With global economic turmoil back on the agenda, retailers are going to be taking a closer look at their store bases
If a group of people in retail were asked to name a non-food retailer which has outperformed the market over the past six months, chances are John Lewis would figure pretty high on the list.
Yet look at its trading report this morning, which marked the end of the first half of its financial year. John Lewis has 29 stores which have been open more than a year. Of those, 26 took less money in the first half than in the same period last year, even with the benefit of higher VAT. If you strip out VAT, there’s only one store probably just about making it into positive territory.
That’s not to knock John Lewis - it is almost certainly still outperforming the market. But what it says to me is that if the best in class retailers are seeing sales in their stores fall, the situation will be apocalyptic for others.
This week we’ve seen Lombok close half its stores, Dreams have its credit insurance reduced and even Sir Philip Green warn that Arcadia’s profits will be lower. I spoke to a contact in the retail property world last night and I’d never heard him so downbeat about the outlook for so many of his tenants, who are coming to him looking to come out of stores or reduce the rents.
Make no mistake about it, stores are at the heart of this. The money they cost to operate is going up, the money they take is going down. And with costs like energy and rates only rising, and consumer confidence likely to fall further owing to the turmoil in the markets, more stores are going to become unprofitable. If you look at Philip’s portfolio, I’m sure there are a lot of small Burton, Wallis and Evans stores he’d love to get out of, and put the brands into his big BHS units.
In my magazine column today I’ve talked about the future of the store, and exciting ventures like House of Fraser’s collection-only store for web orders do point the way forward. But these won’t be enough to prevent what I suspect is going to have to be a significant contraction in store numbers in secondary locations while retailers focus on their winners.
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