The fast fashion etailer’s investment in technology and service mean it is still growing strongly. But even the disruptors get disrupted.

That was the message in part from Asos’ decision to close its local operations in China.

But does the China setback throw into doubt Asos’ mission to appeal to a global fashion destination for 20-somethings? Not at all.

Asos’ interim figures this week showed that outside the wok of China, things are cooking quite nicely. Sales were up. Margins were up. Profits were up. Customer numbers were up.

It’s notable that Asos continues to deliver double-digit revenue and earnings growth even though, in internet years, it must surely count as a mature business.

Many retailers with fledgling digital arms fail to deliver that sort of online growth.

Asos is worth looking at for a sense of how the customers shop these days. And today’s Asos shopper will be the target of other retailers as they leave their 20-something days behind them and desire other products from other businesses.

A few facts: 60% of Asos’ traffic came from mobile devices in its first half and almost 50% of orders were made on its mobile platforms.

Asos’s staff numbers rose 19%, mainly new members of the technology and customer care teams.

“As the retail landscape continues to shift, technological agility coupled with good customer service are competitive advantages”

George MacDonald

That probably tells you all you need to know. As the retail landscape continues to shift, technological agility coupled with good customer service are competitive advantages.

Asos aims to reply to all customer emails within an hour, social media communication within 15 minutes and phone calls within 30 seconds.

Retailers that can’t compete with such standards are at ever greater risk of losing out. The challenge is to do all that and, like Asos, make money.

Turning tax to competitive advantage

Tax, corporate and personal, has been making headlines for days.

It’s right that the arrangements of powerful people and institutions come up for legitimate scrutiny, but that too easily develops into something more unpleasant – the idea that the pursuit of wealth and the security it brings, and wealth creation more generally, are in some way bad.

Perhaps though there is a reputational opportunity for businesses, including retailers. Those that pay standard UK taxes might flag what that money – often hundreds of millions per year – equates to on in-store publicity.

For instance perhaps there could be signage along the lines of ‘Proud UK taxpayers – last year our taxes funded the equivalent of x number of nurses, y number of schools’ etc.

Retailers are often at the heart of the communities they serve, so why not show clearly the extent of their contribution to society.

Of course the point about taxes is that they should be levied fairly and spent efficiently.

By publicising their contribution to the nation’s general wellbeing funded by the latter, they might have more clout on the former.

Business rates springs to mind.