River Island is a mainstream high fashion retailer that is part of the family-owned Lewis Trust Group. It operates around 250 high street stores throughout the UK and sells online through Riverisland.com as well as sites such as Asos, Next and Very.
It is continuously upgrading its IT to keep up with the dramatic pace at which customers are changing. As part of this, it is investing heavily in its systems to improve the end-to-end customer journey and become more flexible in the adoption of new technology. In recent years it has doubled the size of its innovation hub in Shoreditch and trebled the number of IT and digital roles across the business.
The retailer has been stepping up international development as well, launching a series of dedicated international websites supported by a handful of company-owned flagships in key European cities. It had had a reasonable overseas presence before this, but this had mainly been via franchise agreements.
Sales had been coming under pressure in an increasingly competitive fashion market for several years, however, and were decimated in 2020 as the pandemic hit. UK sales slumped 31.7% to £512m in 2020 out of a group total of £600.5m (also down 31.7%).
While River Island had historically been one of the UK’s most profitable clothing retailers, with pre-tax margins in strong double digits up to 2016, margins have also been on a sharp downward trend and the business swung into the red in 2020.