Online competition didn’t kill Jeanswest. Boring retail killed Jeanswest.

I don’t enjoy writing about failed retail. It’s nothing to be celebrated and it usually isn’t constructive. BUT… I almost choked on my soy granola when I read this quote about Jeanswest going into administration.

“Like many other retailers, the business has been challenged by current tough market conditions and pressure from online competition.” It is from their administrators, KPMG.

I call BS. Or ignorance at the very least. Tough trading conditions and online retail didn’t kill Jeanswest. Being a boring retailer killed Jeanswest. And they’re not alone. Roger David, Bardot and Harris Scarfe have all followed similar paths. 

Once a must-visit if you are in the market for denim, Jeanswest reached their peak in the ’90s with the well-known promise of “fits best”. From there, they expanded with a much broader range, many markets and targeting a wider customer base. They quickly meant not much, to many.
Google Jeanswest. Their own search result says it all.

“Jeanswest fits best. Find a range of mens, womens and maternity clothing available for all shapes and leg lengths with sizes ranging from 6 – 16.” Inspirational.

Online they manage to exist without being exceptional.

They appear to have entered omnichannel reluctantly. Click and collect is available – if you are willing to wait 3-7 days before picking it up. Customer service is a well-hidden phone number and contact form. No signs of human life. Joining their reward program, Jeanswest Rewards, is a complicated five-tier reward structure with 15 fields to join.

From an e-commerce viewpoint, they are functional without standing out. Products are available with variants easily selected and decent enough product images. No frills. They offer free shipping – if you spend $75. Afterpay is available – for orders over $70. There’s a blog but no inspirational story on why I would shop with Jeanswest.

The story continues on social. Jeanswest have an Instagram and Facebook feed with a decent fellowship – 150K followers on Facebook and 60K on Instagram. Their feeds are full of product images and catalogue models. There’s not much inspiration here. The customer interaction reflects this.
Online retail hasn’t killed Jeanswest, they got left behind.

Their thriving competitors such as Cotton On, Forever New and Sportsgirl prove this.

From a brand point of view, a rebrand and logo change hasn’t injected personality. The move to neutral colours and a minimal design helps them blend in. At least the old branding stood out and carried 90’s retro appeal. As for that ‘fits best’ tag line? It is now an afterthought with the in store proof point of the massive wall of jeans hidden by a safe array of tops, dresses, hats and maternity wear.

Perfectly functional. Remarkably boring.

As retailers, you can’t get everything right. You’ll be broke and out of business if you invest in the perfect retail experience. But you need to make a bet and stand out for something.

When was the last time you heard something about Jeanswest that made you go “wow”. A friend who shopped there? A new product that caught your attention? A news story? In a world with shopping centres filled with “experiences”, content on-demand and a global marketplace in our pocket, boring is not a luxury we can afford anymore.

Jeanswest wasn’t a victim of tough trading conditions or online competition. They were a victim of boring retail.

Nathan Bush is the founder of e-commerce consultancy at 12HIGH. He was previously group digital manager at Super Retail Group and was placed in the Top 50 People in E-commerce four years in a row.



  1. Laurian posted on January 23, 2020

    I totally agree with your comments Nathan. Unfortunately, too many retailers are using online as an excuse for their own failures. Retailers need to make sure they give us shoppers a shopping experience not just a boring display in the front of the store. We also need service when shopping in bricks and mortar, if not we may as well just shop online. Having worked in Grace Bros many moons ago, I was taught about customer service, how to multitask with customers, upselling and cross merchandising. Sadly, retailers don't seem to invest in their staff, who often look bored and clock watching. Try going to a shoe department in Myers and firstly, finding a salesperson. Once you find one, if they are serving one person, they have not been taught the idea of serving several customers at once or even making eye contact with customers or acknowledging them. Similarly, supermarkets state that customers prefer self-serve checkouts as more customers are using them - I say, customers are using them because the service levels are hopeless at supermarkets. Teach your staff to be proactive NOT reactive to customers. Get the people in head office (management, buyers etc) to get out of the office and visit their stores, they will be amazed at what they find out. Lessons for Retailers - Don't try and be a 'Jack of all Trades' as you will end up a 'Master of none'. Find out what your good at stick to it and make shopping in bricks and mortar stores an experience. I don't mind paying extra for this. We don't want cheap - we want value for money. There is a difference.

  2. Stephen Spring posted on January 31, 2020

    Whilst much of this is partly true, its only one piece of the retail dilemma. My company has been managing retail lease portfolios and turn around strategies for retailers for decades. One only has to look at the long list of retail failures (see Tight belts and terrible leadership: The biggest retail collapses of the decade – and the retail numbers behind those collapses. It only takes a few poor performing shops to drag down the entire network and many of those poor performers have their roots in the leases that should not have been signed in the first place. Long term, occupancy costs have risen disproportionately to gross margins and the property risk is the greatest risk a retailer takes on. Poor net returns mean retailers have little cover for events unknown or beyond their control such as bushfires, virus related tourism downturns, on line competition, wages scrutiny and others. With AASB-16 moving onto balance sheets, retailers should expect to see more stormy weather as loan covenants get greater scrutiny and the compound effect of legacy lease escalations start to bite hard. Stephen Spring Australian Retail Lease Management Pty. Limited

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