by Dan Conboy

In an era of 'fast fashion' that is being increasingly led by digital incumbents like Boohoo, can the traditional retailers - like Next - stay ahead and grow, or will they face years of possible decline?

January is always a changeable time as analysts look out for those retailers who are ‘at risk’ and whose trading could jeopardise their very future on the high street.

High Street footfall is being hit and Next, who have been generally praised for their performance in recent years, now seem to be suffering. Despite this, online continues to perform well with online retail sales growth trending 37% ahead of forecasts.

As we move into 2017 with greater global uncertainties ahead of us (I know, I know - everyone is fed up of hearing about Brexit and Trump!), there are fears in some quarters that Next could be heading towards an ‘identity crisis,’ as brands such as Marks & Spencer have, where their clothing lines increasingly appeal to a smaller demographic.

There’s no doubt that the fashion vertical has changed rapidly and that online is clawing away at market share. Whilst the traditional retailers like Next, Debenhams and Marks and Spencer’s are feeling the pain, the digital-led retailers are soaring ahead.

Shares in have quadrupled in value in the last year and similar successes are seen across the market with brands like Missguided also seeing double-digit growth.

These fast-paced fashion businesses don’t have the legacy store network to worry about; they are agile and can move quickly, which is essential in a fashion market that is so heavily influenced by social media.

Of course that doesn’t mean we should write off the traditional retailers just yet, but it does reiterate just how strong a brand's proposition needs to be and how agile a company needs to operate in order to stay ahead of the curve. Retailers need to be working with specialists and using highly innovative retail technology in order to be able to keep a pace in today's competitive landscape.

The question is whether the traditional retailers are able to turn their ships around quick enough, or whether the newer incumbents to the market will continue to forge ahead and capture even more market share.

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