Concern for the future of Leeds city centre retail icon

PIC: Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian
PIC: Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian
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Fears were growing for the future of one of the biggest retailers in the city as Debenhams announced a sharp fall in profits.

The department store issued the warning after big discounts failed to spur a rise in last-minute Christmas shopping, sending a shiver through weaker retailers.

Debenhams, which has a large store on Briggate plus one at the White Rose Centre, is currently struggling to keep pace with the likes of House of Fraser and John Lewis, which is set to open a department store in Leeds’s forthcoming Eastgate development.

Shoppers in the city centre were pesimistic about Debenhams’ future and ability to compete.

Gemma Thorpe, 27, from Kirkstall, said: “It doesn’t surprise me to hear they didn’t do well over Christmas because I don’t shop at Debenhams. I don’t think they have anything that I would like and it’s expensive.

“I think more people will be going to John Lewis when it opens in the Victoria Gate development because it’s bigger and better.”

Abby Walton, 36, from Whinmoor, said: “I shop at Debenhams occasionally because they have a decent men’s department.

“I also buy my make-up there and it’s often quite busy.

“But when the John Lewis at Victora Gate arrives we will probably go there if it’s more of an arcade-type feel like Trinity.”

Debenhams has struggled more than most due to its weaker online offering and reliance on discount offers whose impact may damage its image over time.

Numis analyst Andrew Wade said: “It looks like they’ve obviously had a very challenging Christmas period. We don’t expect others to be warning in such a dramatic fashion.”

He added that the highly promotional run-up to Christmas and the “extremely difficult environment” were only part of the story.

“While there is undoubtedly some truth in this, we believe that Debenhams’ major issues are more company specific,” he said.

Mr Wade said there was “some scope for disappointment” among other clothing retailers, especially those which resorted to early discounting.

“We are confident that the strong updates from House of Fraser and John Lewis will put them both firmly in the ‘winners’ column this year.”

Tony Burdin, chief executive of Sheffield Mutual Friendly Society

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