The future of Debenhams

May 16, 2020

With Britain in lockdown during the pandemic, Debenhams’ 142 UK stores have been closed, while the majority of its 22,000 workers are being paid under the government’s furlough scheme. Fashion Intern interviewed Chloe Shilton, a press assistant who has been furloughed.

Chloe Shilton, Press Assistant

As Press Assistant at Debenhams, what did your day in the life look like? 

My job is extremely busy as I work in a press team of just three. My usual day involves sending out samples to press, hosting showroom and store appointments for journalists, compiling monthly coverage reports, selling in product to publications, planning events and leasing with buyers over showroom samples. I got into PR by doing a fashion journalism degree at London College of Fashion and undertaking lots of unpaid internships during that time. After I graduated, I secured a job as a PR intern at River Island where I worked for two months. After that, I was recommended to Debenhams by the PR manager at River Island, and have worked at Debenhams ever since.

With Britain in lockdown during the pandemic, Debenhams’ 142 UK stores are now closed. How has COVID-19 affected your current job?

Yes, a lot of colleagues including myself have been furloughed, so I am not currently doing PR. A global pandemic like Covid 19 is sure to affect industries like fashion and particularly the PR side of it. I think that PR as we currently know it will change – it’s hard to say exactly how, but I know that in fashion you have to embrace and adapt to change quickly to succeed. 

What do you think the future is for Debenhams? 

That’s a good question. The market is most definitely saturated, and it’s all about finding a USP for your brand in order to survive. You have to create an exciting and enjoyable shopping experience, or why wouldn’t people just shop online? Debenhams is looking at its online strategy as this is where a lot of the money is, but despite this, before the pandemic, the majority of our sales still came from in-store, so there is a lot to be said for physical shopping and the value it holds to our customers. I think that companies such as ASOS have an advantage by being online only, as they do not have to pay for rent in their stores or store staff. However, I believe that there will always be a place for the high street. When the TV came out, everyone was worried that it would kill the radio, and it didn’t. I think that things will balance out but only if consumers are committed to supporting the high street, and the high street works hard to engage customers. It works both ways. It would be so strange to imagine the high street with all retailers closed. 

What are your plans for the future?

The future is really uncertain at the moment, and I’m doing all I can to make sure that I keep up with all the change. My routine is completely different now – I get up, go for a walk, apply for jobs and email my contacts to ask about any potential opportunities. I usually bake something and relax in the afternoon. I really miss how busy things used to be but also it’s definitely important to take some time out to reflect. 

Image Credit – Drapers