Debenhams is on the hunt for a new chief executive and whoever is appointed has a lot of work to do to revitalise the retailer.

Embattled department store retailer Debenhams is looking for a replacement for departing chief executive Michael Sharp – if one has not already been found, which reports indicate may be the case – and whoever steps into the breach has work to do.

Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp

Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp

Outgoing Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp

It’s a little over two years since Debenhams unveiled the revamp of its flagship on London’s Oxford Street which was replete with internet ordering stations, a capacious central atrium and floors that actually gave the shopper room to breathe.

This was a refurbishment that was long overdue. That said, it was a good job and as one of its senior management team remarked at the time, it put the retailer back in the Oxford Street department store game.

Now the remodel honeymoon is over. There have been adjustments to the flagship – inevitable given the scale of the undertaking – but it still looks the part and its windows manage to do battle with rivals on the UK’s leading shopping street.

But what about the rest of the chain?

Beyond the flagship

Riding along the Central Line from Oxford Circus to Shepherd’s Bush, the shopper leaves the West End and alights at one of the Westfield malls. Here there is also a branch of Debenhams. It is a big one and it has come through a far more recent upgrade than the Oxford Street behemoth – and it does not look bad, but that’s about it.

In truth, Debenhams’ problems lie well beyond Oxford Street and probably outside London for the most part.

“The interiors of many branches are lacklustre and feel, most of the time, like some unglamourous mid-market German department store”

John Ryan

The interiors of many branches are lacklustre and feel, most of the time, like some unglamourous mid-market German department store – there are many examples, although Karstadt and Kaufhof spring to mind.

Everything on offer in these sorts of enterprises is available elsewhere and frequently in better surroundings, so why would consumers shop there?

The sheer enormity of what needs to be done in order to make this chain shine beyond a few of its largest stores must be daunting for any incoming retail honcho.

There is also the question of investment – money is needed if Debenhams is to see its way into the next decade in its current form.

BHS has been sliced and diced in 2015. Will Debenhams be next?