The mass market fashion business is a lucrative one for British clothing brands. But with so many vying for a slice of the pie, it’s a competitive space to be in. Winning at the game takes more than just offering the edgiest or trendiest products; it takes a strong and forward-thinking digital strategy.
The battlefield is only complicated by the variety of companies that have nudged into the value fashion market, from traditional clothing and accessory brands to supermarkets and department stores.
So what are they doing to ensure they stay competitive? What’s working and what’s not? Below we’ll take a look at five of the key British mass market clothing brands, and analyse their approach to social media and digital marketing.
In this article you’ll learn…
Sainsbury’s is currently the second-largest grocer in the UK according to Kantar Worldpanel, with latest figures attributing them 15.9% of market share. An impending merger with third-ranked Asda is set to create a supermarket superpower — not to mention an affordable-fashion force to be reckoned with.
Despite being a supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s have been incredibly successful at growing their clothing category. Their fashion brand, Tu Clothing, now contributes nearly £1 billion to annual sales. Sainsbury’s stands to increase their fast fashion market share even further with the addition of Asda’s George clothing line.
It won’t be the first major takeover for Sainsbury’s. The 2016 acquisition of Argos has allowed it to expand the reach of Tu Clothing by offering shoppers free click-and-collect from 1,100 Sainsbury's and Argos stores across the UK. In April 2018 Tu Clothing was also made available on the Argos website — the third most visited retail website in the UK. Between two e-commerce websites (the dedicated Tu Clothing site and Argos.co.uk), and more in-store collection points, the Argos takeover has allowed Sainsbury’s to deepen their omnichannel retail approach to fashion.
When it comes to digital marketing strategy, Sainsbury’s treats Tu Clothing as a separate brand with separate social media accounts. This allows them to distance Tu from its supermarket origins and pins it more in the realm of fashion.
Sainsbury’s uses the Tu Clothing social media to not only promote the brand but to build a community around it, regularly regramming posts from followers (encouraging them to post photos of their Tu outfits under the hashtag #TuBeYou) and fostering an inclusive spirit.
They also use Instagram for social shopping, tagging products in posts to drive online sales, a winning strategy as we discussed in our Ultimate Fashion E-commerce Checklist.
Their strategies seem to be working: Sainsbury’s most recent full year results reported that clothing sales rose almost 4%, while online sales of clothing grew by 45%.
Matalan is another British clothing brand that uses social media to dominate the mass market fashion space. They treat their 250k+ Instagram followers to a beautifully-curated feed blending fashion with aspirational travel and lifestyle images.
This lifestyle content brings them high engagement: for example, their recent post of the Royal wedding generated more likes than any of their other posts.
Matalan’s winning Instagram strategy has only been implemented recently. In 2016 the account had very low engagement due to over-posting, and in 2017 the account was inactive. In March 2018 they re-launched the account to positive reception and, according to our team of Data Scientists, their average engagement rate is currently at 1.84%, exceptional considering their absence in 2017.
Another strategy they use to generate this engagement is reposting from followers, while a heavy use of Instagram’s shopping feature works to drive sales.
Another marketing strategy Matalan has employed — one that’s unique in comparison to other British clothing brands — is a T.V show. Their regular celebrity-hosted TV show (titled simply “The Show”) is broadcast on YouTube, Matalan’s website, and within their app. The show captures viewer interest with interviews and lifestyle content, while also heavily promoting Matalan’s latest clothes and accessories.
By inviting celebrities and influencers onto the show, Matalan is also able to expand their reach by penetrating the guests’ social media accounts.
According to Electric Glue agency, weekly site traffic doubled within 11 weeks of The Show’s launch, while online sales shot up by 69%.
Brands who refuse to sell online get left behind, right? Not necessarily: you just need to look to Primark for an example.
Although this mass market brand started and is recognized in Ireland as Penneys, it is registered in England and Wales as Primark, and we couldn't help but think of this fashion behemoth when talking about digital strategies. Despite not having embraced e-commerce (their reasoning being that their very low price points would suffer under the weight of shipping and returns costs), Primark have found a way to drive customers in-store through their website and digital presence.
Social media is a key part of Primark’s strategy to remain relevant to the new generations of consumers. In less than five years of being on Instagram the retailer’s account has boomed to over 5.7 million followers. To grow the account organically, their focus has been on creating the right type of content. And it's working, our team of Data Scientists tell us that over 50% of their posts over perform.
Primark’s social accounts are careful to create a coherent brand image, whilst still incorporating plenty of user-generated content. Their focus has largely been on presenting products in context — like flay lays on a bed, or an outfit regrammed from one of their followers — rather than filling their feed with staged catalogue shots. This gives their posts a friendly, natural feel that customers can relate to.
Followers are also encouraged to share their style using the hashtag #Primania, or by uploading their photos to a dedicated Primania area of the Primark website. Each Primania post includes details of the products featured and their prices, again driving customers into stores to buy.
Primark reported 3% growth in its UK like-for-like sales in the six months leading up to March 2018, despite generally poor retail conditions, suggesting that the fashion retailer’s digital strategy is working wonders — even without e-commerce.
Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer have always been known for innovation, for introducing new products to the British market and changing the way people shop. But with recent years bringing an influx of competition across all areas — from food to fashion — the department store has experienced a drop in market share.
Declining footfall due to customers moving online is one key factor contributing to loss of sales.
But there’s good news for Marks & Spencer. The retailer has already recognized their challenges and developed new strategies moving forward. One of their main goals is to take at least a third of sales online.
They’ve also outlined plans to create a more seamless experience across online and offline channels, and to focus their efforts on creating fewer but better physical stores that are digitally-driven.
M&S also have a strong opportunity to grow and capitalize on their existing social media presence: the brand already has over 5 million Facebook fans and 790k Instagram followers.
Unlike Sainsbury’s, M&S mix all sales categories into their social media to create one general lifestyle account. In November 2017, however, they launched a second Instagram account dedicated to fashion and based around their Try Tuesday styling service. This account associates the M&S brand with celebrities, influencers and street style stars via inspirational collages and styling tips.
Urban & Effortless #tuesdaytribe by Laura, Senior Stylist.⠀ ⠀ "Taking inspiration from the likes of Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney, this trend is the definition of modern and ultra-cool. Combine your favourite Sports Luxe pieces with understated separates and paired back accessories, for a look which was created for the front row. The ideal combination of fashion and function."
M&S also use this account to repost from followers, always in a way that visually fits the high-end, magazine-style aesthetic of the Try Tuesday sub-brand.
One of #trytuesday fave fashion influencers @thefashionablepan is embracing the polka dot trend for spring in this beautiful midi dress that has JUST landed on the site.⠀ ⠀ Perfect for your holidays, keep it effortless by pairing with tan mule sandals, dainty jewellery and a raffia bag. The fit beautifully skims the body and the waist is adjustable so you can create the silhouette you like- get it before its gone!⠀ ⠀ DRESS- T429320⠀ ⠀
One thing the account has not yet embraced is Instagram social shopping, which we're sure will be a positive next step in their goal to push sales online.
Peacocks is a long-standing company (founded in 1884) that rebranded over the years to turn itself into one of the major British brands in the mass market fashion space.
After going into administration in 2012, the company was bought out by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, who have since worked to turn the fortunes of the brand around and bring it back to relevance.
One part of their strategy has been improving the quality of their social media content and organically growing their following. As yet, Peacocks has a relatively low follower count across all platforms: although they joined Instagram in 2012, for example, they’ve only garnered 19k followers.
Despite the comparatively low numbers, Peacocks have taken steps in the right direction by engaging with users, reposting from followers, and even working with bloggers and micro-influencers to build brand awareness and credibility. The Launchmetrics Data team confirm that this is working for them, as their most engaging posts are those with influencers.
Peacocks also uses their account to encourage community contributions under the hashtag #mypeacocks, adding incentives like weekly prizes.
The Future of British Clothing Brands
The retail landscape in the UK has changed a lot in recent years, largely thanks to the growth of e-commerce and social media marketing. In the realm of mass market fashion, value for money may be a key factor that keeps customers coming back — but it’s certainly not the only one. To maintain market share, brands also need to keep up with the changing times by embracing digital and meeting customers on the platforms they use the most. Having a clearly-defined strategy is key: as the five examples above demonstrate, a strategic approach is needed to ensure any brand continues to thrive.
What other British clothing brands do you think are doing digital right? Feel free to comment below!