New Debenhams? There's nothing new about using a scantily clad model to push a relaunch

It's a tired tactic, and the City wasn't impressed with it - or the lack of detail in CEO Sergio Bucher's shiny new strategy

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So hello there, new Debenhams! And hello there (really) old PR tactic to get favourable coverage for the CEO’s big (and notably target free) announcement! 

Yep, here’s a model in swimwear. And oh look, there she is in some more swimwear. What’s this? You've got it! Still more swimwear! 

I’m assuming that you can buy all said garments from Debenhams, although there won’t likely be as many stores, or warehouses, to stock them as there once were.

That’s the sting in the strategy’s tail. Sending around pics of scantily clad models when you’re announcing plans that will likely see people being relieved of their livelihoods strikes me as ever so slightly crass. 

But let’s have a look at the strategy, shall we?

It was the analyst Nick Bubb who made note of the lack of targets. 

His consistently excellent Daily Retailer blog got straight to the point by noting that “Debenhams have failed to take the opportunity to offer shareholders any sales or profit targets against which the new programme should be judged, which is disappointing”. 

Others similarly criticised the lack of detail even if it does all sound whizzy and wonderful. You can see Sergio Bucher, the CEO, getting every bit as excited as an old school picture editor at the pictures of the model when he delivers presentations about it. 

The new strategy is entitled: “Debenhams Redesigned, to deliver Growth by becoming a Destination, Digital and Different” (sic).

Amid the hyperbole, corporate speak and general rubbish, there is the germ of an idea in there. 

Mr Bucher notes that leisure is increasing its share of consumer spending. He wants the company to lead in what he defines as “social shopping” by “offering exciting new products, services and experiences”. 

I’m not sure anyone’s ever been excited about going to Debenhams anywhere other than in Mr Bucher’s fevered dreams. But sure, try it out. It might even work. If you’re not going to be Primark, which gives customers what they want at knock down prices, and has become hugely successful as a result, you’ve got to try something different. It's tough out there on planet retail.  

Debenhams is managing to make money even though profits were down a bit (which was expected). Sales held up, mind, and mobile devices drove a 64 per cent increase in those made via the online channel, which explains the company’s decision to make mobile aa key part of its new strategy. 

There were also promises to shift 2,000 people into customer facing roles (good), speed up the replacement of stock, reduce the number of lines by 10 per cent, and spruce up the stores.

Things that might work to pep up the numbers, although (again) with no targets it will be hard to judge.

Perhaps that was why the City’s initial verdict was, shall we say, less than favourable. Perhaps investors just didn't believe the hype. Perhaps they were just cross that they didn't get the pictures of the model. Whatever the reasons, they marked the already struggling shares down by more than 5 per cent. 

Which leads me to question how the elephant in the room will respond. Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct became a hugely successful business by following the Primark approach until it was derailed by the ugly scandal of the way it treated its workers. 

He's been buying up Debs shares like they've been going out of fashion (actually they went out of fashion a long time ago, but we'll park that). Perhaps he thinks he can pick up the pieces if it all goes pear shaped?

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