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Robert Bensoussan warns of discounting damage

LK Bennett chairman, luxury expert and serial fashion investor Robert Bensoussan has warned that the high street has come close to being irreparably damaged by high levels of discounting and constant promotions.

Bensoussan, who opened a newlook flagship LK Bennett store on London’s King’s Road this week, said that it would be at least 18 months before the UK retail sector started to see any signs of recovery and that the high street was now into very “bad habits” to tempt shoppers to spend.

He likened the recent rash of Sale activity to that in the US, where he said that mid-level and mass market retail was now all driven by promotions. Bensoussan blamed the over-distribution
of brands in the market for the increasing levels of discounting. He said: “Brands have so much distribution now and there is always going to be one retailer to crackbefore the others.

“The question is whether this [discounting] is a trend or is it already so embedded in the consumer mind.”

Bensoussan pointed to selected European markets such as France,which have strict laws governing Sale periods. “You can’t do promotions all the time. I really believe these markets treat brands diff erently,” he said.

However, Bensoussan added that shoppers could still be tempted into buying full-price items. “The future lies in creating special editions of things. If the product is hot people will still pay,” he said.
Bensoussan bought LK Bennett with Phoenix Equity Partners for about £80m last year.

He is repositioning the footwear and womenswear retailer to attract shoppers trading down from the luxury sector, but who still want to buy into well-designed pieces, which are better quality than the high street. He said he had identifi ed this as an opportunity in the market before the economic collapse.

“The level of prices in the luxury sector are reaching levels which are out of reach for most people. It has become more than just aspirational,” he said.

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