November has seen some high-profile acquisitions and insolvencies, from the high street to Savile Row, as the lasting impact of the pandemic and ongoing pressure of inflation continue to squeeze the UK high street.
Frasers Group has acquired Gieves & Hawkes, a bespoke tailors with five UK stores. Frasers Group, led by Mike Ashley (founder of Sports Direct and former owner of Newcastle United, among other positions), has purchased a string of fashion and retail businesses out of administration. These include department store chain House of Fraser in 2018 and clothing brand Jack Wills in 2019, as well as more recent fast-fashion acquisitions such as Missguided and I Saw It First. Gieves & Hawkes, in contrast, is one of the oldest bespoke tailors in the UK, having catered to three different Kings of England and headquartered at 1 Savile Row. It faced financial difficulties during the pandemic when numerous formal events were cancelled, and was ultimately put on the market when the owner went into administration.
Online furniture retailer Made.com also went into administration this month. Made.com had prospered during the pandemic as consumers spent more time at home, but was not able to sustain its success. Its intellectual property, including the brand and website, have been acquired by Next for £3.4 million, but approximately 400 employees have lost their jobs and consumers may be unable to claim refunds for outstanding orders.
Most recently, British clothing retailer Joules has also gone into administration. Joules employs 1,600 people and has 132 shops throughout the UK, which will continue to operate while administrators Interpath Advisory attempt to find a buyer. Reportedly, both Frasers Group and Next are among those considering making an offer, alongside Marks & Spencer and TFG London, owner of familiar retail brands Phase Eight, Whistles and Hobbs.
On the global stage, cosmetics company Estée Lauder has beaten luxury conglomerate Kering SA – which owns Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, among many others – to acquire the Tom Ford brand. At £2.4 billion this will be Estée Lauder’s largest ever acquisition. The company already has licensing arrangements with Tom Ford, and Tom Ford himself, the eponymous designer and current creative director, will remain until at least 2023. However, some analysts are questioning whether the Tom Ford name will retain its value without his personal involvement.
It is predicted that Black Friday spending will be down 15% this year, as consumers are expected to reduce spending amid the rising cost of living. However, shoppers may still see it as an opportunity to beat price hikes, especially as this year some retailers brought forward festive discounts. This was to encourage shoppers to start their Christmas spending early, and address a slump in sales driven by the cost of living crisis – which saw sales volumes down by 6.2% in September compared to last year (but the value of such sales up, due to soaring prices).
John Lewis launched their Black Friday deals early this year to help customers spread the cost of Christmas, with offers running up until 1 December. They are also offering customers the option to pay monthly interest-free instalments for some items, as well as a longer returns policy. Meanwhile, Amazon also had its Prime Early Access Sale starting in mid-October, giving access to early deals as an attempt to help customers ‘save money and shop smarter’.
However, early Black Friday figures indicate that home deliveries are down by 5%, while the number of footfall shoppers is also lower than expected, and still below pre-pandemic levels. It remains to be seen how the Black Friday and festive period will play out, but retailers may feel the effects of increasingly cautious shoppers this year.
Consumers’ caution may also be a result of warnings of late deliveries in the lead up to Christmas, as Royal Mail workers are set to strike during the key shopping period. Other delivery companies – including UPS and Yodel – have been approached by retailers to handle the extra demands but have warned that they may have limited capacity to do so. The cautionary advice may be to order early.
Research from cybersecurity advisor, Coalfire, has found that retail is one of the worst-performing sectors in defending against cyber-attacks. 64% of brands have at least one significant cybersecurity vulnerability that can be easily exploited by a hacker. It is a warning to retailers during Black Friday and the run up to the Christmas period, as lack of expertise in the industry leaves them under-resourced to manage their digital infrastructures and protect customers. With digital transactions up during the festive period, it is a key time for hackers to exploit. In fact, victims of online shopping scams lost on average £1,000 per person in the festive season last year, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
This month also saw the return of Christmas ads. Each year, household brands pitch their heart-warming Christmas campaigns, with renowned Christmas advertisers like Coca-Cola and John Lewis sitting at the top of the pile. Coca-Cola finally released their iconic advert on 25 November, with brands like Sainsburys, Aldi and John Lewis having released their adverts weeks ago.
In fact, this year Christmas, much like Black Friday, did come early. While the John Lewis Christmas advert is usually the traditional Christmas season opener, this year they were beaten to the punch by Sainsburys, Lidl and M&S who all launched their seasonal campaigns a week earlier than in past years. Again, commentators suggest that this is a consequence of the cost of living crisis – retailers are wanting to get in early. Sainsburys in particular have reported that customers have brought their Christmas shopping forward in order to spread the costs, and are more likely to be dining at home than at restaurants.
In other news, the animal rights organisation Peta has released its own Christmas campaign this year for the first time. The advert tells the story of a turkey that manages to escape the slaughterhouse in the run up to Christmas, and is taken in as pet by a local family. When Christmas day arrives, rather than turkey for the Christmas meal, as the runaway turkey fears, the family are in fact vegan and are eating ‘Tofurky’, a brand of vegan turkey in the US.
This is of course a push by the charity to draw attention to animal rights issues and, in doing so, encourage more vegan choices. Jennifer White, Peta’s communications manager, said that: “You can get a vegan turkey crown, vegan pigs in blankets, vegan ‘goose fat’ for your roast potatoes. You can have a traditional Christmas dinner, just without the turkey.” Peta has confirmed that the advert has had a great reception, but it remains to be seen whether this campaign will significantly alter the long-standing eating traditions associated with the season.
Another PR hit this Christmas has been Mars Wrigley’s divisive decision to remove Bounty bars from its Celebrations boxes, which generated some fierce debate on social media. The announcement is in fact that there will be limited edition ‘No Bounty’ boxes of Celebrations available this Christmas, although boxes containing Bounty bars will still be sold. Dan Walker, Richard Osman, Lorraine Kelly and Piers Morgan have all weighed in on the ‘diabolical decision’ to remove the bars, which has been recognised as one of the PR hits of the year by John Harrington, UK editor of PR Week.