Is Topshop’s demise a lesson in the importance of social listening?

As ASOS buys out Topshop and its partner brands for £295 million, we ask - is it too little, too late for the beleaguered fashion favourite or can ASOS inject its own social magic to keep the brand alive? We revisit the data behind Topshop's 2020 social media performance to understand just how large the task ahead is.

Back in December 2020 as the news of the reality of Topshop's woes broke, retail analyst, Kate Hardcastle spoke to the BBC about what might have gone wrong for the High Street favourite, citing a lack of social media engagement, decreasing relevance to their customer, and the emergence of the likes of Primark and online players like Boohoo. Since June 2019, Maybe* has consistently found these factors to be a very real threat to Topshop.

At the end of the UK's first lockdown from mid March to June, we profiled several retailers to see what their social media output and brand sentiment told us. While Topshop's social media has certainly changed in the last few months, with a much more engaging approach, it has still lagged behind the likes of Primark, Boohoo, and Gymshark, all of which have carved out an engaging tone of voice and increased their relevance to customers.

No one is suggesting that Topshop's demise is solely due to its social media strategy, absolutely not. It takes more than an Instagram strategy to topple a giant, but that being said, social media is a transparent indicator of a brand's position, its sentiment and most importantly, its relevance to its customers.

We've taken another look at the social media performance of Topshop, as well as the conversation created about the brand, to see if the writing was on the wall for the business or if more could have been done to re-engage customers.

Content created by fashion retailers and the engagement with that content

OrganisationFollowersPostsEngagementsAverage posts per dayAverage engagement per postAverage engagement per day
Gymshark UK7.1M75812.8M516,93476,402

Content created about the fashion retailers and the percentage of positive sentiment

OrganisationPosts about the organisationEngagements on posts about the organisationPercentage positive sentiment
Gymshark UK6.6K1.5M87.84%

How does Topshop's social media stack up against other retailers?

Since the late Summer, Topshop has been more active on its social media accounts than it was when it reopened like the rest of retail in June 2020. As its posts have increased, so too has its engagement. But Topshop still generates the least engagement among itself, Boohoo, Primark and Gymshark. This is despite having the largest social media audience of all the brands, this alone suggests that the content is failing to hit the mark.

What's been said on Topshop's social media accounts since June 2020?

Topshop used to have a fashion-forward, editorial style which might have been seen as less typically fun and light compared with the likes of Boohoo and Primark. But, in recent months it has moved away from this approach and instead now features a lot more influencers and reality TV stars wearing its product. The brand uses the hashtag #topshopstyle prominently in its social media posts. Though this hashtag has gained little traction in use by Topshop customers, the posts do successfully engage an audience.

Unfortunately, while the brand has adopted a similar content approach to its competitor brands, in doing so it seems to have lost some of the style-led identity that it was known for.  By adopting a new style of content, but not necessarily doing it better than the others, Topshop has lost its niche and failed to project its content above the noise of the competitor brands.


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A post shared by Topshop (@topshop)


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A post shared by Topshop (@topshop)

What have Topshop's customers been saying on social media since June 2020?

The conversation about Topshop has largely been generated by fashion influencers and bloggers as well as customers all sharing their outfit of the day. Where Topshop itself encourages customers on its social media to tag using the hashtag #topshopstyle and this sits at the heart of the conversation Topshop creates; this has little cut through with its customers who don't use it in their content.

The conversation phrases Topshop uses itself, are vastly different to the way its customers and loyal followers discuss it, showing there is a gap between how Topshop positions itself, and the way it is is seen.


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A post shared by Lou Teasdale (@louteasdale)


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A post shared by Lydia Rose (@fashioninflux)

How do customers feel about Topshop?

It's sentiment where Topshop really suffers against its competitors. The social media conversation created about the brand is less than 25% positive. Topshop's reputation has previously suffered due to controversy around its leadership and operating practices. In a world where customers frequently put their pounds where there is purpose and a sense of social justice, Topshop has frequently come up short.

The brand also saw less positivity about it due to the high amount of partner content and reselling sites both in the UK and overseas. While not negative, this content lets Topshop down because it says nothing about the brand and is largely discount-led. Topshop must either have little control over this, or has chosen not to exercise it. Either way, the impact has been considerable.

Key takeaway

Historically, Topshop was the fashion brand with its finger firmly on the pulse of retail trends, so how did it end up here, rendered obsolete through a potential lack of customer relevance. It's hard to imagine, but the data speaks for itself. Did Topshop just not listen enough to its customers? Did it not see the changing tide of sentiment?

The social media conversation about Topshop reveals that it failed to diversify or stay true to its brand. In a year where 'purpose' was critical, it had no voice and so lost its relevance. Meanwhile the likes of Primark, Boohoo and Gymshark have found a way to better engage their customers by carving out their own niche, their own voice and listening to what their customers want, expect and what they respond to.

Topshop's story is a retail tragedy. Whether its demise could have been avoided, we'll never know. But let it stand as a warning to other businesses that social media is for more than just product updates and one-way conversation. It's a place to understand your retail landscape, to inform your strategy and it's your first indicator that something is not working as it should be.

We urge all businesses, regardless of sector, to use the tools and insights available to them to help steer themselves through these most challenging of times.

With the Maybe* platform, you don’t have to be a social media pro to increase traffic and sales.


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