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Can BHS re-claim its rightful place or is it too late?


According to The Independent, BHS boss Darren Topp is planning to return BHS to its ‘rightful place’ on the high street, through a series of tie-ups with other retailers.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of essentially borrowing other brands’ equity to increase relevance and provide a better customer experience. Concessions are a tried and tested tactic for department stores and have proved valuable for an increasingly broad set of retailers; from Topshop to Shell and BP. But, it’s not a substitute for brand strategy.  And it doesn’t address the issues that have led BHS to the situation it now finds itself in.

Like too many of our high street brands they have allowed themselves to become irrelevant,  whilst a stream of brands have moved into their territory and are doing what they should be doing, better.   

As is the case in many sectors, BHS is not simply competing against their traditional foes – House of Fraser, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer. Other retailers, most prominently supermarkets, have capitalised on the rise of internet shopping to move into the realm of the department store. 

But, most threatening to the success of BHS’s plans are the new breed of digital retailers – asos, Very, boohoo - who are designed from the ground up to appeal to the audience that BHS now hope to win round. These businesses have youth culture in their DNA and understand the role and importance of technology, content and social media in creating an experience that their customers value. 

To compete, BHS need a radical rethink. So, where do they start?

Understand what makes their target audience tick

This doesn’t mean doing a few focus groups. Getting to know customers inside out and what they really care about is a significant undertaking and an understanding of behaviour is every bit as important as intent. Knowing how they buy and why they buy, is key to establishing a brand that will mean something.

Establish a clear purpose

Successful brands understand why they exist and deliver an experience to their customers that’s true to this. To remain successful how this is delivered may change, but a clear purpose is key to remaining relevant and valued. BHS needs to pinpoint a purpose and communicate that relevantly to an audience for whom the brand will almost certainly be invisible. 

Build an experience that goes beyond the high street

Any retailer who considers themselves simply in the context of the ‘high street’ is short sighted.  The opportunity for BHS, as part of its repositioning, is to establish itself as a modern retailer; making it easy for its customers to shop how and when they want by delivering a customer experience that uses both the physical retail space and technology for its customers’ benefit.

And keep evolving that experience in the interests of its customers

Better isn’t a destination. Successful brands focus on keeping ahead of customers’ needs and challenge themselves to improve. So, when you find a winning formula for customers, ask yourself; “could it be better?”


Sarah-Jane Stratford, Executive strategy Director of ais London

Published on Friday 29 May by Guest Piece

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