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It has finally happened. Tesco is launching a flagship store for its F&F clothing brand in Central London. The flagship will be a 5,000 sq ft shop-in-shop housed within its Kensington superstore. This will be F&F’s first foray into the capital following similar stores in Woolwich and Essex.
While seeking to make it in one of London’s most upmarket boroughs seems like an impressive move at first glance, in actual fact the move falls short of what F&F has the potential to achieve.
Instead in its current state, the F&F flagship, as a shop-in-shop, gives the impression of being further addition to Tesco’s new and improved shopping experience, joining culinary additions like the Euphorium bakery and the Harris + Hoole coffee shop.
But, as competition continues to intensify at the economy end of the market, in-store environments are playing a vital role in attracting consumers and driving sales. While supermarket chains have managed to build strong positions in clothing in the UK thanks to their ‘value-for-money’ appeal, it is evident that selling clothes alongside grocery items makes it challenging to create a shopping environment which conveys a fashion-forward agenda. Apparel value sales through the grocery channel actually declined by 2% in 2012, while apparel specialists posted a gain of 5%, strengthening the case for F&F to launch a standalone store.
While the brand already operates standalone stores, it has bucked the trend by building its fashion appeal outside its home market through locations in Eastern Europe and a franchise presence in the Middle East. Arguably, consumers in these markets are not as well acquainted with Tesco’s supermarket image, hence providing a clean slate to build a name in apparel.
However, it is evident that even within the UK the brand has been capable of creating standalone appeal. A case in point is its Central London pop-up, launched last summer, where vintage glamour met digital innovation to create a compelling brand identity and spoke so promisingly of things to come.
In this sense, F&F’s impending flagship launch underwhelms.
On the one hand, F&F has been investing heavily in brand-building efforts in the UK by emulating strategies used by bona fide apparel retailers, from sponsoring London Fashion Week to hosting its own catwalk show. Significant brand segmentation also lends the label further credibility.
But, on the other hand, the brand has no plans to launch standalone stores in the UK, and continues to latch onto its grocery heritage (it is telling that F&F’s online shop bears the URL clothingattesco.com).
With cheap chic showing no signs of disappearing, there has been no better time for Tesco to let F&F forge its own identity. If the company is serious about building F&F into a credible apparel brand, which it appears to be given its significant investment in brand-building activity, a standalone store could have been a more effective, impactful move.