We shopped at Forever 21 and H&M and saw firsthand why one store is clearly outperforming the other

h&m opening

Bethany Biron/Business Insider

As Forever 21 considers a major restructuring plan, H&M's performance is strong.

  • H&M - one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, with more than 4,400 namesake stores in 72 countries - is outshining its competitor, Forever 21.
  • As Forever 21 nears a possible bankruptcy, the fast-fashion brand is reportedly seeking help in the form of a private-equity bailout.
  • Meanwhile, H&M's parent company recently reported a net sales increase of 10% and success in growing both H&M's e-commerce business and the brand's loyalty program.
  • We visited neighboring locations of H&M and Forever 21, and saw why H&M is coming out on top.

As Forever 21 reportedly considers a large-scale restructuring plan following the closures of a series of international store locations, H&M continues to grow.

H&M Group - the parent company of H&M which includes brands Cos, & Other Stories, and Arket, among others - reported a 10% increase in net sales for the first quarter of 2019. The H&M brand also showed continued growth in online sales, thanks in part to an expanded loyalty program that now includes 35 million members, as well as a forthcoming launch on popular Indian e-commerce sites Myntra and Jabong.
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While Forever 21 does not publicly disclose sales, its performance has undoubtedly slumped in recent years as exhibited by store closures in major global markets, notably London and China. The company has been especially hit hard by the rise of e-commerce competitors and a failure to innovate in areas like clothing and store design. Now the faltering brand is seeking help from a private-equity firm to help with reconsolidation.

We shopped at a Forever 21 and H&M store, and saw that Forever 21's in-store experience paled in comparison to H&M. Both stores are located at the Westfield World Trade Center mall, and though H&M has an obvious advantage in attracting foot traffic due to its street-level positioning (Forever 21 has a subterranean space), Forever 21 left much to be desired.

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We went to H&M first.

We went to H&M first.

When you walk in, the store is well-lit and organized, brimming with on-trend styles.

When you walk in, the store is well-lit and organized, brimming with on-trend styles.

There were quite a few shoppers browsing the store around noon on a Thursday.

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The two-story location includes a men's shop on the second floor. Large television screens throughout the store broadcast H&M's latest campaigns, including its upcoming "Stranger Things" collection.

The two-story location includes a men's shop on the second floor. Large television screens throughout the store broadcast H&M's latest campaigns, including its upcoming "Stranger Things" collection.

Though men's apparel comprises a comparatively smaller portion of H&M's inventory, the section was particularly busy.

Though men's apparel comprises a comparatively smaller portion of H&M's inventory, the section was particularly busy.
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H&M has continued to build out its H&M Conscious line, a collection of eco-friendly and sustainable products made out of recycled materials. Here is an H&M Conscious tag on a dress.

H&M has continued to build out its H&M Conscious line, a collection of eco-friendly and sustainable products made out of recycled materials. Here is an H&M Conscious tag on a dress.

H&M was one of the participating brands that recently pledged to phase out cashmere by 2020, along with Gucci, Stella McCartney, and Patagonia. Reports have found that mass production of low-priced cashmere is particularly bad for the environment.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The sale area was surprisingly small.

The sale area was surprisingly small.
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Though we did find a couple of additional sale areas throughout the store, with super low prices, including these jeans for $8.99.

Though we did find a couple of additional sale areas throughout the store, with super low prices, including these jeans for $8.99.

And these T-shirts for $5.

And these T-shirts for $5.
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The area near the cash wrap was tidy and organized, featuring items that made sense to H&M's core demographic.

The area near the cash wrap was tidy and organized, featuring items that made sense to H&M's core demographic.

You could also find essential items, like tights.

You could also find essential items, like tights.
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Next, we took the escalator down to the lower level to visit Forever 21...

Next, we took the escalator down to the lower level to visit Forever 21...

... where we found ubiquitous sales ...

... where we found ubiquitous sales ...
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... and several empty shelves.

... and several empty shelves.

It was hard not to find a bare wall in the place.

It was hard not to find a bare wall in the place.
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The discount tables were also very disheveled. Next to one, an employee had apparently left out a trash can.

The discount tables were also very disheveled. Next to one, an employee had apparently left out a trash can.

Unlike the bustling H&M men's section, the Forever 21 men's department remained largely untouched.

Unlike the bustling H&M men's section, the Forever 21 men's department remained largely untouched.
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Forever 21 does have some merits, however. It includes a full area devoted to its plus-size collection, which H&M lacked.

Forever 21 does have some merits, however. It includes a full area devoted to its plus-size collection, which H&M lacked.

H&M has a history of pulling its plus-size lines and notoriously nonsensical sizing.

The Forever 21 cash wrap area was particularly bleak.

The Forever 21 cash wrap area was particularly bleak.

Those are some sad looking neck pillows.

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There was also generally just a lot going on near the register.

There was also generally just a lot going on near the register.

Including so much candy.

Including so much candy.
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With sales everywhere in sight and a messy and jumbled store presentation, it's clear why H&M came up on top.

With sales everywhere in sight and a messy and jumbled store presentation, it's clear why H&M came up on top.