As the BHS sale process draws to an end, the hope is that perhaps the famous retailer can re-establish its consumer appeal under new ownership.
News of its demise sent sales upwards as shoppers, most of whom presumably had not set foot in a BHS store for years, flocked in.
The rush is reminiscent of C&A’s sudden popularity when it decided to close its doors in the UK back in 2000, and not necessarily a sign of enduring appeal.
It would be foolish to think a few weeks of consumer interest, prompted by the hope of bargains and perhaps a sense of nostalgia, is proof that BHS therefore retains relevance.
It prompts the question: what makes a retail brand loved by shoppers?
And the demise of BHS, once a business at which today’s retail leaders might have happily taken a job, will no doubt have prompted those very same leaders to ask themselves that question.
In the beginning, retail appeal, as in other relationships, may be to basic instinct – price, for instance. That was what caused shoppers to leap into bed with discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.
But, as time goes on, other factors come into play. Dependability may become important.
Amazon, for instance, originally made an impression with its revolutionary model, but as the years have passed it has won custom through near-infallible reliability. When was the last time it let you down as a customer by failing to deliver on its promises?
Similarly, the longer a relationship lasts the greater the need for retailers to show customers they still care and to inject some spice into the relationship, rather than become boring and stale.
John Lewis is a good example. Many will remember its once eccentric opening hours and Grace Bros attitudes, characteristics that would no doubt surprise younger consumers who identify the retailer with high standards of service, a convenient multichannel proposition and an ethical business model that has never seemed more contemporary.
It’s survival of the fittest in retail’s sometimes brutal evolutionary system and established names need to adapt in many ways, large and small, to survive from one generation to the next.
They need to evolve their businesses so that, while they may appeal to a particular generation – perhaps a more mature shopper – they still connect with the children and grandchildren so that successive generations continue to become customers when they are at a particular stage of life. John Lewis has done this.
BHS appealed to more mature, family shoppers. But not enough. Its genes were not planted among the younger generation.
As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said: “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworths.”