Debenhams store

LONDON – Two big British retailers are bidding farewell to top managers in what continues to be a trying period for bricks-and-mortar-focused brands in the U.K.

Against the backdrop of dismal first-half results, including an 85 percent decline in pre-tax profits to 87.8 million pounds, Debenhams said Thursday that its chief financial officer Matt Smith plans to leave the company.

Smith will become finance director at Selfridges, and Debenhams confirmed that a search has begun for his successor. He will continue in his role to ensure an orderly handover, the store said.

Chief executive officer Sergio Bucher said Smith played a key role in devising and implementing the Debenhams Redesigned strategy, which is aimed at modernizing the company and driving growth.

“His hard work and wise counsel have been very valuable during a period of significant change, and I look forward to our continuing to work together in the coming months,” Bucher said.

In the first half, like-for-like sales were down 2.2 percent against “a challenging U.K. market background.” Debenhams said the final trading week was disrupted by extreme weather conditions, which saw snow and heavy rain across the U.K., and which forced the temporary closure of almost 100 stores.

Meanwhile, Debenhams’ digital growth of 9.7 percent continued to outpace the overall market, driven by further gains in mobile and improved conversion rates. The beauty and food divisions also delivered positive results.

Another retail giant, Marks & Spencer, said Thursday that one of its top managers, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, who has served on the board for the last six years, would be leaving at the end of May. His title was executive director customer, marketing at M&

He will exit the company as part of a corporate re-organization of M&S into a “family” of accountable businesses. The corporate marketing teams will be devolved into the Clothing & Home and Food businesses as M&S looks to build a faster company.

M&S ceo Steve Rowe said Bousquet-Chavanne has overseen “some extraordinary marketing programs for M&S corporately and made great strides in laying the foundations of our digital business as well as extending our Plan A credentials.”

Debenhams and M&S are two of the many British retailers that are challenging themselves to streamline and re-think their businesses – and sprawling retail portfolios – as online competitors eat into their top and bottom lines.

Earlier this week, M&S announced that it was closing its Hardwick distribution center in northwest England, and that DHL has been appointed to run the new M&S South East distribution center in Hertfordshire, just north of London.

The company said the moves are the latest in the M&S five-year transformation program. M&S said its new, single-tier network will enable it to move products from suppliers to stores faster and at lower cost. This will be achieved by moving to a smaller network of large distribution centers, strategically placed across the U.K.