SOMETHING significant happened at Debenhams yesterday. Alongside the run-of-the mill update following last month’s profit warning, chief executive Michael Sharp revealed that internet sales had become more profitable in terms of margin than shop sales for the first time.
Online sales rose by 46 per cent to make up 12.7 per cent of total sales – not only offsetting flailing store sales but massively outgrowing the wider online market. For a 200-year-old retailer known for its large bricks-and-mortar department stores that’s impressive, and shows how being a step ahead in developing multi-channel shopping can keep your head above water when the going gets tough. With online sales already nearing the £200m-mark, Debenhams’ medium-term target of £600m is looking more achievable, and its fast-growing mobile channel looks set to drive the bulk of that growth. Its mobile app recently bumped Argos – another unlikely trailblazer of the online model – off the top spot in a consumer experience survey, and it has been quick to implement click-and-collect and courier return services that reel internet customers in and keep them coming back for more.
Although its high-street stores may be in need of a facelift, this update proves there’s life in the silver surfer yet.