Much has been written over recent months about the demise of the UK department store sector, and yet we continue to see significant investment from a number of key players.
Mike Ashley has long pursued Debenhams following his successful acquisition of Frasers (formerly House of Frasers) in 2018, and he continues to add to his stable of retail brands with the recent purchase of Psyche to add to the many others he owns including Game, Evans Cycles, Jack Wills and Sofa.Com, all capable of taking concession space within a department store format.
Next's recent purchase of Victoria Secrets UK business, and its active pursuit of Topshop, as well as its recent move into cosmetics with the opening of 5 stand alone cosmetic stores again point to a more diverse offering both online and in store.
And now M&S seems to be following a similar trend, recently buying Jaeger out of administration, and now signing deals fashion brands Phase Eight, Joules, Hobbs and Seasalt to stock products on line and in store.
Whilst CEO Steve Rowe states he has no intention of transforming M&S into a department store, his actions along with those of Frasers and Next in acquiring, or creating trade links with independent brands points to something different.
It appears the department store model is changing, and not before time. Many traditional names have disappeared due to a lack of investment, and frankly a lack of relevance to todays savvy shopper, but some of the best and most experienced retailers of recent years see there must be some value in having a portfolio of large stores, whilst at the same time acquiring a stable of individual brands to put in them.
Whether Mr Rowe wishes to call it a department store or not is a mute point, however the level of activity and investment at present suggests the sector is not dead, only changing.
At Montagu Evans we are at the forefront of the rapid changing retail and town centre landscape. It appears department stores may still have a part to play, however, there is no one size fits all solution. If you have a specific situation you would like to discuss then please do get in touch.
“There are very successful department stores in the UK, such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, so it’s the way they are run, as always, that determines their survival or not.”