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

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.