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DEBENHAMS.COM: FROM VIRTUAL IDEAL TO PHYSICAL REALITY

December 10, 2021 Kevin Rozario
December 10, 2021
Debenhams

After much talk about making Debenhams.com a go-to online marketplace, owner Boohoo is opening a flagship brick-and-mortar beauty store in Manchester, where the UK online fashion retailer first launched in 2006. The public launch took place on December 9th in the city’s Arndale Centre shopping mall.

The £1.75 billion turnover empire (FY21) bought the brand assets of the struggling Debenhams department store group at the start of this year, promising to “add new beauty brands via a marketplace model.” At the time, Boohoo Executive Chairman Mahmud Kamani described the deal as “a huge step which accelerates our ambition to be a leader, not just in fashion e-commerce, but in new categories including beauty, sport and homeware.”

Now it seems that brick-and-mortar retail will be part of the equation, at least for beauty. The reality is that big, high-end beauty groups have not jumped on board with Debenhams.com so far. Brands from Estée Lauder Companies, for example Tom Ford and Jo Malone are missing, as are prized LVMH houses like Dior and Guerlain, and many others such as Chanel and Elemis. All of these can be found on UK-based rival site Feelunique, the largest online retailer of premium beauty products in Europe and, since September, in the hands of Sephora.

A brand showcase... offline

The Debenhams.com Beauty store Manchester is one way that Boohoo can build trust with the higher-end beauty houses that will be present in the two-level 7,550 square foot space, but which are perhaps more wary of partnering on Debenhams.com. They include Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Arden, Giorgio Armani and Lancôme. The store also shows consumers that the Debenhams brand still has the power to attract some quality beauty names.

Boohoo, which serves over 18 million customers globally, declined to tell BeautyMatter the rationale for its move into physical retail or whether more Debenhams.com brick-and-mortar stores will open elsewhere. In June the company hinted that a “small store” might be on the cards.

In the initial stages of the Debenhams acquisition, Boohoo said it would be able to enter the beauty market “at scale” thanks to Debenhams being one of the UK’s leading prestige beauty retailers across make-up, skincare and fragrance. The retailer had about six million beauty shoppers and 1.4 million members of its Beauty Club.

Can the physical store entice more top brands?

The reality has been a little different. Boohoo will have to do a courtship dance with the major brand owners to first entice them into its new store and then onto Debenhams.com. That work starts on the ground with a modern beauty destination coupled with online elements such as interactive screens and real-time posting via social media platforms to give the store a bit of digital excitement. The store will have to work hard: also part of Manchester Arndale Centre is department store Harvey Nichols, a magnet for luxury brands and shoppers looking for them.

In a statement, Jeanette Whithear, Homeware & Beauty Director at Debenhams.com, said: “Since April we have reintroduced multiple brands to Debenhams.com as well as new ones, that have really grown the offering for our customers. With the next step of the Debenhams.com Beauty journey, I’m excited to see the cross over from digital and physical come to life within the space.”

The fanfare surrounding the new store opening has made little difference to Boohoo’s share price. It was down 3% in the five days to Wednesday 8 December and is 52% down year-to-date. On 8 December the stock closed at 164.20p, below the low seen at the peak of Covid-19 pandemic at the end of March 2020.

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