Top British retailer Debenhams slated for Australia entry

By Alison Lowe | 26 October 2015
Debenhams Oxford Street store. Credit: Debenhams.

In what could herald a major shake up to the Australian retail sector, leading UK department store brand Debenhams is set to enter the Australian retail sector in 2016.

Global apparel and homewares retailer Pepkor, which owns Australian department store chain Harris Scarfe, is slated to bring Debenhams to Australia thanks to a deal in which it has become a franchise partner of the brand.

The Australian opening, intended to be phased, would be Debenham's first foray into the Southern Hemisphere and could introduce hefty new competition for Australian department stores Myers and David Jones.

Debenhams boasts a competitive position in the UK retail market, where it holds a top three market position in womenswear and menswear and a top 10 share in childrenswear, as well as a number two market position in premium health and beauty. Worldwide, it currently operates 240 stores across 27 countries.

Under the arrangement with Pepkor, Debenhams products, including the brand's 'Designers at Debenhams' range, will be wholesaled and retailed within Harris Scarfe stores. A dedicated Debenhams e-commerce site will be launched in Australia and standalone stores will start to appear in retail centres across the country.

Jason Murray, managing director of Pepkor South East Asia, suggested the tie-up will not only introduce a new brand to Australia but will also “revitalise and grow” Harris Scarfe through the introduction of a new wholesale arrangement and more back office scale.

Harris Scarfe's CEO Graham Deane said it would complement the Australian brand's overall growth strategy.

“For our loyal customers, the partnership brings access to an exciting range of credible, international department store brands. For our team, the opportunity to be part of one of the most exciting department store stories in the region, and our supply and property partners will appreciate the addition of such a clearly differentiated and exclusive range that will make us an even stronger destination for all lovers of shopping,” Deane said.

The arrival of the British favourite comes months after rumours spread that its UK rival Marks and Spencers - with which Debenhams would compete for the British ex-pat market in particular - was poised to establish a string of stores on Australian soil as part of its international expansion plans.

After 18 months of speculation, a report issued by Deloitte in January 2015 raised expectations that M&S' arrival in Australia was imminent. Those expectations have to date been dashed with no formal announcement yet made by the iconic retailer, best known for its food and clothing lines.

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