The fall of Rhodes & Beckett and Herringbone represents a cultural shift in retail

13 February 2017

"Made-to-measure is accessible now more than ever, with a lower entry point, it’s easy to invest in great suiting."

When two established Australian menswear brands face adversity, it represents a cultural shift in retail. Bricks-and-mortar businesses aren't what they used to be, and where a storefront in the past was synonymous with success, now it can be a liability. The more-is-more approach of our recent construction boom offers no relief from increased competition and rising rents in populated areas. With this cost passed onto consumers at the sales desk, it’s no wonder they’ve turned online to buy for less elsewhere.  The internet has revolutionised the way we consider purchases: 65% of customers use a digital device before shopping and 31% while shopping. By comparing prices across retailers, researching international trends and buying abroad, customers have increased confidence to skip the store, opting for delivery straight to their letter box.

They’re tired of paying more for less: mass market doesn’t represent individuality nor quality, and consumers are increasingly aware of it. They understand that advertising budgets and large rents across a network of stores factor into the cost structure of any large retailer, and they receive an inferior product and poor service in return. Consumers are curious and savvy, prepared to put in the research beforehand and are influenced by others’ opinions online. A Deloitte study suggested digital interactions influenced 40% of in-store retail, so their perception of a brand starts online, even before they’re in the change room. It means service mustn’t suffer for increased sales margins as it will hurt future brand reputation.

An experience needs to play a role in retail in order for it to survive. Consumers are more informed and thus selective about how and where they spend their money, and while shopping as leisure time was once sport, consumers can do it from the sofa without speaking to a soul. The solution is a more personalised experience, one building a relationship between retailer and customer that focuses on the individual rather than the maddening crowd. Consumers seeks quality experience as well as a better product. An example is tailoring: client and tailor form a relationship over a lifetime; in business, matrimony and death. Made-to-measure is an accessible menswear option, and today with a lower entry point, it’s easy to invest in great suiting. It provides many benefits off-the-rack cannot: fabric choice, design options and of course, a superior fit. It’s an enviable model for any business to adopt.

A change to the approach in which we conduct business is the one way Australian retail can survive. By employing some of the techniques of our predecessors—good service, top quality and exceptional after-sales support—we should retain clientele and reward their loyalty. The experience should feel less transactional and solve the customers’ needs rather than giving them what we think they want. Foot traffic doesn’t equate to conversions, but it represents potential to undo some of the damage already done. By offering an experience that can’t be replicated online is the only way to truly satisfy a weary consumer. Like a good suit, great service isn’t bought off the rack, it’s crafted over time.

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