When Debenhams collapsed and was bought in January by Boohoo, all the high street stores were boarded up and closed for good. As expected, Debenhams reopened as an online only store in April – it’s a tried-and-tested business model that has worked for Boohoo.
But of course, Boohoo never sold beauty products, and that has been something of a stumbling block for the retailer. It was revealed this week that John Lyttle, chief executive of Boohoo, is in talks to open a small Debenhams store outside of London, focusing solely on beauty.
This is likely to have been prompted by beauty brands, who often will want a high street presence for their products. Particularly middle-market brands, whose sales are so dependent on being able to look, feel and touch products, rather than just clicking to buy online.
Beauty is a lucrative industry – something that I feel many fashion-focused retailers such as Boohoo neglect to notice. In times of recession, beauty has proven time and time again to be a buoyant industry (if you can’t buy the expensive handbag, you can certainly buy a designer lipstick at a snip of the price). Leonard Lauder cleverly coined the term the Lipstick Index back in 1991, to this very point.
Of course, the move may have been prompted by the desire to have beauty brands aboard the Debenhams ship, but this is a very clever move in other ways, too. According to research by the NPD Group, as lockdowns were eased across England since 12th April, and brick and mortar retail stores could reopen, consumer spending increased. Prestige make-up sales in the UK increased 229 per cent in April, and the total prestige beauty market was valued at £2 billion in 2020. It just makes total sense to have a real beauty destination space to show off, and get those cash registers ringing.
However, a standalone beauty store will need some radical new thinking. I wrote back in January that if beauty counters were to make a real revival, they need to offer their customers something different. More services, added extras and a real experience (which is easy to do with the brilliantly transformative nature of beauty), while still holding onto the charm and character of a traditional beauty counter.
Boohoo is also sitting on a goldmine. When Debenhams went bust, they had already established the Debenhams Beauty Club – a membership scheme with 1.4million users. This can’t be sniffed at. If done properly, the Beauty Club could become a great membership club for a traditionally ‘Debenhams’ consumer. If Boohoo pushes its beauty offerings with real intent, fit for a 2021 mindset, this could be their most genius retail move yet.