A recent focus by retailers on growing their footprints through e-commerce and new stores has come at the expense of product, J Crew CEO Mickey Drexler and Arcadia Group owner Sir Philip Green said last night (21 September) at the World Retail Congress.

"People talk about online, people talk about retail, it's been redefined, and I don't think you need to talk so much about online versus bricks and mortar," said Drexler.

"But for me, the thing I look at is the lack of discussion every day on product. I don't know if it's less than in 2008, but all I read about is closing stores, opening stores - growth for growth's sake".

Describing the best way of competing in the current landscape, Drexler said: "You have to work harder, be better, create and innovate. Or if you're a really fast, good copier, that's probably okay also."

The current retail environment has led to "a lot more discounting, a lot less creativity and a lot more copying," added Drexler.

Emphasising the heavily promotional environment, Drexler said the number of brands that don't wind up in places like Century 21, TJX or other off-price retailers are "few and far between".

For Green, the strength of Arcadia Group's flagship brands Topshop and Topman have meant it has been "lucky enough to avoid the discount cycle".

"Topshop and Topman are premium businesses. We don't even think about discounting. If you've got great product, people will buy it."

Green emphasised that "there's probably a shortage of product people in the world at the moment".

Describing his experience turning around Gap and J Crew, Drexler said that the change starts not with "great advertising, but with product".

He said: "Product is an art, product is not a science, and creativity needs to be appreciated. You have to take a risk. If you're coming in to develop a new product, or coming in to develop a new business, if you keep on doing the same old stuff then nothing will happen... Being creative involves a lot of risk and a very strong stomach."