Second chance for BHS? An open letter to David Anderson, managing director of the newly online-only retailer

Tom McQueen
BHS Flagship Store Closes On Oxford Street
BHS has announced that it will relaunch as an online-only retailer (Source: Getty)

Dear David Anderson,

Whether it’s BHS or Woolworths, we all love a good phoenix from the ashes story, especially when it involves a great British brand.

News that BHS is to be reincarnated online has been met with a cautious welcome. Cautious because the challenges ahead are considerable: in addition to the reputational damage the brand has sustained, BHS online launches at an uneasy time for British retail with British Retail Consortium sales figures for August the weakest since September 2014.

To keep pace with your intended target of mid-market consumers aged 35+, needs to anticipate key consumer trends shaping online retail. Here are four we’ve identified to get you started:

1. The immediacy of now

Time is the new luxury value and taking your cue from on-demand services such as Amazon Dash – which allows customers to reorder items at the touch of a button – must cater for customers who want their lighting and home furnishings yesterday. Abandoning the BHS IT legacy systems and rebuilding the online platform from scratch is a smart move as it means shoppers will be able to buy across devices. Going forward, will need to offer a compelling customer journey that meets consumers’ demands for immediacy including smart delivery solutions that fit in with their schedules, rather than yours.

2. Making luxury accessible to the masses

To appeal to a better-off demographic, should consider offering personalised services with a touch of luxury, particularly when you start to sell clothing later this year. This could range from personalised shopping suggestions, to the sort of personal stylist service offered by Trunk Club which chooses clothes to fit a customer’s budget, size and existing wardrobe. Could you offer a personalised service in home furnishings or lighting?

3. Innovative payment methods

Thanks to the rise in biometric and facial recognition technologies, customers increasingly no longer need a PIN to pay; they can authenticate payments by just being themselves. To appeal to younger consumers, needs to adopt innovative payment methods to allow customers to pay via Facebook, or – as Mastercard is exploring - by taking a selfie. With frictionless payment processes becoming front-and-centre in retailers’ strategies, the pressure is on to make payments as convenient as possible.

4. Crowdsourcing and community involvement

What better way to distinguish the old BHS from the new, than by engaging consumers with what should look, feel like, offer and crucially what its values and culture should be? The early days following launch are ideal for creating a dialogue with customers via social media and make them feel part of BHS’s renaissance. This could be extended to ask which community/charity projects should support and how can it use its retailing and tech expertise to make a difference to the wider community.

Despite a terrible time for BHS recently, you have a strong heritage from which to build a dynamic online brand which has innovative customer experience at its core. I wish you every success with the new venture.

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