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Jessops back in action as a multichannel retailer

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The Jessops brand will be back in action today as a multichannel retailer, with high street stores operating alongside an ecommerce website.

New owner and boss Peter Jones, of Dragons’ Den fame, is banking on a much slimmed-down store estate allowing the business to be profitable.

Jones told Sky News: “Jessops has been a brand from 1935, I’ve grown up with it. The reason why I think from a business perspective it’s going to survive is before there were 200 stores.

“Online has really exploded and obviously it’s made retail really tough. But I think with 30 stores in prime locations, with real touch and feel and with really experienced staff, we have a great chance of making it a success.”

At the time of writing, the Jessops website was on a countdown to relaunch at 12 noon, while six new stores were opening over the course of this weekend, starting today in London’s Oxford Street and Manchester, High Wycombe, St Albans, Birmingham and Aberdeen. Between 30 and 40 stores are expected to open by the end of April.

Jones stepped in to buy the Jessops brand shortly after it failed in January. Today he unveiled the new concept. The store, redesigned along sleeker, Apple-inspired lines, features multichannel services including Click and Collect, and will be a venue for expert advice and tuition.

In the year before it failed, Jessops turned over £236m from 192 stores employing 2,000 people in total, according to administrators PwC. It shut up shop when the money ran out in January. Where Jones’ approach is different is that he’s launching a much leaner operation. His plans are believed to be set to create 500 new jobs, many of whom are experienced staff who previously worked for Jessops.

One issue thought to be behind Jessops’ earlier failure was consumers’ migration to use smartphone cameras instead of owning compact cameras. Jones this morning told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that consumers were seeing for themselves that a smartphone camera could not yet produce the same quality of results as a dedicated camera.

Today’s relaunch continues a reimagining of the Jessops brand that had started under previous ownership. The company had been trialling interactive stores where customers could touch and feel cameras and have tutorials on the use of equipment. But the money ran out before the new vision could be realised.

Our view: One major trend we’re currently seeing in retail is the move by multichannel retailers to rightsize their store estates while investing more in ecommerce. Just this week we reported that Kingfisher, owner of B&Q and Screwfix, is taking just this approach. As an aside, this is no bad thing for retail in general, since it rolls back from those much-derided clone towns of years gone by to open up space on the high street where new, independent, and online retailers can now experiment with what it might mean to have a store.

Jessops has done the same thing as Kingfisher, and before them names from Arcadia to Carpetright. But it’s done it the hard way, having gone into administration before being bought out and relaunched. We have no doubt that this new model has much more chance of success. But giving consumers good reasons to buy from this business rather than opting for a cheaper pureplay will remain key to future success.

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