Tales of the Recession: ASOS

Every time I walk past a closed-down Jessops, HMV or Habitat, I inwardly mourn a little.  And if the Financial Times is to be believed, I will soon be entering into a deep emotional depression for the next half a decade.  4th June’s headline read: UK High Streets to lose 5000 shops in next five years.  Despite the best efforts of town councils and Mary Portas, it appears that people are no longer interested in shopping any more.  “It’s the recession!” WWP hears you cry, “no-one can afford new clothes!”  This really isn’t true.  Firstly, you cannot sacrifice buying clothes in the same way as you can sacrifice your weekly five bottles of Merlot. Secondly, there is the story of ASOS.

As Seen On Screen.com was first launched in 2000; 13 years on it has acronym-ised its name, won a billion retail awards and truthfully calls itself the UK’s largest independent online fashion beauty retailer.  More to the point, it is making money in a retail landscape strewn with tumbleweed and ‘Final Markdown’ signs.   In merely a year, it has expanded its international market by 45%, whilst it has categorically never made less than a profit for nine years.

WWP has neither the knowledge nor the tenacity to launch into an economic analysis of ASOS’s success.  But what I can ask is this: was does it mean for fashion?

In an interview with the Telegraph, the company’s co-founder Nick Robertson (below) pronounced it was ASOS’s diversity of products that made it a success.  He’s certainly got a point, search for ‘Black Dress’ on ASOS and you are presented with 957 to choose from.  Perhaps this ‘stock more, sell more’ approach is why we are seeing a gross diversification amongst our more traditional retailers: Marks and Spencer’s Autograph and Limited Collections appeal to affluent young women, whilst Next now sell 7 For All Mankind Jeans alongside LK Bennett shoes.  To some, this new variety will appear as an exciting upshot of retailers putting more thought into what their customers actually want.  To others (WWP included) it is worrying: horizontal expansion can mean standards in fabric and tailoring fall as the amount of stock for sale becomes more important than the quality of goods.

The fact of the matter is, the internet is the new way to shop.  Companies that failed to realise this 5 years ago are now in trouble, yet those that jumped on board with gusto are doing okay.  And the final ironic upshot of the death of the high street? Independent retailers are taking over the boarded over Woolworths’ and Blockbusters, and, being businesses born of the 21st century, concurrently thriving online.  Now that’s diversity.


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