, occuping a space that is one of the country’s most expensive commercial rents, only to reinvest once again in 2017 across the other side of Dublin city with a new 20,000, square foot premises in the Jervis Shopping Centre.

It was not only a sign of faith into some geographical diversification in what was clearly a successful market here, but also an indication that they would be investing when others were pulling back and re-strategising. Part of that way of thinking is what we will call 'The Topshop Problem' (TTP).

Once upon a time, Topshop was the only game in town: it was agenda setting, disruptive and set trends in influential ways before Instagram was even invented.

It launched Kate Moss’ first fashion collaboration and their partnership virtually launched the concept of skinny jeans. But, like the style of denim with which it is now synonymous, it’s become passé.

For unclear reasons over the years, Topshop has refused to innovate, dragging its heels with creativity, all the while increasing its prices. Women across their 30s were devoted to Topshop as teenagers, but have grown up and as happens with maturity, fallen out of love with the brand that filled their wardrobes for years.

Instead of identifying new opportunities for design and consumer experiences, they seemed to ignore the problem in the hope it would go away. While there is an increasing lack of customer loyalty across the board, they had already missed the boat in luring the lucrative Generation Z market by the time fast fashion brands go their hooks into them.

In spring 2018, their version of the slip dress was hard to ignore and it proved so popular, they relaunched it again this season in countless colours and as a result, there are still a number of styles and colours available online still - another trademark of TTP.

They haven’t quite mastered the art of giving consumers what they want, all the while holding back just enough to maintain exclusivity - a basic principle of a successful business.

That beautiful store that launched 14 years ago looks virtually identical as it did in 2005 and nothing - least of all shopping - is the same as it was then.

To say Topshop is simply a victim of a merciless retail environment would be removing responsibility from its creative directors, who have spent too many years resting on their laurels, and executives who couldn’t identity an obvious problem in time.

Employers have a responsibility to its employees to provide a good product and in that case, they have let their employees down. And we all suffer as a result.

Online Editors

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