Who will fly and who will flop in 2024? Retail experts give their tips for the year ahead
Charlotte Hardie, editor-in-chief, Retail Week
“Ikea consistently delivers for its customers, but 2024 will be the year that we see its innovation really pay off. The much-awaited opening of its flagship on Oxford Street is part of its strategy to grow customer reach with the opening of smaller stores, and its heavy investment in supply chain will lead to efficiency gains. It’s also continuing to improve its online offer.
“But, for me, it’s Ikea’s genuine focus on sustainability that should be most admired. Often understated in its quiet stance on its ESG credentials, this is a purpose-led business that is committed to circularity and climate positivity. This has resulted in innovative projects and campaigns that will only lead to a better customer experience and continued growth.”
“Unfortunately, I’d have to say I predict that Asos will have another tough year. While chief executive José Antonio Ramos Calamonte has been focused relentlessly on operational improvements with its Driving Change agenda, resulting in improved profitability and a strengthened balance sheet, the scale of the task ahead next year is huge.
“In 2024, Asos plans to prioritise a shift ‘back to fashion’, supported by a £30m investment in marketing, with a planned return to growth in 2025. My concern is the scale of the challenge ahead; winning back the hearts and wallets of the fickle youth fashion market will be a Herculean task.”
Richard Lim, chief executive, Retail Economics
“There is considerable momentum propelling Vinted, which is rapidly emerging as a disruptive force in the market. Consumers are buying secondhand in increasing numbers as the desire to purchase more sustainably and tighter budgets have supported significant growth.
“More than half of consumers have purchased a used fashion item in the last 12 months and an equal number of consumers are selling items, too. The market to trade in used fashion has exploded, helping the secondhand clothing market grow to almost £2.5bn in 2023, according to Retail Economics. We estimate that the market will more than double in the next five years, making it the fastest growth channel in the industry.
“Vinted’s community marketplace has removed much of the friction around this trade. Operating in 16 markets, with more than 75 million members, it’s one to watch as more consumers embrace the recommerce revolution.”
Loser: Wren Kitchens
“Higher interest rates, the remortgaging carousel and consumer hesitance towards big-ticket purchases are set to significantly impact the fitted kitchen and bathroom sector in the upcoming year. Notably, Wren, which targets millennial homeowners with young families, will find this demographic especially vulnerable to these financial pressures. Millennials who own homes are notably the most heavily indebted group, with their debt repayments constituting a larger portion of their income than any other age group.
“As house prices continue their downward trajectory, a negative wealth effect is likely to dissuade some from investing in their homes, while limiting others’ ability to extract equity to finance home-improvement projects. With a sluggish housing market and interest rates not expected to decrease in 2024, the sector faces a challenging environment.
“Although the retailer might capitalise on the ‘improve, not move’ trend, which often gains traction during difficult economic times, replicating pandemic-fuelled spending of the past few years will be a formidable challenge in these conditions.”
Lisa Byfield-Green, data and insights director, Retail Week
“Sephora re-entered the UK with a bang in 2023 with the opening of its Westfield White City store in March and Westfield Stratford in November. Although its presence remains small compared with its competitors, the huge queues outside its stores surprised everyone – even the company itself. Owner LVMH’s chief executive of selective retailing and beauty Chris de Lapuente told World Retail Congress that the White City store performed ‘300% better than expected within the first eight weeks’.
“Sephora’s bold branding and experiential stores have brought a breath of fresh air to the sector, differentiating on customer experience by partnering with new and exclusive brands and grouping products together by category, not brand, for discovery.
“Sephora has certainly sent shockwaves through the sector, encouraging other beauty retailers to up their game, and this is benefiting the beauty industry as a whole. Physical retail is better for having Sephora back in the UK. Now its second store is open, we can expect more from the brand in 2024.”
“It’s tough in the world of fast fashion, particularly for the pureplays. Boohoo has simply lost its edge and Gen Z appeal in recent months, and is struggling to compete against physical retailers such as Primark and newer online players such as Shein.
“Boohoo boasts an impressive array of brands, including Nasty Gal, PrettyLittleThing, Karen Millen, Coast, Warehouse and Debenhams, all of which once had wide appeal, yet it has seen a double-digit fall in revenue and widening losses. Getting back on track in 2024 will be a key focus for Boohoo’s management team, but can they succeed?
“An acquisitive retailer itself, Boohoo is in danger of becoming an acquisition target in 2024 as Frasers circles this struggling pureplay fashion retailer and continues upping its stake (which at the time of writing was 17.2%).”
George MacDonald, executive editor, Retail Week
Winner: Marks & Spencer
“After years in turnaround, Marks & Spencer is achieving an increasingly strong performance and there’s no reason to expect that to change. The food arm has been firing on all cylinders for some time and should be a Christmas winner again, helped by near-matchless authority in product quality and value for money.
“The clothing and home business, which for so long was at the root of the retailer’s challenges, seems to be very much on the up – in November’s interims M&S said it had achieved the leading market share position for summer in womenswear for the first time in four years.
“There’s a confidence about M&S at present, coupled with caution about becoming complacent, that should enable it to navigate whatever 2024 throws at it.”
Loser: Dr Martens
“Dr Martens has said itself that it’s taking longer to get fully back on track than originally expected, so 2024 is unlikely to put much of a spring in its air-cushioned step. At the end of last year when it posted interims, Dr Martens had notched up four profit warnings.
“America, which has historically often proved difficult for UK retailers to break into, has been a thorn in Dr Martens’ side. While the business has bolstered its leadership team there and made a variety of operational changes, the interims revealed that ‘it will take longer to see an improvement in US results than initially anticipated’. Next year brings a presidential election in the US, which could mean a volatile environment that would add to Dr Martens’ challenges.”
Catherine Shuttleworth, owner, Savvy
Winner: Søstrene Grene
“Danish retailer Søstrene Grene looks well placed to build on its recent success in 2024 as it extends its store estate and brings new shoppers through its doors.
“In many ways, Søstrene Grene encapsulates the success factors of modern retailing: unique and interesting products, an immersive and intriguing store experience, and a focus on sustainability. In Savvy’s shopper research, these are the attributes that younger shoppers in particular say provide the appeal of physical retailing.
“Its shops are busy – really busy – proving that, in a world where physical retail can sometimes feel a bit samey and dull, offering something genuinely different can be a winning formula. I have every reason to believe that 2024 will put Søstrene Grene firmly on track to meet its ambition to open 100 new UK stores by 2030.”
“While there are some signs of optimism, including Kantar reporting Morrisons sales returning to growth, the retailer’s new management team has fundamental challenges to deal with in 2024.
“Competition will be nothing less than intense. Aldi and Lidl continue to generate double-digit sales growth, with the latter closing in on Morrisons’ position as fifth-largest grocer. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are on a solid run and are both well-placed to capitalise on any improvement in consumer confidence that may emerge if, as we expect, food and drinks prices start falling. Savvy’s recent research suggests shoppers are responding better to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda’s loyalty schemes than Morrisons’ More programme, which is overly complex. It’s important they get this right as we expect loyalty will remain a major battleground in 2024.
“2024 will be a year where the traditional players will need to put clear blue water between themselves and Aldi and Lidl. But what does Morrisons really stand for now? What will guarantee its success in the next few years? What are the major growth stories? The answers to these questions are not immediately obvious.”
Nick Bubb, independent retail analyst
“It has been a tough year for big-ticket retailers in the UK, given the hike in interest rates, so Currys has struggled in 2023. The pressure on sales and profits was compounded by an unexpected surge in competitive pressure in the Nordics business, which used to be the jewel in the group’s crown.
“But margins are now recovering in the Nordics, which augurs well for 2024, and Christmas trading should be stronger in the UK given the likely downtrend in interest rates and mortgage rates.
“By the end of 2024, Currys could also be benefiting from an unwinding of the product replacement cycle, as the lockdown boom in laptop and home office sales starts to recede in the memory. So, all round, 2024 looks like being a much better year for the group.”
“Boots was one of the winners of 2023, benefiting from the continuing strong recovery in health and beauty sales post-lockdown. But winners can often lose momentum and, although the recovery enjoyed by Boots has been strong enough to prompt renewed plans by Walgreens to float the business on the London stock market, potential investors will need to be sure that there is an underlying growth story beyond post-Covid recovery and a belated push to catch up online.
“The trading comparables will be tougher in 2024 for Boots and the long-term structural issue of under-investment in the store estate may be exposed. So, 2024 may not prove to be as good a year for Boots, just as its ownership changes again.”