Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Banana Republic comes to town

£100 less in America

For years I have been taking advantage of the weakness of the dollar to buy clothes when I'm in the US, and first port of call was always Banana Republic, cruelly denied to us Brits, and a favourite for well-priced fashion we couldn't get at home. I loved the 5th Avenue flagship store in New York and my wardrobe has several good things that have done service for years on end.

So we've all been drumming our fingers on the table waiting for its first European outlet to open in the old Dickens and Jones building on Regent Street, and lo, yesterday, it did. And as I had an hour-long gap between lunch with my agent and afternoon tea with a fashion editor at Liberty, I hurried in there out of the driving rain and bitter winds.

What a let-down. Maybe it's a question of forbidden fruit, you want what you can't have, but overall the stock was disappointing: Marks and Spencer's Limited Collection without any of the edge. And more expensive. They've introduced a UK only label which is supposed to be a bit more dernier cri, and there was a very nice white trench coat I tried on, but I'm not in the market for a white trench coat. The bags were okay, a very limited collection of shoes, some jewellery including one sensational yellow bead necklace, very this season. A good, Spring-weight leather coat at £300. But across the street is Cos and you could actually look out of BN's window's into it and see clothes that are more stylish, more European, more interesting - and it's owned by H&M.

According to the Daily Mail, BN is 'imposing huge mark-ups' on its UK prices:

A snapshot survey of Banana Republic's UK prices by the Daily Mail shows a printed silk halterneck dress sells for £95 in this country - 58 per cent more than in the U.S.

It can be teamed with a £125 Flatsunglasses-iron baby satchel, which is 40 per cent more, and a pair of espadrille wedge shoes that are 62 per cent more expensive here.

The entire outfit would cost £299.50 in the UK, £100 more expensive than the same items in the U.S.

An orange, textured coat appears on the firm's U.S. website at a price of just £60, while the figure in the official UK catalogue is £140 - a mark-up of 133 per cent.

A cap sleeve silk dress in pale gold is £55 on the other side of the Atlantic but £95 here.

A pair of black peep-toe wedge shoes is £79.50 in this country, a mark-up of 62 per cent on the U.S. price.

There is a similar mark-up on some accessories.

The fashion editor remarked that one problem with BN is its colours, which are probably better suited to the stronger light of America. I also had an impression that the sizing is smaller, as I usually go a size down in BN in America, but not here.

So I dropped in at the Jaeger press office for a cup of tea and they showed me some things that are coming in at the end of April, and I saved my money for those, instead.


phyllis said...

Well, as we all know, retail in the US is a cutthroat business of razor thin margins, so in a way I'm not usporised the BN is attempting to restore some margin they no logner have in the US. But do they really think, as you point out, that UK shoppers won't notice? C'mon guys, wise up.

Toby Wollin said...

I think BN is pulling this because they think they CAN - that UK shoppers are used to paying more for what BN perceives as "their" level of quality and customer. In my estimation, they also see themselves and their product lines as something "special", that deserves a higher price point. The fact that they appear to have misjudged the fact that UK customers shopping at BN in New York City are doing so because it IS a relative bargain is definitely a mis-step for them. Did they not do any sort of focus group testing before they decided to launch in the UK? Did they not realize that UK shoppers in the US were pursuing their offerings basically on relative price? Not that their product lines were special or cutting edge or all that attractive - just buying on price? Woops - guess not.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the mark ups and it's indicative of how expensive clothes are here. I understand what Toby is saying but BR need to place themselves at a certain place in the market and they, like all shops, do that by price. If they priced at the £ equivalent of the $ they would look they were competing with the likes of Oasis. They need to price higher to position themselves against the top end of the middle market. Don't blame BR - all our middle market is expensive! By the way I like the clothes - loads of wearable work clothes which is sorely missing on the high street. I bought 2 dresses and a skirt and will be back for a suit later

Nancy said...

Interesting perspective! I worked at BR corporate headquarters 20 years ago and even way back then we dreamed of cracking the UK market. Amazing it took this long. (By the way, it's always "BR" here--never "BN," which stands for Barnes & Noble, the bookseller. Is this a US/UK linguistic divide?)

I was at the BR Grant Avenue flagship store in San Francisco yesterday to hit the sale, and was greeted by a couple of fellows in faux-Beefeater costumes (and faux-Cockney accents) handing out one-day only 15%-off coupons in tribute to the London opening. Duly motivated, I bought eight items, including some nice trouser jeans, for a total of $254. With the way retail has been heading, and especially given the troubles besetting the entire Gap enterprise, I wouldn't be surprised if you too start seeing some deep discounts.

Deja Pseu said...

If they operate anything like the US stores, most merchandise starts getting marked down in 3-4 weeks from introduction.

I look to BR here for my basics: lined trousers, silk blend sweaters, and the occasional jacket. But the "fashion forward" items lately have leaned toward the ruffly and puffy-sleeved, so I've given those a pass.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they are just testing the market with the high prices, to see what they can get away with!

a. fanny said...

I buy BR here in Toronto at a large mark up considering the strenght of the $CAN vs the $US. The clothes do not stand up fashion-wise and are actually considered a bit of a joke. The bags are well made but expensive. You can do better elsewhere.