Why we’ve fallen out of love with Urban Outfitters

In a fiercely competitive UK fashion market, consumers are awash with choice. New entrants keep coming – recent weeks seeing Reserved, Arket and Weekday all launch here – and it’s getting harder for any player to stand out. Retailers that don’t cut it can be forced to exit just as quickly as they arrived – think Banana Republic, American Apparel, JCrew and Forever 21. In the last month, Urban Outfitters joined the ‘watch out’ list when it posted its worst results for 7 years. We’ve taken a look at the reasons behind the brand’s decline, using our 5Drivers model of consumer emotions.

While Urban Outfitters still has an edgy, fashion-focused feel and a solid core following, our research shows the brand has recently lost its shine. Initially, the sense of #Belonging it created through a quirky persona and #Immersive in-store experience led many shoppers to fall in love. Today UO finds itself outmuscled on these qualities and in urgent need of a reappraisal.

#Belonging now belonging more to UO’s rivals

Experienced via social media, the brand still possesses some of the distinctive characteristics Millennials came to adore – its provocative, creative nature projecting a lifestyle many aspire to. However, upon entering the UO website or its physical stores, shoppers can quickly come to realise these traits don’t translate entirely onto the product Once admired for its bold, confident stance on fashion, which only fashionistas or those ‘in-the-know’ could pull off, it’s ended up retreating to a more mainstream look. The emphasis on casual and athleisure means it occupies a territory saturated by rivals – almost every brand now apparently taking a punt.

UO was previously thought to stand out because of its many unique, exciting brands. Now a plethora of new, smaller online-only companies, who are all over social channels, have surpassed it. UO still has strong hero lines but, beyond these, product can suffer versus rivals who promise much of the same at more accessible price points (and often with free delivery). These players cement a sense of #Belonging by helping shoppers feel part of a unique club; rewarding big spenders (e.g. ASOS/H&M schemes) and enjoying an enviable social presence with engaging content and influencer backing (think Boohoo and Missguided). This is sometimes topped off with events for like-minded individuals (Oliver Bonas, Topshop).

#Immersion no longer a trump card for UO

UO was one of the first ‘lifestyle’ brands to enter the UK fashion market – uniting clothing, homeware and gifting in a truly inspiring way. At the time, the brand was seen to be way ahead of the curve – boasting an #immersive store environment that generated intrigue, with something new to be discovered in every nook and cranny.

Since then, other brands have caught up and even taken over. They’ve introduced more immersive formats featuring experiential elements, show-stopping innovations and lifestyle spaces that make shoppers feel part of something very exciting. They also project more new news and reasons to keep visiting. For example, Oliver Bonas now integrates home, fashion and gifting in a cohesive way that draws people round the whole store. Primark has created a Harry Potter world, which allows consumers to momentarily escape their everyday life. Even previously online-only players have joined in – Missguided submerging shoppers in a unique environment that features hashtags printed on the walls, fun mannequin displays, high-impact entrances and digital catwalks.

Topshop (top left), Oliver Bonas (top right), Primark (bottom left) Missguided (bottom right) - September 2017

In such a cut-throat fashion market, Urban Outfitters needs to do more to evoke the emotions it once so successfully dialled up. Only then will the brand play successfully to the passion its audience has for fashion.