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Founders of MyTheresa.com to launch luxury footwear platform: MarthaLouisa.com

London - Susanne and Christoph Botschen, the German founders and co-chief executives of premium concept store Therese and e-commerce platform MyTheresa.com, are set to launch a new website for luxury shoes - MarthaLouisa.com.

Set to offer luxury women’s shoes, from leading fashion houses such as Gucci, Miu Miu, Prada and Saint Laurent, as well as emerging labels such as Brother Vellies and Vibi Veneza, the new venture marks Botschen return to the online retailing business after selling MyTheresa.com to the Neiman Marcus Group for 150 million euros in 2014.

The new website will launch in March and offer a curated selection of “the best styles” from each luxury brand “in their best versions,” according to an interview with Susanne and Christoph from Business of Style. “People are looking for occasion-driven merchandise,” added Susanne. In addition to offering leading luxury brands and emerging brands, Martha Louisa will also offer special capsule collections. For example, MR by Man Repeller, the collection created by Man Repeller’s founder Leandro Medine, is set to create a special capsule collection for the website. “[These emerging brands] are kind of scattered around e-commerce businesses around the world, but no one has them under one roof.”

Both Christophe and Susanne feel like the timing is ripe to launch their online venture, as footwear has been highlighted as the fastest growing luxury category online. At the moment there are limited luxury footwear websites, which means Martha Louisa will face little competition online. “We know what we have to do; we did it once and I know times have changed, but still the requirements are more or less the same,” said Christophe.

Photo: MarthaLouisa.com

Could Asos be the Amazon of fashion?

When Asos announced stellar festive season sales last week it left its British high street contemporaries in its shade. It may even be beating Amazon in the fashion stakes, and the company's growth shows no sign of slowing as it continues to attract the millennial customer who is no longer shopping in stores.

Asos, which stands for As Seen on Screen, was founded in North London in 2000 and has grown into a 5.9 billion pound company since it was floated in 2001. To give that number even greater value, Marks and Spencer is worth a considerable 1 billion pounds less.

Asos saw sales in the last quarter grow 30 percent with relevant product ranges, swift delivery services and a cool social media presence.

Amazon and Asos to compete on service

But Amazon fashion is thought to be moving into the Asos fashion space. Amazon, the internet giant that is home to shopping for anything, anywhere, any time, is trying a "try before you buy" scheme for its Prime Wardrobe service in the US. A similar service that Asos offers in the UK.

The feature allows customers to order three or more items without paying for them at checkout. Members have a week to decide which items they want to keep and return. Shoppers who keep 5 or more items are given a 20 per cent discount.

Of course the brands that offer 20 percent discount are not luxury or overlapping brands with Asos' portfolio, but largely Amazon's own. Asos could not offer a similar discount with its branded merchandise, although it does offer a 10 percent student discount.

Amazon is thought to roll out its service to the UK, which analysts see as a direct competitor to Asos.

But Asos isn't sitting still. It too has ambitious expansion plans, opening new distribution hubs across Europe, and successfully tapping into the boom in online and mobile shopping, and currently supplying 15.4 million customers in the UK and overseas ,

But to remain a retail darling, Asos needs innovation and armour to not let Amazon invade its fashion space. While many brands initially touted Amazon as not being a seriously player in the online fashion marketplace, the e-tailer behemoth has proved them wrong, with huge scores of data and funds at its disposal and launching successful, own private label collections.

Let's hope Asos will not only keep its cool, but also its marketshare.

Photo credit: Asos homepage

As Esprit continues to struggle financially and with bringing in customers, they have opted to shutter their Hong Kong flagship store. They will also close their Peking Road flagship and a Causeway Bay location this year.

The company, which is listed in Hong Kong, issued a profit warning to investors on Thursday that they will record a net loss of between 121.5 and 125 million dollars, compared to a net profit of 7.8 million dollars last year. Esprit has spent several years trying to make a turnaround, and blamed its still lackluster performance on declining brick-and-mortar sales, taxation, and impairment of its China operations.

The store first opened in 2009, and while the flagship was in a prime tourist destination that typically has strong retail traffic, it could never get the strong retail traffic needed to have the store turn a profit. Most of Esprit's business has fallen off in the Asian market, sales of which made up just 10 percent of the brand's revenue last year.

Style retailers Phase Eight and ghost London are set to launch on home shopping network QVC UK as the platform expands its fashion offering.

Occasion and ready-to-wear brand Ghost London is set to launch a range of six vintage-inspired bridesmaid dresses on QVC UK at the end of the month. Phase Eight is set to expand its offering on QVC UK, which currently features Studio 8 by Phase Eight, to include 21 designs from its main range. The offering is set to include jeggings, dresses, and tops and will launch on QVC UK on February 7.

The move sees Ghost London and Phase Eight joining other British brands such as Joules, Radley and Orla Kiely, on QVC UK.

London - British high street retailers River Island and Next are the latest retailers set to open at The Oracle shopping centre in Reading. The opening sees both retailers relocating their current stores from Broad Street to The Oracle.

Next is set to open a new 29,000 square foot store in The Oracle, becoming one of the shopping centres predominant retailers. The extra space sees Next offering a much wider selection of fashion, home and accessories.

Style retailer River Island is set to relocate to a new 11,500 square foot store on the upper mall level. The new store will become an important flagship location for the brand and will include new, innovative concepts.

"We were delighted to be opening a bigger, better store in Reading at The Oracle," said River Island. "The centre has a strong tenant mix and is already an important shopping destination locally. After years of working with Hammerson to create space for us, we are looking forward to showcasing more of our product to existing and new customers."

The new store openings come as property owner Hammerson continues to invest in refurbishing the shopping centre. The Debenhams in The Oracle is currently undergoing a full store refresh, and two new dining concepts - Franco Manca and The Real Greek - are set to open in The Riverside.

"We are very pleased to welcome Next and River Island into The Oracle. They are strong brands and their decision to upsize is evidence of growing occupier demand for prime regional retail space," commented Iain Mitchell, UK Commercial Director at Hammerson.

“The transformation we have been able to deliver at The Oracle is a testament to our dedicated asset management and leasing strategy which continues to create the most compelling retail, leisure and dining mix for our shoppers."

Jack Ma: 'Artificial intelligence and robots will kill many jobs'

"Artificial intelligence and robots will kill many jobs." It's a depressingly blunt statement for anyone to make, but even more so as it is the prediction of Jack Ma, CEO of the Chinese online sales giant Alibaba.

The rise of AI -- its huge potential and fears over its potentially negative consequences -- is just one of the big issues discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, along with breaches of personal data and fake news. But it is probably artificial intelligence and the ability of machines to not only interact with, but manipulate human beings that raises the most suspicion.

Aware of growing governmental and public distrust, the giants of tech are trying to address the issues. "Technology should always give people new opportunities, not remove them," Ma said. But when IBM President Ginni Rometty admits that "100 percent of jobs will be somehow affected by technology," it might be a tough sell. It's not just about jobs.

"People want to trust technology, as long as they know who is behind it," said Neelie Kroes, now a member of the Open Data Institute, after having been for years the European commissioner in charge of digital issues. In recent months, US-based Uber, which connects individuals with drivers through an application, found itself in the hot seat after several murders perpetrated by its chauffeurs, notably in the United States and in Lebanon.

"You have to remember that the rating of a driver evaluates his driving but cannot predict if he is a serial killer," Uber director Dara Khosrowshahi told a panel at this week's economic gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos. "In this situation, who is responsible, the individual or the platform?" wondered Rachel Botsman, an expert on the issue and author of the book "Who Can We Trust?"

Uber is the best known example of a fast-growing company with a bruised reputation: accused of bad working conditions and sexual harassment it has faced chaotic legal proceedings and massive data piracy, which have sapped the firm.

"For a long time, the answer of many digital companies has been to say: we are only the software, the platform, but technology now penetrates every aspect of our lives, our trades, our homes, our relationships," said Zvika Krieger, who leads digital projects for the World Economic Forum, the organiser of the Davos meeting. "Our response is no longer audible," he said.

'Too slow'

In Davos, there was also concern about Internet giants hoovering up huge amounts of personal data, sometimes illegally and sometimes sharing it with authorities. "The danger is that we are too slow and that the world is destroying us while we are still asking who really owns our data," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her Davos speech.

In the same way, attitudes towards social networks and search engines are changing. "The main question is whether Facebook and Google are technology companies or editorial companies, it is a question that remains unresolved," said Martin Sorrell, CEO of the British advertising giant WPP. Amid the mistrust, Davos heard unique proposals from the digital world, which mostly rejects too much oversight by governments, believing it would stifle innovation.

Marc Benioff, the outspoken CEO and founder of Salesforce, a major cloud services company, called plainly for more regulation of the sector. "We're the same as any other industry," Benioff told CNBC in Davos. Much like "financial services, consumer product goods, food -- in technology, the government's going to have to be involved," he said.

Observers hailed what they saw as a change of heart by the titans of tech. "Regulatory authorities in Europe have been complaining for years that big digital companies are not responding when they're called," said WEF's Zvika Krieger. "Let's say they're picking up the phone now." (AFP)

Photo: Jack Ma, courtesy of Alibaba Group

Zara launches first pop-up store dedicated to online orders in London

London - Inditex is gearing up to unveil the Zara store of tomorrow, which will feature innovative technology aimed at improving the customers shopping experience. Zara is set to open its first store dedicated to online orders and click & collect in London tomorrow. The debut pop-up store is set to open at London Westfield Stratford shopping centre and will run until May while the Spanish retailer's flagship store in the centre is refurbished and expanded.

The new pop-up store is set to span close to 200 square meters and will offer an edited selection of Zara's womenswear and menswear for online purchase directly in-store, alongside of its extensive fashion collection. Customers will have the choice of receiving their orders within the same day, if placed before 2 pm, or the next day if placed after 2 pm.

Zara launches first pop-up store dedicated to online orders in London

Zara launches first online-focused pop-up store ahead of the refurbishment of its flagship store in Westfield Stratford

Zara's debut technology driven pop-up will also feature an easy payment system which is operated via Bluetooth and store associates will be on hand with mobile devices to help customers in any way needed. The pop-up will also handle any customer returns or exchanges. Zara's Westfield Stratford pop-up will also feature a product recommendation system, which uses RFID technology. Customers will be able to scan an item to receive more information on it, in addition to multiple choices for coordinating and combining the item with other garments and accessories.

The pop-up opening comes as Zara aims to nearly double the size of its current flagship store in Westfield Stratford to 4,500 square meters. The renovated flagship store will be the first Zara store to feature a 'radical new store concept' that places technology in the heart of its design to transform the customer shopping experience. It will feature four sections: women's, men's, kid's as well as a dedicated area for collecting online orders.

Pablo Isla, the chairman and CEO of Zara's parent company Inditex highlighted the importance and relevance of both store concepts, noting that they both mark "another milestone in our strategy of integrating our stores with the online world, which defines our identity as a business." The new store concept set to launch in Zara's refurbished flagship store also aims to further enhance shoppers in-store experience by adding new customer services.

Zara launches first pop-up store dedicated to online orders in London

Zara's new store concept to focus on innovative technlogy to enchance the customers journey

Featuring a new interior design, the glass facade on the second floor of the store will be equipped with a number of sensors that will project images from Zara's current collection when shoppers approach it. It will also feature an automated online order collection point serviced by two small warehouses which will let shoppers pick up purchases made online at a suitable time for them. The system is designed around an optical barcode reader which scans the QR code or accepts a PIN code received by customers before delivering their order to a mailbox for the customer to collect it. A dynamic robot will man the small warehouse behind the scenes, with the capacity to handle 2,400 packages simultaneously.

In addition, customers will be able to pay for their purchases in-store using their mobile phones, either through the Zara app or the Inditex Group app, InWallet. There will also be a self-checkout area which complements the regular cashier desk to help speed up the payment process in store. This system automatically identifies the garment being purchased, so shoppers only have to confirm their items on a screen before completing the transaction with their mobile phone or card. The new flagship store will also be equipped with smart systems to reduce emissions and save energy in line with Inditex's broader eco-efficient store programme.

Zara launches first pop-up store dedicated to online orders in London

The new store concept comes after Inditex rolled out in-store mobile payment through InWallet in all of its branded stores in Spain in July 2016. Inditex has also been trialing interactive changing rooms and self-service cash desks at a number of its stores in Spain, Germany and the US since July 2016, in order to see how shoppers react with the in-store tech.

Photos: Courtesy of Inditex

New Look staff left worrying following store closure reports

London - New Look employees were dealt a harsh blow as a list of potential stores pegged for closure began circulating. A list of 49 New Look stores apparently up for closure or lease renegotiations has been circulating among media reports this week raising concerns for a number of New Look store staff.

At the moment it remains unclear where the document originated. The list includes a wide range of New Look stores in key shopping centres, high streets as well as retail parks, with a large number of the stores listed located in Scotland and Wales. In addition, the list also includes two of New Look's most high-profile stores on London's Oxford Street, but it does not include New Look's new flagship store located at 73-89 Oxford Street which is slated to open this spring. New Look staff left worrying following store closure reports

List of 49 New Look stores rumoured to shut raises concerns for retailers future

New Look declined to comment on the list, as did Deloitte and CBRE, commercial services firms which are understood to be advising the high street retailers on its potential business restructure. The accuracy of the list, which first began circulating among property sources earlier this week, has been questioned as three of the stores on the list - Biggleswade, Chester Foregate and Plymstock - already closed their doors for good late last year. In addition, concerns that the list has led to unnecessary distress among New Look's current store staff in the UK have also been raised.

News of the list comes weeks after reports that New Look was aiming to reduce its UK store portfolio first emerged. The struggling fashion retailer is reportedly mulling over plans to reduce its UK store network by while seeking out rent reductions on a number of its remaining leases in a bid to cut costs. New Look operates close to 600 stores across the UK but has been faced with a number of financial issues linked to declining sales, difficult trading conditions and 1.2 billion pound debt over the past few months.

New Look staff left worrying following store closure reports

New Look previously reported an underlying operating loss of 10.4 million pounds in its financial report for the 26 weeks to September 23, 2017, a vast difference to the 59.3 million pound profit reported in the same period the year before. A company voluntary arrangement (CVA) is one of the many options New Look is currently mulling over in a bid to improve its business. The fashion retailer was handed another blow earlier this month when reduced cover for suppliers amidst concerns over New Looks financial situation.

Owned by the South-African listed Brait, the private equity vehicle hed by Christo Weise, New Look is part of the retail portfolio hit by the recent Steinhoff accounting scandal. Although the fashion retailer is currently in the middle of a turnaround plan, which saw the return of former chairman Alistair McGeorge as a company consultant, New Look is understood to be a prime after the value of its bonds collapsed.

"The retailer has faced a pincer movement of rising operating and sourcing costs against a backdrop of squeezed disposable incomes," said Richard Lim, Chief Executive at Retail Economics, economics research consultancy. "Burdened with inflexible leases, high rents, and excess properties, they are struggling to cope with the unforgiving shift towards online shopping and the emergence of the experience economy which is pushing their business model to the breaking point."

Photos: New Look SS18, courtesy of New Look

Next signs deal with Rockar to sell cars next to apparel

London - Next has signed a new partnership with vehicle retail specialist Rocker to showcase a number of cars within its stores. The deal sees the fashion retailer loan excess retail space within its store to Rockar, who will transform the space into digitally-led car dealership storefronts.

The first shared store to open will be at Next’s store within the Arndale Shopping Centre in Manchester, which is set to open at the end of March. Although Rockar has yet to announce which cars will be featured in the new store, a planning application for the store has already been submitted to the Manchester City Council for approval.

The move comes as traditional retailers struggle to compete with online retailers. “Next and many other high street brands are experiencing the same issue as traditional car retailers at the moment. More people are going online to buy from them yet the cost of operating high street stores remains high,” said Simon Dixon, founder of Rocker in an interview with Automotive Management Online.

“I know the Next business has been speaking to many like-minded retailers with an eye to widen the appeal of their high street stores and offer another attraction for consumers, and I’m proud that we have been acknowledged as one of those businesses and can bring automotive retail right into the high street as a result.”

Next signs deal with Rockar to sell cars next to apparel

Next’s store in Arndale is set to attract a much higher level of footfall for Rockar’s fourth store than existing car store sits, as all shoppers entering the shopping centre from the bus or train station pass through the Next store. The partnership is set to see Rocker open stores in 12 Next locations at shopping centres across the UK. However, as Next operates more than 500 stores across the country, Dixon sees more exciting possibilities for both brands. “The opportunity for us is huge.”

Photos: Next SS18

SMCP launches in-store Maje app for staff and customers

London - French fashion group SMCP has launched a new store associate app for its staff and customers in 60 of its Maje stores.

The parent company of Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot created the new app together with PredictSpring and Salesforce Commerce to help align the online and offline retail journey customers make in order to offer an elevated digital store experience.

“Stores play a critical role in SMCP’s direct-to-consumer strategy and through the partnership with PredictSpring, we have created a premium digital in-store experience for both the associate and the customer. Our store associates have been impressed with the app’s ease-of-use and functionality and have quickly adopted this new technology,” said Flavien d’Audiffret, SMCP Digital and CRM Director.

Store employees in Maje stores in the UK, the US and France can now use the new app to check the availability of products online and in nearby stores, access customer information, such as their online purchase history, arrange deliveries for customers and complete in-store transactions. Customers, in turn, can use the new mobile store associate app to browse through branded content such as lookbooks and Instagram posts as well as complete store to web transactions.

“Store associates love using the e-Maje app to foster deeper customer connections,” added Beatrice Goasglas, Digital and CRM Director for Maje. “Through the app, the customer is taken on a journey where they can draw inspiration from branded content such as lookbooks and fashion trends. This, coupled with the store associate’s enhanced product knowledge, provides a more personalized shopping experience so the associate can better recommend and curate a collection specific to her lifestyle.”

The new app launch comes ahead of Maje’s new UK flagship store opening, which is set to launch on Regent Street in spring 2018.

Photo: Maje, SS18