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Editor's Comment: Product makes or breaks a retail offer

Keely Stocker

The retail industry continues to be a game of many halves.

In the last week alone, financials have been posted by Bonmarché, Footasylum, Debenhams, Missy Empire, H&M, Mulberry and Inditex, among others, and results have been decidedly mixed.

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Highlighting the continuing struggles of the department store sector, Debenhams has issued a profit warning for 2018.

CEO Sergio Bucher blamed an “exceptionally difficult” UK market and, while there is no doubt that is true, we are seeing other retailers overcome these conditions.

Bucher has made numerous changes since he joined in October 2016 and unveiled his “Debenhams Redesigned” strategy in April 2017. At the time he said the focus would be on experiential shopping, digital growth and driving efficiency.

Although these are all things that must be included in any retailer’s strategy, he must surely place product at the forefront alongside store and brand reinvention.

Debenhams’ fashion offer lost its way quite a long time ago, and the retailer no longer resonates with shoppers. Most of its stores look outdated, and it has lost its credibility in the market. Bucher’s to-do list is a long one and many are sceptical that he can turn it around.

One business that appears to be back on track is Bonmarché, which announced a 38.1% jump in profit before tax, to £8m, for the full year to 31 March.

CEO Helen Connolly has been praised for her clear strategy to drive the business forward. Again, digital is a key factor, but alongside this the focus has been on product and building a more agile supply base.

Agility is essential for any business building a “fit for the future” strategy as the pace of change continues to increase, but product remains a vital component.

Attending menswear trade show Pitti Uomo last week, it was fantastic to not just see great product on the stands but also observe how labels are continuing to evolve and offer something new to the market.

Sustainability continues to be a key theme from brands as it becomes increasingly important to consumers. Although exhibitors and buyers in attendance were realistic about the challenges faced in the UK market, the overall mood was positive as newness and creativity shone through. Many retailers could learn from what was on offer at Pitti.


Readers' comments (1)

  • Interestingly but not surprisingly, Bon Marche is run by experienced product B&M people at the top. There has recently been a huge new trend of putting non-fashion (and I include Amazon & commodity in that) execs at the top of retailers assuming that their ‘business acumen and strategic or digital skills’ will save the day. The result so far is Debenhams, HoF and M&S.....
    Fashion retailing is one of those tricky beasts that needs creative ability, years of product experience, supplier chain relationships & customer understanding as well as the numeric skill side. Granted, many of our high street retailers have had complacent product execs sitting on their laurels for years, become stagnant and wedded to the past glory days. A huge wake up call needed....but replacing them with swathes of non-fashion leaders, so far, looks disasterous.

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