Thursday, April 16, 2009

Recession what?

I've been curious to see how the retail sector of Toronto has been affected by our fledgling economy but I haven't been shopping in a while, partly because I'm trying to save for an apartment, partly because I can't justify spending so much money on clothes and partly because I'm spending too much on books and DVDs from Amazon.

With all the doom and gloom talk these days about how hard the fashion industry has been hit by the bad economy, I decided to visit Holt Renfrew on Bloor St. to see how or if it has been affected. When I walked into the handbag section it was empty, save for a couple of sales people idling about looking bored, but apparently not bored enough to ask if I needed assistance. I guess those stories about high-end retailers making their sales associates pay extra attention to customers (even ones who don't look like they spend thousands on a shirt) aren't being applied at Holt's.

I wandered up to the second floor in search of a leather bomber jacket and had to hunt down a lone sales associate who promptly told me that they don't carry them in the Spring. I decided to browse the clothes. There were the Marc Jacobs prairie skirts from last season going for $1500, and I saw a couple of older Asian women paw them enthusiastically but leave them on the racks. I tried on a DVF dress and sparkly gold boyfriend jacket which retailed for about $900. They were well-made and absolutely beautful but again, who can afford luxury these days?

The racks made me sad. There were many beautiful designer items but hardly anyone in the store trying them on.

Even the cheaper designer labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs had their racks filled with unsold merchandise. It could have been that Holt's just restocked their items, but there was a definite lack of enthusiasm in the store. I'm curious to know how much they've had to cut down their Fall collection orders.

I have a feeling that the store is a bit behind the times; instead of trying to bring in new customers with sales and cheaper merchandise, they are sticking to their usual formula of catering to the higher-class customers with invitations to exclusive events, trunk shows, and invite-only discount nights. Their customers however are not shopping as much and people who don't normally check out Holts are even less inclined to shop there because of the exhorbitant prices and aura of exclusivity.

What's needed is a change in the way they market the store; incentives for new customers to shop, more clothes that retail for less than $1000 and friendly sales associates. Otherwise how will they survive?

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