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BHS.com’s fate shows retailers need physical stores and website to survive

Published: 1 June 2018 - Fiona Garcia
UK department stores need to take a multi-channel sales approach, with high street stores and a website, says Parcel Hero
UK department stores need to take a multi-channel sales approach, with high street stores and a website, says Parcel Hero

Yesterday’s announcement that Al Manna Group would be scrapping the resurrected BHS website demonstrates that UK department stores, can only survive by employing a multi-channel sales approach that incorporates both high street shops and a website, says online delivery firm, Parcel Hero.

British Home Stores collapsed into administration in 2016 under a cloud of recriminations around pension problems and lack of investment. Whilst the last of the high street stores closed their doors over the August Bank holiday weekend that year, a new UK website, BHS.com, was launched in September 2016 to focus on the former department store’s most popular lines, playing to its key strengths of lighting, bedding and bathroom. The online offer continued to expand to incorporate kitchen, dining ware as well as clothing. Now BHS.com’s parent company, Al Manna, has decided to pull the plug on the BHS.com site, which will cease trading by June 27.

E-commerce delivery specialist Parcel Hero says the decision comes as no surprise, despite the fact BHS.com reported a 43% rise in sales earlier this year.

Parcel Hero head of consumer research, David Jinks MILT said: “Our new study, Departing Department Stores, highlighted the fact that department stores need a balance of attractive ‘event shopping’ high street stores, and a great online presence that mirrors the experience. We have been very critical of stores like Fenwick’s/Bentalls that don’t even let you purchase from their site yet! Department stores can only survive with a multi-channel approach.”

He added: “BHS.com never really grabbed consumer’s awareness – and perhaps the BHS name is just too tarnished in the UK. Just the same happened to Woolworths here. After its collapse in 2009, a new website site promised to restore the wonder of Woolies online, but that too couldn’t stand alone, and its owners eventually merged it with Very. Former high street brands’ moves to online-only sales don’t seem to have a great success rate.”

“The old BHS stores’ site, bhs.co.uk, was very clunky – and even took you to a separate white label site that didn’t integrate at all well, for large items. The new BHS.com site was a big improvement - but not good enough to stand alone. Worryingly for Debenhams and House of Fraser, they still use other retailers’ white label sites for some larger items – and the join is still pretty poor. Debenham’s large electrical products actually link to a Buy it Direct white label site – the company that used to run the old BHS large items’ site. In 2018, no matter how sales and logistics are structured behind the scenes, online shoppers should never notice the join.’

Al Manna has said that it plans to concentrate on the BHS international franchise business, which it also acquired when it bought the BHS brand in 2016. Overseas the BHS name does not carry the same reputation and stores are operating profitably in Europe and the Middle East.

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