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Like a strategic game of ‘Risk’ played out on the world stage, UK-retail giant Topshop has continued its global domination, opening the doors to its Sydney store recently and adding another flagship to its 400-plus international sites.
The highly anticipated second Australian branch is predicted to follow in the footsteps of its highly successful sister store in Melbourne.
However, with the current Australian retail industry in crisis, Topshop, following in the footsteps of other European retail royalty like Zara and GAP, has decided not to heed the warning of many casualties before them (think Borders, Colorado and Darrel Lea).
So what will determine Topshop’s success, when so many before them (and around them) are failing?
Russell Zimmerman, executive director of Australian Retailers Association says that Topshop has made a smart business move, that’s both a win for them and the Australian retail industry.
“Retailers overseas are seeing a great opportunity in Australia. They are not here today, gone tomorrow. They have a long term strategy.
“Competition,” he maintains, “is good for the Australian retail market.”
Topshop’s four levels of fashion heaven, however, will be competing against the equally successful online shopping world. Sites like ‘ASOS’ and ‘The Iconic’ ensure the likes of free overnight delivery, free returns and endless pages of variety at the fingertips of technology-savvy consumers. Mr Zimmerman states that most Australian retailers have developed online sites, too.
Findings in a report released by Berg Consulting Group Pty Ltd report last month, suggest that online competition, however, is not the biggest threat to retail success.
Titled Breakthrough growth opportunities in Australian Retail, the report argues that businesses have failed to answer the demands of the new time-poor, knowledge-rich consumer.
“The key determinant as to who will flourish and who will die will have nothing to do with market fluctuations, competitors or national economics. It will have everything to do with a retailers’ vision and ability to innovate,” states the report.
This warning Topshop has paid attention to. The chain has a number of industry-changing innovations in its arsenal, and made the decision to out their customers above their stakeholders.
Topshop ensures a steady stream of designer collaborations, has covetable Kate Moss as the face of the label, and ex-Vogue UK senior fashion editor Kate Pheelan behind the wheel as creative director.
And that’s just the beginning. The Sydney store specifically, offers a complimentary personal shopping service and is the 4th city in the world to do so behind London and New York. This is in addition to apparel, accessories, shoes and make-up.
Mr Zimmerman suggests that Topshop’s success lies in their ability to manufacture trends at affordable prices in record time.
“Huge retailers like Zara, H&M and Nespresso are showing the way Australia should have been doing business for a long while,” he says.
With the use of just-in-time inventory systems (JIT), Topshop is able to maintain a steady twice-weekly delivery of new stock to Sydney shores, direct from the UK.
One need only refer to the Topshop careers site however, where the company has revealed the secret to success:
“The success of our Brands is in our staff. The energy, enthusiasm and expertise of our teams drive our brands forward, in a fast-paced and exciting environment.”
Sabine Mueller, 26, is a self-confessed online shopping addict and author of fashion blog Sabinesaid.com. Mueller maintains that several bad customer service experiences turned her to the online world. However the pull of a visit to Topshop Sydney was too strong.
“The Topshop experience was great,”she says.
“I was looking for one jacket in particular, and the Sales Assistant scaled the entire store, including the change rooms, just to see if one was available. Great service.”
Ms Mueller is convinced that Topshop Sydney will draw loyal customers from its UK-parent, prone to visiting Topshop.co.uk, to its George Street doors instead, attracting other fashionistas along the way.
Ms Mueller also maintains that in-store benefits outweigh any potential online deals or discounts.
“The returns for Topshop UK online are too expensive. It’s better for us now to visit the store, try the pieces and have it in our wardrobes all in the same day. You can touch the fabrics, see how they flow. You can’t beat that,” she says.
Hilton Seskin, Chairman of Topshop/Topman UK, told the Sunday Telegraph that the store will even hold pieces that aren’t available online. Seems they’ve thought of everything.
Even the location. Topshop is rooming with new QT Boutique Hotel, and Gowings Bar and Grill. Mere minutes from one one of Sydney’s main tourist attractions, Darling Harbour, the site is set to draw in tourists and residents alike.
Pulling upwards of 30,000 visitors on its opening day, Topshop is undoubtedly an initial success. Whether that success remains, only time will tell. But with views to opening another three stores next year, it looks like they are here to stay.