Arket is H&M’s most recent experiment in premium fashion. Hailed as a “modern day market,” it is a clear diversion from its flagship budget brand, yet it remains true to the fashion group’s commitment to value and style. The Scandivanian minimalist approach is evident in every concisely divided corner. While it may be impossible for a brand this highly anticipated to live up to all the hype, Arket definitely had its best foot forward, bringing a heavy dose of Scandinavia to one of London’s busiest shopping streets. Kantar Retail had the privilege of attending the private launch. Here are our initial thoughts:
Atmosphere More Akin to IKEA than Anthropologie
While it may sound obvious given they’re both Swedish-born retailers, Arket gave off more of an IKEA-style vibe than the Anthropologie-esque one that we had anticipated. Expecting to be overwhelmed with warm and cozy hygge, bright lighting and picture perfect displays caught us a little off-guard.
Instead, the store is meticulously merchandised with borderline-OCD precision, making it lovely to look at, but likely a nightmare to maintain.
Designed for Instagrammable Moments
Men’s and women’s assortments are merchandised by Instagram-worthy color palettes rather than categories, within rather conveniently square-shaped grids that seem designed to suit social sharing.
True to its DNA, the product is crisp, timeless and of good quality, striking a sensibility squarely between H&M’s COS and & Other Stories brands with just a hint of Muji and Kinfolk thrown in. While the clothing is not gender neutral (except for a small portion of childrenswear) there is a stylishly androgynous feel across all categories. Patterns are few and far between with brandless color blocking winning out in all categories.
Men’s is the leading category, with an assortment at least equal in size to women’s, if not larger, located at the front and back of the ground floor, with homewares sandwiched in between. Within an hour of the opening several men did rush to spend more than £200, indicating there may be some logic in the unusual choice to lead with menswear. Women’s and children’s are spread out on the first floor.
Sustainability is a key tenet of the brand, a belief most evident in childrenswear, with “Hand me down” labels sewn inside each garment. This also communicates lasting quality, something parents may not think about when shopping for a child who will outgrow an entire wardrobe within six months.
The labels encourage shoppers to hand them down as part of their sustainable lifestyle and write the next child’s name in, much the same as you would with a checked out library book. Which brings us to another merchandising theme across the store. In high-volume categories, like underwear, Arket has created a clever filing system that encourages multibuy purchases.
Underwear might seem like an unexpected category to call out from a new fashion brand, but was clearly a centerpiece of Arket’s offer. Merchandised uniquely like a library shelf, undergarments for men, women, and children were very neatly shelved from floor to ceiling in custom packaging, giving it a Uniqlo or Muji-esque feel. Clear multi-buy price points, e.g. “3 for £20”, help to boost UPTs.
Homewares was perhaps the busiest category, and also featured the most third party brands, some of which are very well known in their home markets, but relatively unheard of in the U.K. This is where Arket provides added B2B value, offering a Launchpad for boutique brands to gain exposure in new territories. The Homewares department is also where the “market” feeling was the strongest.
Although we had anticipated more from this notion all around, the store is designed with ample white space to enable future elements of retail theater. If its website content is anything to go by, the heavy emphasis on recipes and how-to’s could lead to in-store cooking classes or demonstrations in a very traditional market style.
Things to Watch
Pay Attention to Pricing
While the brand is positioned well above the pricing structure of the H&M brand, we struggled to find a many products over the £100 price tag. This means that merino wool sweaters and chic silk blouses – at £55 and £89 respectively – can come across as “value for money” in this slick environment. However, juxtaposed against plain, unbranded, block color t-shirts at £35 a pop, some items seem overpriced. This is compounded by the realization that near-identical products in the menswear and womenswear departments carry vastly different price tags. Take the label’s basic sunshine-yellow sweater below:
£45 in the menswear range, with the only minor difference in the women’s version being the removal of a faint cross-stitch detail at the collar.
The cost for such an upgrade? £14. Is this the “gender tax” all over again?
Very Quaint Café
While the food being passed around was incredibly creative and very Scandinavian-inspired, we were less impressed with the impact of the café itself on the overall store and experience.
Setup more for takeaway than sit-and-stay, with a walk up counter and three tables, we’ll be curious to see if this element expands or changes over time, or if it becomes a larger part of smaller stores like the one set to open later this year in Covent Garden. We’ll hold out hope that this concept, so highly anticipated, will gain a bit more prominence once the store reopens to the shopping public.
Overall First Impressions
While not as unique as anticipated, Arket definitely provides a very distinct and almost surreal experience with its bright lighting, surgically straight lines, and seamlessly transitioned color palettes. With less Hygge and more hyper-organization than expected, it’s still an alluring brand with a differentiated lifestyle proposition that fits snuggly alongside H&M’s growing family of brands.