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GUEST ANALYSIS BHS cheats death, but can it survive the odds of today’s digital commerce market?

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BHS last week cheated death with a truly 21st century reincarnation, relaunching as an online-only retail outlet under new owners. Once a stalwart of the British high street, the historic company has unveiled a fresh new look with, which currently offers a limited selection of homeware and lighting. If all goes to plan this will be extended to the clothing lines and larger selection of kitchen and dining goods traditionally stocked in-store.

The publicly-documented spectacle of BHS’s downfall saw much blame directed towards Sir Philip Green, but, with the retail magnate out of the picture, it is now up to BHS alone to rise from the flames and attract today’s brand-promiscuous consumer.

However, without a carefully managed approach, BHS could easily suffer the same fate as the likes of Woolworths, which closed its retail outlets in 2009 and opened its virtual doors a few days later. It was then to close completely in 2015, and was this year subsumed into Men’s outfitter Austin Reed suffered a similar fate, though its online retail platform remains. According to a report by Kantar Retail, half of shoppers surveyed stated that they preferred to shop with online retailers who also operate physical stores. Without the full omnichannel experience, can BHS succeed in today’s competitive market?

A fresh start

Offering a limited line initially could be a wise move by BHS, positioning the website as a test-bed for consumer interest and then making adjustments based on research and monitoring. The digital commerce market is constantly evolving and retailers must match this by teaming up with a digital commerce provider who can build a flexible, fluid retail platform which showcases the retailer’s brand image and identity.

On initial exploration, looks clean and user-friendly, though there are certain tactics which should be employed by the company, in addition to traps which must be avoided, as BHS looks to rebuild its brand and attract a new generation of digital consumers.

The digital commerce experience

Without a bricks and mortar presence, will have to work even harder to ensure the digital commerce experience is a positive one. BHS is unable to build and strengthen its brand in-store, so must strive to dominate digital platforms. The cross-platform digital experience must provide customers with easy access to and across both social media and digital retail outlets. According to a report from Worldpay, today’s consumers are demanding a number of different options for the selection, payment and delivery of their goods, through any means if it makes their lives easier. An app for different mobile operating systems would give customers greater control over the shopping experience, strengthen the digital offering, and is crucial to any business’s omnichannel strategy.

A carefully considered UX design, which offers consumers a personalised service and choice is key. Additionally, the speed and ease of use are crucial features of a credible digital commerce platform, and with a new launch, are perhaps the most important aspects in attracting and retaining customers. The decision by BHS to offer only a limited product range at the outset works to the platform’s favour, allowing for a clean, uncluttered, and visually-dominant design.

Checking out

The consumer journey from product selection to checkout should also be clear, with as few steps as possible to minimise the number of potential pivot points at which the customer may decide against a purchase. According to a Royal Mail study from September this year, almost two-thirds (61%) of 18 to 24-year-olds often leave a website without paying, with one in 10 of all surveyed saying they got cold feet when they realised how much they were spending. features a five-click process from the selection of a product, to the request for login details preceding the checkout. Further features such as saving an item for later would allow for greater consumer control, and encourage re-visits to the platform.

Behind the clean UX design and simple customer journey is the need for a comprehensive and robust fraud prevention and security system. In Kantar Retail’s report, around 45% of UK shoppers expressed concerns about the security of their online personal and financial data hosted by the retailers surveyed. An insecure checkout process will discourage returning customers and new business, and damage a brand’s public image. This is perhaps of greater importance to a retailer like, which has no physical presence and in-store customer assistance to compensate for customer dissatisfaction online.

Social engagement

Relaunching as a digitally-led brand means that anytime, anywhere accessibility is imperative. So far there is no sign of a BHS mobile app, which puts the retailer at a significant disadvantage to its competitors. A recent survey from PwC revealed that six out of 10 consumers who interacted with their favourite brands on social media were driven to buy more. BHS now has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, but having a presence alone is not enough; without a bricks and mortar store, social media is a key channel for engagement opportunity. offers a login option for personalising the consumer experience, an app would allow for further customisation options, and a faster digital commerce journey. Creating and launching an app would be a logical next step for the business, in order to satisfy the expectations of a digitally-savvy shopping public.

With a fresh, clean design and simple checkout process, has made a promising start with its ecommerce venture. In order to future-proof the platform, flexibility and adaptability will be crucial. Collating data and consumer experience information will be vital in informing improvements to the platform, which will need to be quick to implement by the business to avoid consumer loss in the crucial early days.

In a burgeoning market which is constantly evolving, faces a rocky road in re-establishing itself. Without a physical store, the digital commerce experience is of greater significance in ensuring the future success of the brand. Today’s consumers are brand promiscuous and will ultimately shop with the e-tailer which provides them with most straight forward and accessible retail journey. As we enter peak season, the next few months will prove crucial to the future success or failure of – and the industry will be watching closely.

Terry Hunter is UK managing director at Astound Commerce

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