Debenhams opens first Australia standalone with curated fashion and beauty
The Australian market is tough at the moment with retail figures at their worst for some time in the country’s latest official stats report. So it might not seem like the best time for UK department store chain Debenhams to launch there.
But its local partner Pepkor is upbeat and thinks that its smaller-format stores and its focus on a core fashion and beauty offer will help it beat off the might of dominant players David Jones and Myer.
Next week it opens the first of 10 planned standalones with the Melbourne Collins Street debut of a 3,600 sq m location that has a carefully curated offer.
And that curation really is key generally in the Australian market. Just look at Topshop/Topman’s recent failure that was said to have been partly about the product not being suitably tailored to the local market.
Pepkor, which knows the Australian retail market inside out through its ownership of Best & Less, Harris Scarfe, Snooze, Fantastic, Plush and Freedom Group, is upbeat on Debenhams’ prospects.
Southeast Asia department store division MD Graham Dean told The Australian newspaper that the market has been tough for some time but the Debenhams offer will have an advantage in that most of its product will not be available elsewhere in the country.
He also said the maximum 4,500 sq m size of the 10 planned stores (compared to a typical Myer at 10,000 sq m) will not try to compete head-to-head with its rivals’ full department store offer. “We don’t have kidswear; we aren’t trying to sell toys; we won’t sell LED TVs… or iPads or any of those items,” he said. “We are in the beauty business, the fashion business and it is curated to fit the space we occupy.’’
That said, the offer won’t be small. There will be 30,000 SKUs, including Debenhams in-house brands from Jenny Packham, Giles Deacon, Mathew Williamson, Henry Holland and Jasper Conran plus big-name international beauty brands and private label homewares.
Also key will be the overall service offer in-store and the careful deign of the locations. That means changing rooms next to click & collect desks so that e-shoppers can try on goods and return or exchange them fast if necessary. Or it could mean express beauty treatments, or the ability of sales staff to complete sales anywhere in-store using mobile devices.
Dean said that while service will be elevated with other additional features including more staff per square metre, pricing won’t be higher, and value for money is at the forefront of its thinking even though that doesn’t mean entry-level prices throughout.
Entry-level Debenhams branded product is already available in Australia through a deal with nearly half of Pepkor’s Harris Scarfe stores, but with its first standalone store venture there, it is selling a more premium offer.
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