There is more to boosting department store sales than offering a better version of the tried, tested and tired.
News that Debenhams is to be “redesigned” ought to put a spring in the step of middle-England.
This, after all, is a retail stalwart that is frequently the only remaining department store option in some towns and will therefore occupy something of a soft spot for shoppers.
Well, that’s the theory, but think of what a department store means.
Walk through the main door and it’s beauty and accessories. Head up the escalator and you’ll encounter one and sometimes two floor of womenwear, while at the top of the shop it’s a café and probably homewares.
Men, being lowly creatures, tend to find their stuff in the basement (aka ‘lower ground’) and that’s about it.
Not a little dull
As a template for department store retailing this is pretty familiar and not a little dull and it tends to be what many UK operations are about, with Debenhams being no exception.
Encouragingly, Debenhams has said that it will reduce the number of SKUs it stocks. This means that it should become possible to separate the wood from the trees, but surely a ‘redesign’ has to mean more than this.
“Less really can mean more and a concentrated focus on womenswear should mean that there is more than 10% to be cut from the styles on offer”
It might be time to consider, and the management at Debenhams must be mulling this over, whether a department store offer has to mean an army of red and white uniformed Clarins and Clinique staff, or indeed whether beauty needs to mean every brand under the sun.
Equally, less really can mean more and a concentrated focus on womenswear should mean that there is more than 10% to be cut from the styles on offer.
It’s a lesson that more upscale designer outfits learned an age ago and accounts for the very sparing approach to merchandising that characterises that end of the market. It also makes creating ‘experiences’ rather more straightforward.
“If you want to be a market leader in ‘social shopping’… then do not put loads of screen-based hardware into stores”
Finally, if you want to be a market leader in ‘social shopping’, Debenhams’ avowed intent, then do not put loads of screen-based hardware into stores, shoppers head into shops to look at items, not screens.
Instead, just ensure that your online presence is as winning as your flagship – it is easier because you have only one (online) store to merchandise.
There’s a sense in some quarters that the redesign at Debenhams may not actually amount to much, unless you happen to work in a warehouse.
But with some common sense and a determination not to doggedly improve the old-school department store template, there seems no reason to suppose that this is a lost cause. That said, ‘House of Debenhams’ does continue to be a siren call.