Checking out the UK debut of Polish fashion retailer Reserved – on London’s Oxford Street and online
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Polish fashion chain Reserved made its long-awaited UK debut last week (6 September), opening in a large chunk of the ex-BHS in London’s Oxford Street at the same time as launching its UK online store.
Reserved has taken all of the old BHS store’s prime frontage to Oxford Street – hence the eye-watering £42m lease – and wraps round in an L-shape with another entrance on John Prince’s Street, where the BHS Café used to be.
However, unlike the old BHS, it only occupies one trading floor – albeit still 32,000 sq ft – and doesn’t punch through to Holles Street where BHS had a third entrance.
Bettering the look of its predecessor store is hardly a big ask, and Reserved does a good job of making the potentially cavernous space – pretty stark and unappealing in the BHS days – feel bright, contemporary and appealing.
There are all the ubiquitous features of a modern fashion store – lots of monochrome, spotlights, exposed utilities and scary-looking mannequins – but also exposed concrete, digital screens and a mix of fixture types that help to add warmth and colour.
It’s not a look that is vastly different to anything you might see in a modern H&M or Zara, but it provides a pleasing and appropriate setting for the products, which for the most part also seem pitched at an H&M-type price and fashionability point – slightly dearer and cooler than Primark, but not as expensive or middle of the road as Next.
The amount of space dedicated to menswear is also a plus. Fashion retailers have a habit of shoving menswear at the back of the most inaccessible floor (I’m looking at you, New Look in Newcastle) or having a tiny range that is barely worth the effort. So, it’s pleasing that the large menswear section in Reserved begins on the left not long after you enter the store from the Oxford Street side, and continues right the way to the back, occupying a good quarter of the total floorspace.
The online store embraces a similar sleek-but-warm look and feel to the physical flagship, combining a clean and minimal interface with large, decent-quality photographs.
On the downside, there’s a lack of qualitative productive information – so, you get to know that a top or dress is “100% cotton”, but there’s no description to inspire you about the quality of material, the lovely detailing, or what you might team the item up with (something that a slightly more niche fashion retailer like Phase Eight is really good at).
There’s also a bit of search engine optimisation work to do yet. Though typing in the advertised address, reserved.com, correctly takes UK customers to the UK site at https://www.reserved.com/gb/en/, Googling “Reserved UK” currently brings up a non-UK but still English-language site (http://www.reserved.com/re/en/) with no ecommerce functionality, despite the page title saying “Shop Online”.
So, some UK shoppers will no doubt be getting stuck in a website no man’s land, unless they know to click on the little ‘EN’ in the top-right corner and then manually select UK as their location.
How will Reserved fare in the UK?
UK retail is, of course, littered with the recent corpses of overseas fashion giants – especially American ones – that wrongly thought they could make a go of the British market.
Gap’s Banana Republic announced the closure all its UK stores last year (though continues to trade online), while Forever 21 entered the UK with great fanfare in 2010, but has since closed its stores at Glasgow, Bluewater, Lakeside and Stratford, and shrunk the three that are left, at Birmingham, Liverpool and London’s Oxford Street.
Even Japan’s Uniqlo, which has its own Oxford Street flagship a little further along the street, initially opened 21 UK branches in locations as unlikely as Coventry and Solihull, before realising its error, retrenching to five London shops, and then gently building its Greater London presence back up again (currently 10 stores).
Incidentally, there’s been no firm update that I can see on Uniqlo potentially opening in Manchester’s ex-BHS, which was reported (quoting a reliable property agent source, too) back in April, but seemingly countered by a tweet from Uniqlo UK in June saying “unfortunately there are no immediate plans to expand our stores to Manchester”.
Hi, Unfortunately there are no immediate plans to expand our stores to Manchester. We'll pass this on for further consideration. Thanks
— UNIQLO UK (@UNIQLO_UK) June 8, 2017
In much the same way as Uniqlo has carved a niche with its bright Japanese-inspired style – albeit better adapted for the UK market in its second incarnation – Reserved’s USP may be the fact that it’s one of very few east European retailers to have tried setting up shop here.
From visiting many parts of eastern Europe, where brands like H&M and Zara are as ubiquitous as they are here, I know that there are nevertheless some distinctive trends and styles in Slavic fashion – and, at least until Brexit, a sizable market of UK-based Poles and other east Europeans to tap into.
Already, some independents are capitalising on this gap in the market, while also seeking to offer British shoppers something different to the multiples found on every high street and retail park. For example, as I reported in the April issue of Soult’s Retail Report, Boscombe-based Mint Sisters imports modern Polish clothing in a “really different, very unique style”, which younger British customers have reportedly “warmed to”.
Reserved, which is apparently already looking at London’s Westfield centres for a site for a second store, will inevitably have to work hard if it’s to become as much of a UK fixture as H&M, Zara or even Uniqlo.
However, this first store has got things off to a promising start, and is a breath of fresh air compared to the dowdy BHS that it replaced.
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