BHS’s 164 stores will close shutters for the last time in the coming weeks, bringing an end to its 88-year history. But will anyone miss it?
In the world of retail there are few things more exhilarating than watching new leadership forge ahead boldly with renewed vigour.
Equally there are few things more depressing than watching a once proud retail name slip through the stages of decline we have witnessed with BHS, to end up on the high street scrapheap with the sad loss of 11,000 staff.
There will be much commentary on the deal struck by Retail Acquisitions from Sir Philip Green and much pointing of fingers no doubt.
While much of this might be justified, the truth of the matter is that BHS was doomed years ago, when it stopped listening to customers and started to be treated as a cash cow.
Breaking the principles of success
All retail is a rather simple game and while the field of play might ebb and sway (shops, catalogues, pure internet, click-and-collect) the principles of success remain fixed, and the penalties for ignoring them usually fatal.
BHS has been long guilty of designing its range, store merchandising and pricing without reflection on their current customer base. There is also little evidence it was accurately chasing a different type of customer base. It struck out on rule number one: “Listen to your customers, or lose your customers”.
Maybe the retailer kidded itself that it was listening to its customers and that changes were being made? If so, why did this not come through in its sales line?
“Going into a BHS store was like a walk back in time, where the format looked tired, the offer outdated and the service, frankly, mediocre”
Sit 100 customers down and get them to tell you what they want and then do it ends in a disastrous mishmash of a store too; so it is not blindly following customer opinion that works, but gaining insight from the various customer segments that you have.
Stores need to offer customers something they will keep coming back for; be it quality, price, ethics, fashion, trend, service, or any and all of them. Going into a BHS store was like a walk back in time, where the format looked tired, the offer outdated and the service, frankly, mediocre. It might have all been forgiven if the price was exceptional, but it wasn’t and that’s not what the BHS customer was all about.
It does leave a hole, however and, if you are serving the British public for 88 years, that hole is going to be missed.
A lost proposition
The ranges BHS had were at one time good enough to make it the go to place for some families. Schoolwear and lighting were two areas it excelled in. The erosion of its trade in these areas was largely down to a combination of the cheap offer from the supermarkets and the lack of care it had in preserving its authority.
It falls into the category of being missed because BHS was part of our retail history, rather than because its offer cannot be equalled or found elsewhere. It will be missed in the sense that Woolworths was missed, as most of its customers discovered a long time ago they can get the offer elsewhere, usually at better prices and with an easier shopping experience.
I am sorry to see BHS go, and the loss of so many jobs is mournful. But while the nostalgic will miss it on the high street, the British retail customer unfortunately won’t notice.
- Phil Dorrell is a partner at Retail Remedy