Topshop and Gap are important fashion retail brands targeting young style‐conscious UK consumers. However, business performance differs widely with Topshop enjoying record sales whilst Gap has recorded losses at a five year high. This paper investigated these variations in performance from a strategic and holistic view of retailer brand image, and the adoption of quality marketing orientation. Answers were sought using key image attributes as a vehicle to understanding customers’ perceptions of the retailers under study. Survey data were collected from a sample of 300 typical customers who were set the task of ranking image attributes. Factor analysis of customer responses indicated that Gap customers were offered lifestyles in advertising that were out‐of‐step with the merchandise on the shelves. This reflected a failure on the part of retail management to satisfy the target market. Topshop customers displayed high levels of confidence in the merchandise proposition but stressed the importance of atmosphere and sales staff in overall assessments. This finding reinforces the view that sustainable retailer positioning pivots on a range of marketing activities as well as matching fashion consumers to styles. The research concludes with implications for strategic retail marketing, theory and practice.
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