Fiona Kerr has the good fortune to be an Account Director at retail specialist agency, Hotfoot and regularly gives thanks that shopping is all in a day’s work. This week our transplanted South African with a globe-trotting lifestyle finds herself sampling the latest international retail brands to land on our streets.

“You need to go shopping and report back”. Surely these are words every girl wants to hear? And uttered by your boss? Choice!

In the last few months New Zealand retail has been taken by a storm of international retailers opening their doors amid much fanfare. Top Shop, Seed and FCUK are a few that I was sent to report back on. No worries then - Seed is one of my all-time favourite stores!

When you work in retail it is challenging to shop objectively. You’re constantly observing layout, signage, fittings and fixtures and questioning why the retailer is doing things the way they are. Your friends don’t understand you taking 500 photos of service messages and they fail to share your unbridled excitement when the in-store experience links seamlessly to the store’s digital technology.

Oh well, get over it. I get to shop for a living and it’s always a magical moment when retailers get it right.

FCUK hasn’t opened yet - it was predicted for April this year but no updates - so I focused on Top Shop and Seed and the battle between UK high street fashion and relaxed Aussie style.

It is stating the obvious to say that these retailers bring much needed choice in to the New Zealand market. But I’ll say it anyway.  There’s a good reason why online shopping is so prevalent here as you just can’t get the range that offshore online stores offer. Fingers crossed the trend of new arrivals continues. I rejoice while my credit card cries silently.

Top Shop was founded in the UK in 1964 and has grown to over 500 stores internationally. A limited selection of Top Shop fashion was previously available at The Department Store in Takapuna but the first official NZ store opened on 12th March 2015 on Queen Street, Auckland CBD. Dedicated fashionistas camped outside the store the night before and queues ran around the block for days, morning till night. Crazy, right?  But that’s the potent combo of the power of a retail brand and FOMO.

I honestly found the experience a bit lacklustre. I’m certain it won’t have the slightest impact on the hordes of young adults picking over the latest Brit fashion accessories,  but Top Shop have ignored a few fundamental retail principles and missed an opportunity to create a really great experience.

Here’s my top three take-outs:

1. Signage – There was minimal, and I mean minimal, signage. In fact the only sign I saw was the brand name in neon lighting on the first floor. And maybe a poster or two communicating the complimentary Nail Bar service. No price points, no range differentiation. I just didn’t know which range or section of the store was aimed at me. If you give consumers too much choice and not enough information they don’t know how to make decisions.

2. Merchandising – This one annoyed me.  Through the store, mannequins were styled up but the stock wasn’t merchandised directly by, or even near them. If I see a jacket I like, I don’t want to travel all over the store to find it.  This was less prevalent in the menswear department so either they’re giving women more shopping credit or there’s a different person on the floor.

3. Discovery – My biggest criticism of the store? They didn’t tell me a story. They didn’t tell me about Top Shop, why I should shop there and what’s in it for me. I will concede that they aren’t bad in the social media space with regular, interesting updates and created content which makes me want to visit the store. But why limit this richness to the external environment? Why not translate it into the store and really seal the deal? I found the store cold and a little uninspiring. It’s a depressing thought but perhaps I’m getting too old to be classed in their target market even if I am a Gen-Y! 

Right then, off to Seed.

It took me about 3 weeks to even get in the doors of this store. An agonising wait because 1) I adore the brand and 2) I wanted to see how they had translated the very Aussie concept to a Kiwi audience.  Side note: Someone once told me yous fullas don’t always see eye to eye?

I was instantly more at home in Seed. Location played a small part as I definitely prefer shopping in Ponsonby to Queen Street but I suppose the clothes are more to my taste as well. I wouldn’t give them a perfect score; they are doing a lot of things right but there is room for improvement.

A Seed Summary:

1. Curation– Seed are masters at this. In every area of the store I understood what the range was and how it related to my life. The relaxed casual range felt different to the out-on-the-town range which was in turn distinct from the sweat-life range. The ranges  were cohesive and worked together but when I shopped each section I was shopping with that purpose. They told me a story and applied it to me personally.


2.  Messaging – Here’s where I think they let themselves down. I can’t be critical of Top Shop’s lack of information and overlook the limited messaging in Seed. It was slightly better but still not enough.  The price tags were clearer and on the displays there was some range information but c’mon people, tell me why, where, how and make it easy for me.

3. Discovery – I like this Ponsonby store. It has a little less personality than some of the Australian branches I’ve visited but it still manages to recreate the essence of the brand. The store invites you to discover each collection and the accessories section just makes you want to buy things! I think they have done extremely well in the kids to teenagers section – with lower display heights to encourage little shoppers. Mum’s shopping bags will definitely be filled with as much of these clothes as her own. 

Biggest fail of Seed – their change rooms are, in one word, awful!

No room to move, barely any hanging space – just two measly leather straps – not conducive to getting you in or out of clothes. It’s sometimes the smallest things that make a difference and this area definitely lets the store down.

Am I too picky? Maybe shoppers don’t want to be told everything in a clear, concise and simple way.  All I know is that I walked out of both these retailers empty-handed. Let me say that again, empty-handed. A girl, who loves shopping, has credit cards at the ready and a boss who encourages us to be out in the trade shopping didn’t buy a thing from either store.  

Ignoring the fundamentals of a good store experience will impact on a retailer’s bottom line. Maybe not in the short term, let’s face it we’ve been waiting too long for these brands to land. But customers need a reason to choose you over the store next door.

My shopping trip was not a complete wash out however. In Queen Street I nipped into the flagship Cotton On, not a retailer normally in my repertoire, and walked out with a purchase. Great signage, great curation and easy merchandising = great experience = happy customer. Just saying. 

Peace out!

Fiona Kerr, Shopping Maven

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