“What makes Bicester Village particularly interesting to brands is the incredible international footfall it has,” explains Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC). “There are approximately seven million guests per year from all over the world, from Asia to the Middle East and Europe.” The Bicester Village Shopping Collection, a fashion outlet destination part of the Value Retail Group, generates almost the highest sales density of any shopping center. Now it has signed a two year partnership with the British Fashion Council, which launched with a pop-up shop last week.
Running over the first 11 days of November, the pop up features UK labels like Christopher Kane, Peter Pilotto, Palmer Harding and Holly Fulton. In addition to impressive footfall, Rush outlines why the partnership is so attractive to the BFC’s designers: “The partnership provides designers with the opportunity to be exhibited in a new retail landscape, with a new retail customer, international tourist visibility, business development expertise and global exposure, especially to the Chinese market,” Rush adds. Indeed, Chinese visitors — the country’s millennial consumers were specifically name-checked in the opening speeches — make up one-quarter of this figure. The outlet is second only to Buckingham Palace as the UK’s most visited destination for Chinese tourists.
“The power of WeChat clienteling is fascinating, over 30 percent of our brands do their selling on WeChat. ”
Daniel Lucht, research director at ResearchFarm, a boutique retail analysis consultancy, gives some insight into the first phase (the pop-up) of the initiative. “It's no doubt a great marketing opportunity and if you view retailing as a conversion game you can see how this would work,” says Lucht. “The more foot-fall you have, the more browsers and shoppers you should get, and then it just depends on your conversion rate into someone actually buying. And if Bicester provides something, it's foot-fall.” However, according to Lucht, the ability of individual brands to leverage the opportunities will be vital. “I think success depends very much on expectations and strategy, and what point in the business cycle these designers are,” he explains. “It will look good on their CV and might be a door opener to other opportunities. I would not build my entire business case on a pop up, but it will definitely be a great learning opportunity for them.”
The second phase of this initiative will provide mentorship which will come from the extensive global network of the Value Retail Group. Yet as Desiree Bollier, chair and global chief merchant of The Bicester Village Shopping Collection reveals, the form this will take is yet to be identified. “The most important part will be what the designer needs, and helping them to identify this will be crucial,” says Bollier. “Once they identify their needs, it’s going to be easy to respond to it. So, we cannot anticipate the modules but we certainly know we will be able to provide all them all as we have 13,000 colleagues — all experts in their own right... It is a win/win situation for us, as our colleagues love to give back and are all industry veterans in retail.”
Value Retail joins the long list of industry partners that the BFC already works with on a variety of support schemes, ranging from educational to financial. The BFC Education Foundation, NewGen, The BFC Fashion Trust and the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund are just a few of the influential programmes set up to support British designers. The mentorship programme will be offered to a group of alumni from the BFC’s own initiatives and charities (which raised £2.2 million in 2017) including the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund and the BFC Fashion Trust, together with a selection of established British brands currently unannounced.
When asked what UK designers can learn from the Chinese market, Bollier is quick to defend the local market: “Well the UK is not doing too bad when you think Farfetch was founded in the UK, it’s been on the forefront of integrating digital into the fashion arena, but now where the UK is falling short is more on electronic wallets like WeChat Pay... the power of WeChat is staggering,” says Bollier. “The power of WeChat clienteling is fascinating, over 30 percent of our brands do their selling on WeChat.”
Rush agrees that online is a now a real driver in the industry, but she is confident that the physical spaces still holds sway with the fashion crowd: “There is no doubt that digital has transformed the way people shop, however Bicester Village Shopping Collection is a great example of how experiential retail attracts consumers to get out of their house and into stores.”