Supermarket chains start kidding around

In their struggle to diversify and boost sales, supermarkets are introducing more non-food products. And childrens’ clothing is seen as one lucrative avenue, reports Clare Dowdy

The launch this week of Safeway’s KidsOwn range (see News, page 3) reinforces the view that non-food lines are becoming increasingly important to supermarket chains in the fight for custom. All are looking at ways of growing in this direction.

According to Richard Perks, senior retail analyst with specialist research company Verdict and author of Verdict’s Childrenswear Retailers: “Superstores now have complete control of their food supply chains, and so are able to keep less stock in store.” This gives them more space to introduce other ranges to boost sales, he adds, and to help differentiate them from the competition.

But clearing out a few aisles and filling them with kids’ clothes will not create destination shopping, which is every chain’s method of luring more customers. “Ranges need their own identities. If you can really develop a range, then it can become a destination store for clothes purchases, and that’s what the superstores are aiming at,” explains Perks.

Safeway is the latest supermarket chain to venture into children’s clothing as a way of encouraging more family shoppers. It follows in the footsteps of Asda’s George brand, Sainsbury’s Lifestyle and Tesco’s Items ranges.

“The challenge is to make something that has its own handwriting,” says Perks. The Safeway KidsOwn line has the benefit of Fitch’s interiors and branding to make it a separate entity and differentiate it from the food shopping experience.

This approach contrasts with Tesco’s adult and children’s range called Items – “not the most scintillating of names,” says Perks. “It does not impress us in presentation or fashionability. It’s got some way to go. Tesco is selling clothing too much as if it was food, and could do more to set the range apart.”

But despite Perks’ criticisms, Tesco says the success of its Items range, introduced last August, has exceeded expectations. There is an ongoing review of the range which was researched internally with merchandising input from specialist consultancy Visual Thinking.

Size is also an issue in the successful launch of children’s ranges, says Perks. While Sainsbury stores are traditionally small, Asda’s George line has benefited from the chain’s ability to give it more space and merchandise it properly.

George now has the highest market share of clothing out of all supermarket chains, says an Asda spokeswoman. Design work for new developments to the six-year-old brand is being done in-house.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s children’s clothing, introduced in 1989, is housed at the chain’s 12 Savacentres under the Lifestyle label, with all design done in-house. There are no plans to introduce a separate children’s range. “We don’t wish to change a winning strategy,” says a Sainsbury spokesman.

The task for designers is to make the superstore a destination for the kids’ clothing range for core shoppers, “and you do that through developing your own exclusive ranges”, adds Perks.

The trend has proved to be lucrative and will continue to be developed, Perks predicts.

However, Verdict’s research concludes that supermarkets are still not destination stores for clothing, and, as free-standing stores, will suffer because they do not offer customers the chance to “comparison shop” in the outlets of nearby retailers.

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