BOURNEMOUTH is unlikely to still have three major department stores in five years’ time, a retailing expert has said.

It emerged at the weekend that House of Fraser had held talks with a business turnaround specialist as it seeks to refinance or extend a £224million debt that matures in July 2019.

House of Fraser’s Bournemouth branch, formerly called Dingles, is one of the town’s three major department stores, along with Debenhams and Beales. Its Marks and Spencer is due to close on April 14.

House of Fraser nationally saw sales drop 2.9 per cent in the six weeks before Christmas, with online sales down 7.5 per cent.

Jeff Bray, senior lecturer in marketing and retail management at Bournemouth University, said: “I believe there will be significant rationalisation in the department store market. I would be surprised if, in five years’ time, we have three department stores in Bournemouth. I can’t foresee how that can be viable.”

He said House of Fraser was under financial pressure and had lost ground online despite pioneering “click and collect” retail.

Debenhams issued a profits warning in January after a period of poor sales in the run-up to the festive season and in the post-Christmas sales. It has been looking to cut costs and negotiate reductions to its rent bills.

Beales has said its sales rose 4.2 per cent in continuing stores in the six-week period which ended just after Christmas. In 2016, it closed stores and negotiated a company voluntary arrangement to reduce rents.

Dr Bray said: “I’ve long suggested that in order to be successful, department stores have got to be differentiated, they’ve got to be doing something a bit different to draw customers in. It was really noticeable how department stores as a whole had a bad Christmas – and Christmas really is a time when department stores should come into their own.

“John Lewis have done a pretty good job, but those in the middle like Debenhams, House of Fraser and local department stores such as Beales, I don’t think are doing enough to differentiate themselves and get young customers in. Average consumer age in a department store is going up and John Lewis is the exception to that.”

John Lewis has itself reported a “challenging” year, with profit down and its staff cut to five per cent, the fifth successive cut and the lowest pay-out since 1954.