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Comment: Will EWM’s department store risk pay off?

Pui-Guan Man

In an environment where department store stalwarts John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser have been forced to scale back and cull brands, Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group’s (EWM) move to launch its Days department store chain – in South Wales, no less – naturally raised eyebrows.

The fundamental problem shared among existing chains is that customers can easily access individual brand products themselves nowadays. However, by setting up in comparatively remote, quiet towns such as Carmarthen, EWM could be on to something.

It is a well-known fact that the traditional bricks-and-mortar customer frequents department stores the most and EWM, which barely logs a presence on social media, seems mostly unconcerned with engaging the younger or cosmopolitan shopper, for now.

By opting for a former BHS site in a small town square, EWM has smartly avoided the pitfalls of high rents, business rates and overheads faced by its department store rivals.

In setting up in a town where in-house brands Peacocks and Edinburgh Woollen Mill had already taken up individual retail units along the high street, it makes financial sense to bring them together to share space in one larger unit.

However, as EWM continues to sweep up more struggling brands, it now faces the challenge of turning around the ones that the nation has fallen out of love with. The group will need to focus on the product range of each individual label and build brand awareness to win back the public and gain momentum.

As the department stores are rolled out, it will either be heralded as a genius move in a squeezed sector, or written off as foolish for ignoring a trend of closures and cutbacks – it could go either way.

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