M&S, Debenhams stand most to gain from BHS breakup

Only the very bravest of investor should consider retaining BHS in its current dilapidated state. But if such a buyer cannot be found, and a BHS breakup ensues, with the store estate sold to other retailers, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams would be the main beneficiaries.

As the deadline for bids for BHS looms, hopes are rising that a buyer can be found for the entire store estate and that its 11,000 employees can be protected. Even if such a buyer is found, it is likely to have to conduct major surgery to revive the moribund brand. Verdict data shows that it has consistently lost market share to its competitors in all its key sectors, and its weak multichannel offer, dated brand and underinvested store environment mean any buyer would have to think seriously about retaining the BHS name.

BHS’ clothing proposition has become ever more irrelevant over the years, and many of its clothing shoppers have already defected to more agile competitors, leading to its market share more than halving in the 10 years to 2015.

BHS clothing market share 2010-15

BHS’ predominantly 45+ shopper base enjoy the convenience of shopping for a disparate variety of products under one roof, which means that department store rivals such as Debenhams and M&S would be first in line to benefit from its fallout. The grocers should also receive a much-needed boost given the similarity of their clothing proposition to BHS in terms of design and affordability.

This is backed up by looking at where BHS clothing shoppers also tend to shop (from Verdict’s March 2016 How Britain Shops survey of 10,000 consumers) – M&S is the clear leader, and should be able to translate this into an increase in market share.

Where BHS clothing shoppers also shop for clothing

Clothing specialists at the value end of the market, such as Matalan, Primark and New Look are also likely to benefit; as are online pureplays such as Amazon – albeit to a lesser extent.  It is, however, those retailers that make a concerted effort to draw in BHS shoppers, through customer acquisition initiatives such as targeted promotions or local marketing campaigns that will see the maximum gains.

BHS homewares market share 2010-15

BHS’ unopposed trudge toward mediocrity has had a significant impact on where its remaining shoppers are likely to now go for homewares purchases. The retailer’s brand positioning means its shoppers will have also shopped at the ever growing homewares discounter set, like B&M and Home Bargains. However, it is Amazon and Argos, both value focused retailers with modern and extensive delivery/channel offers that have been the main beneficiaries of disaffected BHS shoppers in the past and will undoubtedly be so in the future.

High street retailers M&S and Debenhams are also in line to see a marginal upswing as high street focused customers seek out alternatives. The former has the most similar customer profile to BHS and hence is more likely to be a first choice. However, M&S has made some strategic moves to appeal to younger, more fashion-conscious homewares shoppers in recent years, therefore BHS’ customers may be a little surprised about what is on offer when they visit, aside from its core bedding and bathroom offer.

Living room textiles: Home Retail Series market share 2015

BHS is currently strongest in softer, more aesthetic categories, such as living room textiles and lighting, as opposed to functional products such as cookware. Therefore its demise would be unlikely to have a significant impact on the grocers. Conversely, Dunelm and Next share a similar emphasis on textiles and design-led categories, and as such, their already strong performance in the homewares category is likely to be bolstered further should BHS disappear altogether.

* Patrick O’Brien is content director at Verdict Retail


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