Strong margins and high trading densities make the accessories category a priority for leading fashion brands and retailers.

For the shopper, products are exciting to browse – an easy, feel-good purchase, with ‘one size fits all’ options, the promise of instantly pepping up an outfit and completing a look. Accessory shopping is ideal for impulsive retail therapy moments, and highly suitable for gifting.

Given this, it is not surprising that competition has hotted up in all quarters. Luxury brands tempt us to buy sunglasses, bags, etc. as an accessible entry point to the labels we covet, and high street retailers are increasingly extending their offers. Topshop has devoted an entire floor of its Oxford Street flagship purely to accessories while the likes of Zara, & Other Stories and Warehouse increasingly present accessories as an integrated part of curated collections.

So what characterises this category, and how can retailers position themselves to win the attention of potential customers?

Gravitas & authority: First and foremost, accessories should not be seen as a bolt on. A well-executed range can set the tone of a brand and should be a core part of the range building process. Zara initially launched a jewellery line with only a few cautious pieces, but soon invested in developing a range with conviction.

Experiment & engage: The pace of change is fast and lead times are short, providing scope to stretch the boundaries to create desire, excitement and newness. Bold product launches and seasonal themes make a statement, creating PR opportunities to maintain interest and refresh the dialogue with customers. Theory is having a second go at launching their bag collection, intent on broadening its reach, and positioning themselves as an innovative and experimental lifestyle brand.

Pricing stretch & premiumisation: This category also seems able to break the rules of established price architectures. This is particularly useful when trying to broaden the reach beyond a value proposition. As part of its guest-designer initiative, H&M introduced a jewellery and accessories collection by Vogue Japan Editor in 2012, with prices ranging from 20 euros to 300 euros, extending the target consumer well beyond its core.

Ecommerce & cross selling: Last, but certainly not least, we see that the cross-selling opportunity is particularly prominent online, where brands inspire customers through style suggestions to demonstrate which accessories can mix and match with different outfits. Overall online retail sales increased by 17% year-on-year (June 2016) while growth in online accessories sales was a mighty 46%.

The accessories category is exciting and lucrative, providing a permit to break the rules and stretch the boundaries. Who would not want a slice of the action?

Edmund FitzGerald