Isn't it us that are stuck in the retail past?

Mark_FaithfullMark_Faithfull Member

This week's retail news renewed my sense that we are at a moment of profound retail transformation. But blaming the Online Bogeyman completely misses the point and threatens to keep the retail industry locked in a past of ever decreasing circles.

Far from being e-commerce that has brought a number of UK retailers to their knees, it is over-expansion and poor management. Although we cover international retail real estate at Retail Property Analyst, this week we devoted the whole edition to the UK. That's because Debenhams issued an unscheduled performance warning, Ed's Easy Diner and Giraffe said they would cull restaurants, Paperchase moved towards a CVA and Superdry announced job losses while at the same time wrestling with a very unhappy major shareholder, who also just happens to be the founder.

The one upbeat story was about....Amazon.

You were ahead of me there, weren't you?

But let's take those retailers, all quick to blame external challenges, one by one.

It's been a good while since Debenhams was on top of its game with innovative celebrity tie-ups and interesting and unique product ranges. The department store sector has been badly hit by changing consumer preferences and Debenhams has completely failed to move with the times. It is hard to see anything but a long drawn out death for the chain, a loss which will be keenly felt by older shoppers who continue to have a lot of warm feelings for department stores.

Paperchase is a good, niche stationary retailer but over-expansion by financial backers keen to grow the portfolio has undone it. There is nothing wrong with the Paperchase proposition, so long as it is in the right location. It is not a mass retailer.

Ed's and Giraffe have fallen foul of the same hyper-expansion by VC and PE backers that looks, frankly, like a busted flush in terms of a business model. I am actually very optimistic about the future of bricks and mortar retail but it has to be the right store in the right place. Broad brush expansion is over and those that pursue it will continue to get burned.

Superdry is also lacking direction as it matures as a fashion brand. Dunkerton had a magic touch first time round, I'd be inclined to let him steer the ship again (albeit that it hasn't been a good time for founders and larger than life fashion luminaries recently).

And then there's Amazon...relevant, customer-centric, quick to close down ideas that don't work (Dash), getting all excited about opening physical stores in the UK. And by the sound of it, a lot of them too.

It's time retail stopped living in the familiar comfort zone of the past. There's nothing there for them.

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