Moving with the times: a tale of two retailers

Growing up in 1970s Britain had advantages and disadvantages. Lack of the vast array of technology channels we now have available meant day-to-day life was dramatically different to today, particularly for younger generations. Shopping is a perfect case-in-point.


In the mid-70s, it meant trawling round high streets, with out of town shopping malls being almost non-existent: Brent Cross did not open until 1976. Two pillars of nearly every large town’s high street were Moss Bros and Mothercare. Although Moss Bros (est. 1851) had a hundred years’ history over Mothercare (est. 1961), both were the ‘go-to’ stores in their respective markets.


Over the next few decades, with the turbulent and rapidly-changing retail landscape, both chains suffered their ups and downs.


In Moss Bros’ case, the business nearly dissolved in 2009, before Brian Brick took over as CEO and embarked upon a transformation of the business which effectively saved it from extinction. Today Moss Bros is still fighting strong, increasing the number of stores, and establishing a strong on-line presence as part of its omni-channel strategy.


Sure, there have been some bumps in the road on the way, but in a market where businesses are falling fast (remember Austin Reed?) Moss Bros is still fighting its way towards increased revenues year after year.


The business has now firmly embraced the changing mindsets and behaviours of today’s consumers. As well as developing a great on-line presence, it’s introduced new, cutting-edge product lines and invested heavily in new store layouts – all backed up by a high level of customer service and tailoring expertise. At the same time, it has still been able to compete well on price against all but the lowest level of competition.


The story at Mothercare, as we’ve seen in the press over recent days, is much sadder. The number of stores has fallen dramatically and is set to decline even further. Revenue has also fallen for each of the past five years.


Where Moss Bros has succeeded in welcoming change, Mothercare customers feel unrepresented and poorly served by the channels they now prefer to use, particularly as time-poor parents want to shop more conveniently and efficiently. As a result, both online and physical competitors have swallowed much of their business.


We know that the clothing market has changed radically over the past decade. Customers no longer expect to have to pay premium prices for any clothes – let alone ones which have a very short user-life as children grow fast. What was the destination for any new baby purchase is now something of an anachronism as Mothercare fails to listen to the needs and desires of its customers, even from first hand experiences on the shop floor.


The retail world has transformed. If retailers don’t transform with it, they will simply disappear. It won’t be a surprise if we see more businesses sitting in Mothercare’s self-described ‘perilous position’, doing too little, too late to change for the new world we’re in.


By Nick Thompson
Practice Head: ENGAGE