You know it’s Christmas when Debenhams goes on Sale – the department store group’s seasonal spectaculars have become as traditional as mince pies.
You know it’s Christmas when Debenhams goes on Sale – the department store group’s seasonal spectaculars have become as traditional as mince pies. Debs launched its latest extravaganza in-store on Wednesday, offering discounts of up to 40% and signalling the start of the serious showdown on the high street.
The retailer is of course a past master of such campaigns and has become in the process a barometer of the promotional environment. So it’s interesting that, despite consumer penny-pinching and hunger for bargains, Debenhams did not feel the need to stage its spectacular earlier. It took place at about the same time last year.
One implication must be that, torrid as high street conditions are, it is not quite panic stations – for the best retailers at least. This may not be the best Christmas ever, but the consumer will come out and play.
But while the timing of Debenhams’ Sale may not have changed, there can be no doubt it takes place against a more intensely promotional backdrop in general.
Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland flagged that last week. He reckoned that across the industry about 35% of goods were on promotion and he didn’t see any likelihood of things changing soon. So while there could eventually be a sigh of relief that Christmas was disappointing rather than utterly dire, respite looks likely to be short-lived. Deals, discounts and sharp entry pricing will continue to characterise the mass market.
In those punishing conditions, retailers will need to be on the front foot to manage margin. The winners will be those that do it themselves, rather than have it done to them – whether by rivals or customers.
Time to deliver
Some of retail’s big guns unveiled their flagship Christmas ads over the last week.
The seasonal offering from retailers such as Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and M&S have become part of the calendar but what is also noticeable this year is those retailers advertising on TV for the first time or after an extended absence.
Among the debutants is Majestic Wine, which wants to get across to more people what makes it different or, in the words of boss Steve Lewis, “what we’re famous for”.
It’s an astute point raising a wider question every retailer might benefit from asking: what are you famous for? And are you delivering on that promise?