OPINION: Claire Franks on preparing for 2014

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

So here we are at the end of another year. It only seems a short time ago that we were looking forward to the summer and now we are only a few weeks away from Christmas and the beginning of the 2014!

We’ve had an amazing 12 months, during which our spirits soured as we dashed out to the shops buying vast quantities of summer clothing, giving the UK economy a much-needed boost.

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The Office for National Statistics is reporting that retail sales rose by 3% in 2013 compared to last year, giving us the fastest annual rise since January 2011. And Christmas sales are set reach £85.2 billion, the highest growth since the financial crisis, according to market research specialist, Verdict.

But now is not the time to sit back, relax and wait for all those consumers to come flooding through our doors. Now is the time to review and plan for any changes needed in 2014.

We all know that any business that stands still will not survive for long, and we must acknowledge that retailing and, most importantly, the consumers are simply not the same as the pre-recession shoppers that we knew and loved, the proof of which can be seen clearly on the high street today.

The downturn coincided with the dramatic rise of online shopping, helped by the availability of much cheaper smart phones and fast, affordable Internet. And, with nearly 25% of all online sales coming from mobile devices this summer, this proves that consumers are really enjoying 24/7 mobile, online shopping. And this trend is set to grow.

Looking back to 2011, it was predicted that online retail was to grow six times faster than high street sales to exceed £37 billion by 2014. Verdict Research went on to state that Internet spending would increase by £14 billion (61%) from 2010 to 2014.

This report mapped the future of the UK’s high streets, showing “shopping on the go” as driving dramatic changes ahead. And where are we three years on? The high street is reported as becoming less about shopping and more about researching and enjoying “the experience”.

As a result, many lingerie retailers are offering skilled and expert bra fitting, as well as unparalleled product choices and great customer service. The goal is to become a retail destination, rather than a just a shop. Take the Apple stores: you can look, touch and test the products, speak to experts and make your decision, but then buy online. Shopping must now be fun, enjoyable, informative and easy.

So with our biggest competition now being the online shops, where can we view and buy “everything” in a highly competitively-priced arena? My advice is not to ignore this, but embrace it and make the changes required, as mobile shopping is here to stay.

We should consider the Internet as a key weapon in creating an interactive ‘experience’ that engages shoppers and makes them willing to spend and recommend your business and services to friends and family.

Social media goes hand in hand with this concept, connecting you directly with your consumers, engaging them and enticing them into your business. Don’t give them the opportunity to go elsewhere.

Create an active, and creative calendar that is full of fun, innovative and amazing deals, offers and promotions. These should be regular, current and reflect the time of year. I mentioned recently that an RPS consultant stated quite categorically that “every business has enough customers, but it is how we handle them that determines our success”. This is a powerful statement and something that we should constantly remind ourselves of.

So what other changes could we consider for 2014? It is a new product group? Menswear, maybe? New research commissioned by Sainsbury’s has revealed that two-thirds of men still rely on their mothers, wives and girlfriends to keep their underwear drawer fully stocked. And they even let the ladies dictate the style they wear.

Sainsbury’s has taken this information and used it to its advantage. As a result, it has enjoyed a 30% rise in the sales of men’s pants over the last year.

Another opportunity could generate from the results of a report conducted by Mintel this summer. The market research firm found that over 75% of women in the UK purchased briefs in the previous 12 months, the biggest product purchase category in all of intimate apparel. This made me wonder how many independent lingerie shops offer a “briefs section”, allocate to this category separate monies, and monitor and promote this category with a special offer or two during the year.

Another growth category is intimate apparel for larger ladies. A health survey back in 2011 predicted that female obesity rates in the UK were to rise by a further 10% to 36% in the next 10 years. Are you targeting these consumers? There are few brands out there that cater just to these ladies. Are you offering full bust bras for larger cup sizes?

Have you ever thought about doing a survey, asking all your customers what they want more from your business and what else they would like to buy? Consider an anonymous questionnaire – a small survey where the entrants get drawn into a competition for a chance to win £100 worth of lingerie.

So, for 2014, ask yourself this: do you have a transactional website that is mobile-shopping friendly and if not when will you invest in one? Or is your big change for next year going to be a new focus on a brand new product category?

Don’t delay… make that change your New Year’s resolution! Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and prosperous 2014!




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