A first look at Arket
So the fashion behemoth H&M has added another “brand” to their family. Arket opened on Regent Street Friday 25th August, to some fanfare (mostly social). Apparently its fashion (not with a capital F).
It is part of a plan to underpin their core H&M brand, which according to reports is down 3.4% in the first quarter of 2017 (admittedly it still raked in $275m). The challenge they have is that Zara is outperforming them, ASOS is stealing share from them and the cost of turning H&M around is probably prohibitive.
At first look Arket is very sleek and minimal.
It’s all sleek lines, white and very, unfussy font. It feels slightly austere and hands off — lacking personality and emotion. This is counter to the claim that the brand DNA being timeless, crisp, quality and warmth.
The entrance is open and there is a member of staff there to greet you, the clothes are merchandised in colour stories around the walls, with a central merchandise table that mixes categories (books, crockery, socks, knitwear, shoes) — this gives a hint to the breadth of products available in-store. There are no communications, nothing which really gives you a sense of what this is, where it comes from and why you would buy it — probably relying on the product itself to do the talking.
It feels brave that menswear is given such prominence in the store, given how womenswear will probably generate over two thirds of sales from the unit. T-shirts start at 12 and knitwear is around the 55 pound price point. They sell branded footwear, from adidas and trickers (the latter being 355 for a pair of brogues). The offer is easy wearable products well made — it all feels approachable.
The home wear offer is at the heart of the store, a curated range of crockery, glass wear, pans, textiles, candles, some “posh wash” lotions and potions. The prices for these are broadly double IKEA, but still affordable.
At the rear is more menswear, changing rooms and a small cafe with around 15 seats — it feels a bit small for the size and location of the store, but is in keeping with the “lifestyle” retail proposition.
Upstairs to the womenswear ( I didn’t notice a lift but there must be one……) the stark merchandising is continued, with central display units and the clothes around the walls. Here I found a note on the “classification system” which underpins the products. Whilst its positioned as a convenient way for consumers to search, preserve and identify products — which may not change according to the seasons, it feels a little convoluted to me, and something consumers are unlikely to care too deeply about.
At the rear is childrenswear — a colorful riot of pastels and graphics, interspersed with traditional toys and come accessories.
The challenge with Arket is that it feels caught in the middle of &otherstories and COS. The clothing product feels very COS (in terms of styling and pricing), the only addition being other brands (footwear and home) and some homewear (which COS has tried unsuccessfully to incorporate into its current offer — probably down to the limited range and high price).
I personally don’t think the Arket customer and the COS customer are different, a particular problem in London, as the flagship COS store is literally across the street. I can only imagine savvy customers flitting between the two before they purchase the navy blue cardigan with a zip.
Whilst I applaud H&M for seeking to innovate its way to the future of lifestyle retailing, it feels like Arket is probably too niche and too confused to actually make a difference to the diminishing bottom line.