May 26, 2017 | By Sarah Housley
Mar 20, 2017
French Connection unveiled a disappointing set of full-year results last week, revealing a 6.7% drop in group revenue, re-igniting debates around the future of the business. French Connection’s failed attempts to revive its clothing fortunes, especially womenswear, over the last few years underscore the competitive nature of the UK high street and the importance of offering a value for money proposition.
A deeper look through WGSN Instock data suggests a disconnect between the brand’s target customer and pricing strategy, and a clear disparity between its men’s and women’s divisions.
Instock data shows some of French Connection’s biggest third-party stockists have reduced their assortments of women’s products (down 28.6% YOY) while boosting men’s products (up 79.3% YOY) in the year to date (1st January 2017 – 15th March 2017). There is also a noticeable shift away from apparel and into accessories, with the majority of that men’s uplift coming from accessories such as sunglasses and bags.
A deeper look at pricing sheds some light on why womenswear has been a particular bugbear for the retailer. While French Connection’s womenswear is targeted at stylish 25-34s, the same woman who shops at Zara and Mango, it is priced more in line with premium brands such as Whistles and Karen Millen, without offering any of the design distinction, lifestyle appeal or aspirational value, thus failing to justify its premium prices.
Conversely, menswear is priced a lot more affordably and in line with competitors. The brand’s original design aesthetic (smart, chic but edgy) is translated more effectively (although still not as distinctively as competitor Ted Baker) in menswear ranges of witty tees, well-cut bombers, and smart blazers.
The fact that French Connection’s womenswear is struggling isn’t surprising, given how little design distinction the range offers and how far it has strayed from French Connection’s original brand USP of edgy, urban chic. Without a specific design focus and a clear idea of its target consumer, womenswear ranges fail to offer value for money – a death knell in a competitive, fast-paced womenswear market.
However, there is still appeal in the brand itself, as evidenced by the relative resilience of its accessories and menswear ranges, which while small, continue to be stocked by major retailers, and this is what French Connection must focus on nurturing. As the brand closes stores (six were announced in the upcoming year) the business’s strategic focus will inevitably shift towards its wholesale business, in which case protecting and building brand appeal will become vital.
There is still potential for French Connection to exist as a concession-driven business with a strong online presence and a smaller store network, and a pivot towards its more valuable menswear and accessories ranges would be a wise move in the short term. A stronger marketing push for menswear, and placing menswear more front and centre instore and online will benefit French Connection, at least in the short term; while giving it breathing space to figure out a stronger direction for its womenswear.
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