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BHS the architect of its own downfall

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 26/04/2016

BHS is going into administration
BHS is going into administration

The collapse of retail chain BHS had been signposted for some time. It was a retailer that seemed unsure of who its customers were and what they wanted. It had little definable style in its clothing ranges, and while its lighting and homeware departments were of better quality, the overall impression was of a company frozen in aspic while the rest of the High Street was rapidly changing.

While what appears to be the inevitable demise of the BHS brand - the chances of finding a buyer for a retailer deep in debt and with a huge black hole in its pension provision are remote - will cause only momentary regret among the public, there will be considerable sympathy for the 11,000 staff who may soon lose their jobs.

That includes 300 workers in Northern Ireland and signals yet another blow to the local economy as the job losses continue to pile up. Hopefully, they will get as much of their promised pensions as possible. Losing their jobs is bad enough without losing money to which they are entitled.

In acknowledging its passing we should remember that BHS - along with other High Street casualties such as C&A and Littlewoods, as well as Marks & Spencer - kept their doors open in Belfast during the worst days of the Troubles and even when attacked by terrorists. Many of those retailers who now occupy the prime shopping areas were much later in arriving, hoping to reap some peace dividend.

But there is little loyalty in the competitive retail marketplace. Customers want distinctive, fashionable clothes - even supermarkets seem to do this better than BHS - and they want value for money. Other department stores as well as clothes-only retailers proved themselves more nimble in keeping in tune with customers' needs, but also in providing a more uplifting experience for those who ventured through their doors.

Nothing stands still on the High Street. The most obvious example has been the rise of the so-called poundshops. A large percentage of their customers are in the AB socio-economic group, showing that everyone loves a bargain. But they also sell goods that people want.

That was a lesson that BHS never learned, and its most loyal customers just kept fading away. The lesson for other retailers is that even long-established High Street names will only survive if they keep up with changing customer demands and keep re-inventing their retail offering.

Belfast Telegraph

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