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Research Briefing


By Suzanne Tanner | 19.12.17

Transforming the Department Store

The way we shop and the stores we choose to spend our time in are changing faster than ever. For Department Stores, there’s never been a bigger need to transform.

From exclusive shopper research to insightful opinions from leading industry commentators, Visual Thinking’s latest research briefing, in partnership with Roamler, throws a spotlight on the challenges facing department stores as they embark on transforming the retail experience.

The story of Sears, the Canadian Department Store chain, makes for uncomfortable reading. The company began the liquidation process at the end of 2017, ending a 65-year retail history and leaving 12,000 members of staff out of work.1 The reason for its downfall? According to the retail consultancy drafted in to help a year before Sears led for credit protection, the biggest problem was simply being a Department Store.  “Department Store thinking leads to lethal decisions that have nothing to do with the consumer. We need to forget the term altogether.

It is impossible to ignore the reality: retail is not what it used to be, and progress cannot (indeed should not) be stopped.

It’s no surprise, then, that both Debenhams and House of Fraser are embarking on retail transformation projects. Under the leadership of new Chief Executive Sergio Bucher, Debenhams is focusing on shopper experience, as evidenced by a string of new instore concessions, it has opened a new flagship store, parted ways with one of its longest-serving directors and ended an eight-year partnership with its incumbent ad agency. Bucher clearly means business.
Meanwhile, House of Fraser’s five-year strategy will aim to reposition it as a premium retailer, with plans to overhaul the brand and make stores more experiential.

They’re far from the only retailer taking this approach. Quintessentially English Department Store Fortnum & Mason now has a whole section of its website dedicated to upcoming instore events, while Liberty London played on its cultural roots with an instore art exhibition in summer 2017.

What we know for sure is that, if the likes of House of Fraser and Debenhams are to pull off the desired transformation successfully, they need to be 100% clear about who they are and the shopper they are aiming for…

To read more, download the full report, here

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