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BHS: What went wrong?

A once iconic British brand hit the headlines this week, as BHS went into administration, swiftly followed by revelations of financial dealings of the firm’s owners, both past and present.

But what exactly has gone wrong at BHS?

Journalists and analysts have spent the last few days theorising as to what helped sink, and what might have saved the company. Retail guru Mary Portas hit the nail on the head when she wrote that ‘BHS isn’t the best at anything, but a market place approach to retailing could have turned it around’.

As digital recruiters, perhaps it’s not surprising that we think digital technology and innovation – or rather, the lack thereof, has a huge role in this sad story.

Many of our clients are retailers on a similar scale and operating in similar spaces to BHS. And they’re our clients because they have hefty digital operations – ones that they’re keen to seek out the best talent for. After all, we recruit for roles like digital designers and developers, ecommerce managers and SEO specialists.

Having not worked directly with BHS, we can’t comment on their digital recruitment strategy…but we can observe their website, they mobile offering, their social media…and conclude that they simply haven’t kept pace in a retail world where ecommerce is king, where consumers have more power and choice than ever before, and where the greatest success stories are also the greatest digital innovators.

To compete in today’s fast-paced world, retailers need to focus on making things incredibly clear and easy for their customers (smooth customer journeys, minimal checkout processes, clear link-ups between physical and online stores), being agile enough to respond quickly to demands, fashions and trends, and also being creative enough to stand out. Digital technology can drive all of these things.

Ted Baker is one example of a modern retail brand that has got digital really right. Now, clearly BHS’s customer demographic and brand would never and should never be in the same ballpark as this young, fashion-conscious firm. But other elements of Ted Baker’s success – its innovative yet easy-to-use website, regularly refreshed content and spot-on customer engagement – are relevant to all retailers.