Which retailers will fly and flop in the year to come? We asked retail experts to share their tips for 2022.
Bryan Roberts, founder, Shopfloor Insights
Given it has no CEO and all sorts of worries about its finances, this might be a bold choice, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing from Asda at the moment. The reinvention of the big shops continues at pace (York and Milton Keynes are great examples), early iterations of the Asda On the Move roll-out look fantastic and the belated move into loyalty will be a huge success if the generous rewards of the pilot are maintained.
The synergies between EG Group and Asda are truly flowing in a two-way direction and Asda seems to be making a much better fist of closing counters and repurposing that space with other concepts than some of its rivals. Sure, it’s not quite a high-end gourmet destination, but the refreshed stores look ace and are obviously resonating with shoppers, likewise the sustainability moves, such as refill zones. Good work so far…
Loser: The discounters
Another brave choice maybe, but I get the sense that our German friends might be running out of steam a little. Sure, they will gobble up market share, thanks to opening new shops, but I really do wonder what is going on with less visible metrics such as like-for-likes, store and colleague productivity and margins. On one level, they possibly don’t care as private businesses with a very long-term perspective, but there must be a little bit of concern.
Most of their mainstream competitors have raised their game on pricing and loyalty, and are busy doing lots of things the discounters can’t do, although closing food counters has removed differentiation and played into the discounters’ hands somewhat. Recent store visits suggest that both discounters might be sliding back into jumble sale territory: they probably won’t be losers as such, but they’re looking a little less invulnerable.
Luke Tugby, editor, Retail Week
Winner: Pret a Manger
Pret a Manger has endured a torrid 20 months since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, but the coffee shop chain has positioned itself well to bounce back in 2022. The business was battered by store closures when Covid-19 struck last March, decimating sales and profits – Pret booked an operating loss of £257m in 2020.
But the pandemic forced the business to rip up a strategy built almost entirely on stores in prime cities like London. Its new coffee subscription service is flying, deliveries through Deliveroo have proved popular and its new FMCG ranges are stocked by Amazon, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.
Pret’s plan to open 200 new stores – not by ‘following the skyscrapers’ in commuter cities, but expanding into regional and suburban areas – offers huge potential revenue gains from untapped postcodes. The food-to-go specialist also wants to expand into five overseas markets by 2023, with new franchise partnerships in Canada and the Middle East providing capital-light routes to international growth.
2022 could be the year Pret truly puts itself on the map.
They say you should never waste a good crisis and Kingfisher certainly did not – but the coronavirus pandemic came at the perfect time for the DIY giant and its new boss, Thierry Garnier.
Sales surged during lockdown as consumers spent more time at home painting living rooms, landscaping gardens and kitting out home offices, but I’m unconvinced that will spark a long-term change in consumers’ DIY habits.
As we – hopefully – return to something more closely resembling normality in 2022, I expect spending in such areas to slow considerably, leaving Kingfisher with an uphill task to match tough year-on-year comparatives. Indeed, sales performance in the three months to Halloween has already spooked the City.
What’s more, the B&Q and Screwfix owner’s pandemic success papered over the cracks that remain from Véronique Laury’s botched One Kingfisher strategy. There is plenty still to unpick from the failed unification of ranges and IT systems, while Garnier also needs to instill a culture based on collaboration, rather than competition, among the group’s European fascias.
2022 could prove to be a much tougher year for the business.
Allyson Stewart-Allen, chief executive officer, International Marketing Partners and author of Working with Americans
Winner: Value fashion
I predict 2022 will see the retail winners come from keenly-priced fast fashion – Primark, Zara, H&M – not only because consumers want affordability and style, but they also want to feel good about purchases that support the environment.
These brands are responding to the ESG and circular economy pressures by offering ways to recycle – not just their own merchandise but also that made by competitors. This really resonates now and increasingly will in the future.
Loser: Department stores
As for the losers, it will of course be those that either do not use customer data to its best effect or those whose time has come, such as bricks-and-mortar travel agencies.
Clearly, department stores fall into this category, with few left in the UK, which should be a warning to those that remain, such as John Lewis, M&S and Selfridges.
Nick Bubb, independent analyst
Winner: The Hut Group
After a good start to publicly quoted life in September 2020, The Hut Group (THG) has had a torrid 2021, with its share price sinking well below the 500p IPO price, down over 75% over the past 12 months.
Existing worries over its weak corporate governance and structure have been inflamed by management’s inability to justify the hefty valuation placed on its tech business Ingenuity. And investors have been unimpressed with stressed-out founder and boss Matt Moulding complaining about hedge funds shorting his business. But at this level, there is nothing in the share price for Ingenuity, notwithstanding the high value of the core Beauty and Healthcare ecommerce operations.
2022 will see THG address the concerns about corporate governance and focus on creating shareholder value through the separation of the trading divisions, so THG looks like a good recovery play.
Loser: Watches of Switzerland
The high-flying Watches of Switzerland has enjoyed an excellent 2021, with strong trading (particularly in its US business) and consistent profit upgrades driving a remarkable rise in its share price.
The market capitalisation of the group is now more than £3.5bn (compared to just £650m at the time of its IPO in May 2019), with the shares over 150% up in the last 12 months. But AO was also flying high at the end of 2020 and look at what’s happened to them in 2021. Strong performers on the stock market in one year can often be poor performers in the next.
There are plenty of rich people around the world, but maybe they will soon find less ostentatious ways of spending their money (on Bitcoins?) and turn away from watches and jewellery. So Watches of Switzerland looks like a company that could disappoint in 2022.
Richard Lim, chief executive, Retail Economics
Powerful macroeconomic tailwinds will help drive Lidl’s ambitious plans throughout 2022. Many consumers will be much more focused on value as the combination of rising inflation, tax hikes and a softer macroeconomic outlook urges families to tighten their belts. Lidl’s rapid store expansion plan remains on course – 1,000 locations by the end of 2023 – further accelerating market share.
Signs of a slowdown in online food sales and footfall ramping up across the grocery sector will also play to Lidl’s advantage. Our research shows that a significant proportion of consumers who tried online grocery for the first time have already reverted to in-store shopping. Also, Lidl’s commitment to sustainability and higher wages has not gone unnoticed as these issues become increasingly important for consumers when deciding where to shop.
Currys are likely to be plagued by a multitude of challenges throughout 2022. Electricals is a very price-sensitive sector and the retailer will find it difficult to pass on escalating costs against a backdrop of squeezed household incomes and softer consumer confidence. The retailer also faces cyclical challenges as the latest generation of games consoles provide less support and tougher annual comparisons.
Meanwhile, structural changes in the telecoms market will continue to undermine growth. Momentum from the ‘work-from-home revolution’ that provided a significant boost for laptops, monitors and accessories is also waning fast, dovetailing with supply chain disruptions that are expected to persist well into next year.
Eleonora Dani, analyst, Shore Capital
Mulberry, in our view, is an underappreciated turnaround story. The leading responsible British luxury lifestyle brand has leveraged its multichannel model to navigate the pandemic and its local manufacturing in Somerset to mitigate disruptions in the supply chain and cost inflation.
Covid-19 has ultimately provided Mulberry with the opportunity to transform itself into an agile business with an international footprint. The focus on China has been refined with carefully crafted messaging to reflect better local sensibilities and prices set to reposition the brand in the region.
Sustainability has also been a crucial part of the strategy as the brand fully embraces circularity and collaborates with the likes of Vestiaire Collective, realising that resale is an opportunity not to be missed.
AO is set to continue to underperform in 2022 in our view. While the return of Covid-related restrictions might favour online players, AO has stretched itself thin in 2021 with its internationalisation strategy and entrance in Germany. Once believed to be the engine of growth, AO’s recent underperformance in Germany highlights how difficult and expensive it is to enter a new country with a clear market leader. The situation is not very dissimilar in the UK, where Currys has picked up market shares from AO thanks to the reopening of its stores.
AO only grew 6% in the first half, while the underlying market increased by 12%. We see these competitive dynamics continuing in 2022 and question AO’s strategy to expand in three new countries when it appears the playbook hasn’t yet been nailed in its home country.
George MacDonald, executive editor, Retail Week
Winner: Marks & Spencer
At last, Marks & Spencer seems to be on the front foot and full of momentum.
The retailer turned the proverbial crisis into an opportunity as the pandemic prompted an acceleration of its transformation under the strategy of chief executive Steve Rowe and chair Archie Norman.
Once a digital laggard, M&S has put online front and centre thanks to its food joint venture with Ocado and the creation of the MS2 digital division firing up the clothing business.
M&S has shown itself willing to slaughter sacred cows in a bid to better serve customers. Once solely focused on its own brands, the retailer has increasingly brought complementary external brands onto its platform and into its stores, ranging from Seasalt to FAO Schwarz.
Now is certainly not the time for complacency that M&S’ fortunes have been restored, but great strides have been made and that’s creating new confidence on which M&S can build.
Asos is a great business and in the long term will no doubt maintain its success. However, the coming year could be a time of turbulence – and that is unwelcome in the hard-fought arena of pureplay fashion retail at a time when multichannel businesses are improving their digital operations.
The etailer is without a permanent chief executive since the surprise departure of the well regarded Nick Beighton after an apparent falling out with Ian Dyson, himself a new chair at the business although a longstanding non-exec. The timing of Beighton’s departure, ahead of the key Christmas period, was especially concerning in the absence of a successor.
All this came as online fashion retailers confront a raft of challenges – such as spiralling supply chain costs and rising returns – that prompted a profit warning from Asos’s rival Boohoo in December.
At the time of writing, Asos had lost half its value over six months – and just over 7% in the last month alone. Some will see such a decline as a buying opportunity, but as the etailer seeks direction under new leadership there may be more upsets to come.
Jonathan Pritchard, analyst, Peel Hunt
The National Tyres & Autocare deal looks a cracker and is bang in line with Halfords’ strategy to be all things to all drivers (it’s not impossible that there are more bolt-on deals in the pipeline). We expect to see Halfords continue to improve its combined stores and garage offer to motorists this year and work hard on its CRM, too – we wouldn’t rule out seeing some form of loyalty club at some stage.
The cycling side should continue to grow as well. Supply has been an issue for everyone in the industry, but as industry leader Halfords should see improvements in availability sooner than most, and we don’t believe that the lack of opportunity to buy a bike will have slowed underlying demand.
2021 has been a good year for Halfords and we expect that progress to continue in 2022.
Loser: Naked Wines
It was disappointing that some of the customer recruitment tools that worked so well during lockdowns provided less encouraging results when things freed up for customers. While we think that the fundamentals are positive for Naked, 2022 may be more of a sideways year for the company.
Customer acquisition costs have risen and those increases look likely to stick. And, while the supply chain issues that dogged the last few months are improving, we don’t think Naked is out of the woods yet, availability-wise.
There is no doubt that there is a place in the market for Naked and its progress in the US has been impressive. However, we think that it is ‘at the drawing board’ in terms of customer recruitment tactics and that may mean a dull year for Naked.
Lisa Byfield-Green, research director, Retail Week
One of the most positive retail stories of the year for me was Ikea acquiring the former Topshop flagship at Oxford Circus. It is a truly great example of a retailer that is quite literally thinking outside of the box, reinventing itself and finding new ways to reach customers. I can’t wait to see what it does with this iconic store.
At the same time, its circular buy-back schemes and involvement at COP26 demonstrate a retailer that is caring for the planet.
Losers to my mind are retailers that keep doing the same thing and fail to innovate for customers. Despite the popularity of its stores, Primark’s stubborn refusal to transact online is a lost opportunity that has cost it dearly over the past two years. Margins may be tight, but if Aldi can introduce click and collect and a partnership with Deliveroo in grocery, where margins are wafer-thin, then there must be low-cost solutions worth trialling for Primark.
Primark does a good job on social and its non-transactional website, but with fast fashion under the microscope from a sustainability perspective as well, brand evolution should feature much higher up Primark’s agenda.
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