Retail has always been a highly dynamic industry, intensely competitive and fighting for a share of the wider consumer spending pot. This is an industry used to dealing with a constant diet of change. However, the change we are seeing today is far more profound than anything the past has thrown up. We are now seeing by far the most challenging period in retail history. A reshaping of the industry’s structure and economics is unfolding, and most of the real change is yet to happen.

Richardtalksretail is focused on analysing this change, anticipating the implications, and mapping how the key players across the various sectors are dealing with it. The regular Blogs in this public section of the site are a taster of the much more detailed analysis and forecasts in the premium section, reserved for subscribers.

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Monthly Archives: September 2016

BHS rises again

After attracting massive media coverage for all the wrong reasons BHS is about to reappear as a  trading entity. The Al Mana Group is a Qatari holding company with diverse interests that include retailing and consumer brands. It has operated the BHS franchise in Qatar since 2000 and bought the international business, the website and customer database from the administrators. It also took on the bulk of the BHS management teams from the two divisions. The new BHS International is led by MD David Anderson, a veteran of the business and former M&S exec.

The online offer will kick off with an edited home range and will add clothing soon after. The offering will be an edited version of old BHS built around best sellers. Most of the key suppliers in both home and clothing have been retained, which is a significant vote of confidence in the new business. Management plan a subtle repositioning – targeting a slightly younger customer with better product, improved styling, better fabrics and lower or the same price points.

After the generally very bad treatment of staff from old BHS, it’s great to see new owners backing their belief in the brand by investing in a new incarnation of the business. But will it work? With knowledge from the inside track since 2000, Al Mana must know the brand inside out. The plan to focus solely on online for the UK is sensible and allows them to manage costs more tightly. My understanding is that the international business already performed reasonably well so there is a solid base to work from.

The UK market is entering the most turbulent, challenging moment in its history. A major determinant of success in this market will be how retailers deal with change – simply doing things in the old way wont work any more. Many are in denial and are already struggling. BHS International knows it has to focus only on those parts of old BHS that worked, and to edit and reposition the product offering. The market emerging will be tough but BHS has been able to choose the cards it holds going forward, and that will be a key advantage it can leverage.

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Retail will take sterling hit

Primark’s trading update yesterday made it clear that when currency hedging expires it will absorb the higher sourcing costs from the devalued pound. This is a welcome, realistic and clear message to the market. It made some headlines and attracted attention because it appears to be out of step with the concensus. However, in this post-referendum twilight zone where nothing is really what it appears to be, there is some delusional rhetoric flying around. I predict that very few retailers will be passing on their increased sourcing costs – they wont be able to.

This is the most price-promotional retail market I have seen in over 30 years. And it is not being driven by customers, but by retailers. Chronic oversupply is forcing most retailers to discount, whether they like it or not. We have now seen 24 months of price deflation in every sector of retail. Over the 37 weeks of 2016 to date, our Tracker shows an average 66% of UK retailers across every sector have been on sale. Those forecasting a Brexit inflation spike in our economy do not visit high streets – prices may indeed rise but not in the retail industry. At least not until there are enough casualties to rebalance supply and demand.

Primark has been canny getting its retaliation in first but in reality, the vast majority of players will follow them. Only those with the strongest brands and genuine price integrity will have the luxury of customers who readily accept paying more. The majority have educated their customers not to.

** We advise retailers on strategy and analytics. We also track promotional activity across the UK’s key retailers. Get in touch for details


Retail reality from the BRC

After the euphoria of last month’s BRC and ONS figures, the feel good Britain is booming post Brexit bandwagon will have lost some momentum, or at least it should have. Today’s BRC numbers for August are weak. The key point here though is that August 2015 was the second weakest month in a seriously underperforming year, making for a very undemanding comparative.

The fact that so far there has been very little direct post-referendum impact on the consumer economy makes the numbers much more difficult to read, which is why the underlying trends matter so much. And they are worryingly poor. Demand was already weakening before we voted. Apart from the odd blip (i.e. July), this softening is bound to continue even before any Brexit hit kicks in.

Figures for this current month will be particularly telling. First, because September is one of retail’s biggest sales months and second, because last year’s growth was strong – it delivered by far the best growth in H2 last year and represents a tough comparative. Thirdly, many Summer holidaymakers will be back and counting the cost of a weaker pound (and higher than budgeted spend). There will be some belt-tightening on the way and some may well begin this month.

I continue to believe that the key driver of demand and retailer performance is around the structure of the industry. These huge shifts are deep and mean permanent change. Understanding them is critical for leadership teams that hope to exercise some control over their destinies.

** We advise retailers on strategy and analytics. We also track promotional activity across the UK’s key retailers. Get in touch for details


Discounting down

Is life on the high street getting easier? Better sales figures seem to suggest so, as do better confidence data. One of the key features of this retail market is the amount of margin retailers must give away to persuade customers to part with their cash. However, our Promotional Tracker shows discounting trending down as August has unfolded – a welcome positive after a long and more widespread than usual Summer sale period. Our Tracker found that 56% of UK retailers are on sale this week. This is still a very high figure but continues the gradual falls we have identified since the 81% peak at the end of June.

A key area of falling discounts is fashion where 51% of retailers are currently on sale – the lowest since mid-April. Footwear has generally managed to maintain price integrity far better than apparel and this week we have found just 19% of shoe shops with price promotions. This is the strongest full price showing of all the retail sectors we track. Department stores are at 40% while home furnishings are down at 67% having hit almost 90% in recent weeks.

These are better figures without question but no one should get carried away. Cost growth is still running way ahead of sales and many retailers have educated their customers to expect discounts. After several years of wall to wall price promotions these expectations run deep. Margins will continue to be under severe pressure and the discount market we have become used to is very far from being over.

** We advise retailers on strategy and analytics. We also track promotional activity across the UK’s key retailers. Get in touch for details

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