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The opening of Forever 21’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street shows that the company is willing to take on some of the world’s leading players in its bid for global domination. The company first opened stores in the UK, the Philippines and India in 2010, and is now planning a European assault after opening stores in Austria and Belgium in 2011. However, it has pinpointed the UK as a major part of its global expansion plan. Euromonitor International explores Forever 21’s UK and global strategies.
Before its European launch, Forever 21 was largely based in its home market, the US, where it competes with the likes of H&M and Aeropostale, with stores also in Canada, South Korea, India, Japan and the Philippines. In the US, it is one of the leading apparel companies, with sales worth approximately US$3.0 billion, but its strong position in the US market is not enough for Forever 21. In 2010, it launched its first stores in India, the Philippines and the UK, followed by the opening of its first Austrian and Belgian stores in 2011. The company has announced plans to launch in other European markets such as France, Italy, Germany and Spain, in addition to other international markets such as China and Israel. It is taking on global giants such as H&M and Inditex, which would be wise to watch Forever 21’s next steps closely. However, the question of whether the world wants or needs another fast fashion giant remains, and this area is a fiercely competitive one, especially in Western Europe (see Euromonitor Article; Can Forever 21 become a significant force in the European clothing market, 01/Oct/10). The strength of value and fast fashion players in Europe has not stopped Forever 21 from pursuing its bold plan of opening 100 stores in arguably the most saturated apparel market in Europe, the UK. It has an extremely challenging task of differentiating itself from its UK rivals, many of which target the same teens and tweens market.
Wednesday 27 July 2011 marked the opening of Forever 21’s flagship London store in the city’s most popular shopping district, Oxford Street. This was a bold move considering the company has little experience of the UK market, having opened its first UK store less than a year before in November 2010 in Birmingham. The company was wise to open a store outside of the capital first to test the UK market at a lower cost but opening its first London store on Oxford Street is nevertheless a risky strategic manoeuvre. Rental costs on Oxford Street are amongst the highest rates in the world, so Forever 21 will need an exceptionally high store turnover to cover costs. However, if the store does make a loss, this may be a sacrifice that the company is willing to make as the Oxford Street flagship store is part of its PR strategy to help it gain recognition in the UK and Europe. The first day showed signs of hope with a queue of a few hundred teenagers outside before the doors opened. Later on in the morning, there were long queues at the tills as the crowd quickly sought bargains. However, it remains to be seen whether the store will continue to attract consistently high footfall and sales once the initial buzz of a new foreign store, which was generated through various blogs, twitter and Facebook, has worn off.
H&M, Primark and New Look, which all have stores within 100 metres of the Forever 21 Oxford Street store, should all be worried about their important teenage consumer bases deserting their stores in favour of their new US rival. Forever 21 pays slightly more attention to store layout and interior design than its UK counterparts, with quirky store features such as clothes laid out on an imitation ice cream truck. Such gimmicks may prove successful in capturing the hearts of teens and tweens as they search for a fun shopping experience. Forever 21’s store interior gives it a significant advantage over Primark, its closest competitor in terms of price, which has a very plain and often messy interior. It also appears to pay more attention to its interior design than New Look and H&M, which both focus more on clothing displays than interior design in their London stores. Forever 21 revealed that the interior of the Oxford Street flagship store has been inspired by LA beach culture and Venice Beach in particular. This level of detail is usually only seen in high-end or upper-mid-market stores such as the UK’s All Saints, which features antique cast iron sewing machines in its window displays to fit in with the old-time warehouse feel of the stores. Forever 21 is certainly giving its value fashion rivals in the UK a run for their money.
A full scale ice cream truck to hold merchandise
Professional graffiti art to reinforce LA street vibe
There are only a few US-based apparel companies in the UK and in the whole of Europe as it is much easier for fashion brands to stay within their local markets, where they have the benefit of being experts on consumer preferences in their region. Forever 21 will need to adapt its clothing and marketing strategies specifically to the UK market, a task that has proved difficult for Gap Inc, one of the leading US-based apparel companies in the UK. In 2008, Gap dismissed its European design team, even though it was only created in 2006 to localise its UK and French ranges. The company claimed that its new fashionable US styles would be well received by European customers but it continued to lose share in the UK in 2009 and 2010. Forever 21 should be wary of making the same mistakes as, whilst it has a strong reputation for being at the forefront of fast fashion in the US, it will need to work hard to secure fashion credentials in the UK. The use of UK-based blogger and DJ Bip Ling as the face of Forever 21 may help it to appeal to British teenagers. However, having a more established young British celebrity, such as model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as the face of Forever 21 would help the chain to strengthen its reputation in the UK.
Forever 21 was wise to launch in a second- tier city and test the foreign waters before opening its flagship store in the heart of the UK’s capital. It also has an edge over its rivals in terms of the interior design of its stores, plus the benefit of offering something fresh and exciting to young consumers. However, the real challenge is maintaining consumer interest once the buzz of a new store begins to fade. Once the company is mid way through its plans of opening 100 stores in the UK, it will no longer be a new brand but simply one amongst many in the value fashion market. It will need to continuously refresh stores, especially as this is one of its main selling points, in addition to developing strong PR and marketing campaigns. As it aims to grab attention from the public, its penchant for secrecy may have to be reserved for the US market.