Debenhams' flat results are a reflection of the times

Debenhams posts total sales increase of 1 per cent with flat LFL sales.

If anything, the flat results from Debenhams underline the choppy nature of the current trading environment which continues to be buffeted around by the vagaries of the British weather. Against this backdrop it has been challenging for many retailers, and especially those exposed to fashion, to generate consistent uplifts in trade.

There is an argument, however, that the traditional tactic of discounting to sell through "unseasonal" stock is a less potent weapon for Debenhams during this time than it is for other players, if only because Debenhams’ promotional activity is so ubiquitous throughout the year.

That noted, Debenhams overall sales were nudged into positive territory largely thanks to the strength of its spring and summer collections. These were allied with a strong marketing campaign showcasing its various designers and  a variety of ‘hero’ products, such as an ombre snake print maxi dress from Butterfly by Matthew Williamson.

Product innovation across its range of exclusive brands is one of Debenhams’ key strengths and has undoubtedly helped it to grab market share across a number of categories. Looking ahead, we are encouraged by the pipeline for new range development which includes the signing of tailor Patrick Grant who will launch a new menswear range, Hammond & Co, in AW13.

Another area of strength for Debenhams is its multichannel proposition. Across the period online sales grew by 40 per cent with mobile visits growing exponentially. Investment in the service, which will enable premium next day delivery by September, will enable further growth and comes just in time for the crucial Christmas trading period.

We remain positive about international expansion, especially on the franchise front where store opening remains strong into 2014. This, allied with Debenhams’ multichannel proposition, provides a very opportunity for future growth.

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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