Scrapping of the resurrected BHS website shows UK department stores can only survive with a multichannel sales approach
BHS, formerly the much-loved British Home Stores, collapsed in 2016 in a wave of recriminations around pension problems and lack of investment. Just months afterwards a new UK website, BHS.com, rose from the ashes to focus on the former department store’s key strengths of lighting, bedding etc. Now BHS.com’s parent company, Al Manna, has decided to pull the plug on the BHS.com site, which will close by June 27.
The e-commerce delivery specialists ParcelHero says the decision comes as no surprise, despite the fact BHS.com reported a 43% rise in sales earlier this year.
Says ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT: ‘Our new study, Departing Department Stores, launched just last week, 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.’
Adds David: ‘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 brand’s move to online only sales don’t seem to have a great success rate.’
Concludes David: ‘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 will concentrate on the BHS international franchise business, which it also bought when the original store collapsed. Overseas the BHS name remains untarnished and stores are operating profitably in Europe and the Middle East.