A tale of two retailers


A Dickens of a dilemma

A Dickens of a dilemma

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

“The old adage is: make your move in a downturn and profit in an upturn,” says Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. Street and his boss Charlie Mayfield are putting their money where his mouth is by launching up to 50 “pocket” stores in the midst of the recession. We don’t know what they’ll be called yet, but we do know that they will contain electrical goods, furniture and kitchenware, aimed at taking share from the likes of Ikea, DFS and Currys.

Now compare and contrast Best Buy, the giant US electrical retailer that owns half of Charles Dunstone’s Carphone’s retail outfit. Best Buy’s aggressive European expansion strategy seems to be shrivelling before very eyes. The plan was, you’ll recall, to open 100 mega consumer stores in the UK by 2013, starting this year. First we’ve had the plan postponed to next spring, now we’re told it is to be scaled back to 80 stores. Robert Willett, chief executive of Best Buy International, is still talking the talk, but this looks like a serious tactical withdrawal to me.

Either Willett is right to be cautious, or Street is right to be bold. OK, they appeal to slightly different markets, but there is overlap. One of them must be wrong, but which?

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