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Debenhams shuts stores, costing 12,000 jobs

Ben PERRY
·3-min read
Debenhams, an icon of the UK high street, will close all its outlets, with the expected loss of 12,000 jobs

UK department store chain Debenhams is to shut all its outlets, administrators for the collapsed group said Monday, with the loss of around 12,000 jobs.

Debenhams, which has long struggled with fierce online competition, will see its brand live on however after British online fashion group Boohoo bought the group's intellectual property assets.

Boohoo-rival ASOS meanwhile announced it was in exclusive discussions with the administrators of Arcadia about purchasing some of its brands, including Topshop.

Arcadia and Debenhams collapsed last month -- together risking the loss of 25,000 jobs -- having struggled to transition from a bricks-and-mortar business long before the coronavirus pandemic forced shoppers online.

Arcadia owner Philip Green -- once dubbed "the king of the high street" -- saw his reputation severely hit by the high-profile collapse of UK retailer BHS in 2016.

"The importance of the bricks-and-mortar traditionally associated with retail brands has now fully waned," noted Gordon Fletcher at the University of Salford Business School.

"This is not a new realisation that has only been discovered during the pandemic.

"However, the current lockdown situation has forced us to cut the final ties between our favourite brands and the physical high street," Fletcher added.

Debenhams' stores will reopen following the lifting of the UK lockdown solely to liquidate stock, administrators FRP Advisory, brought in to salvage parts of the business, said in a statement Monday.

"Regrettably, all the UK stores will then be permanently closed," it added.

A source close to the company told AFP this meant that around 12,000 jobs would disappear.

Debenhams, whose history dates back to the late eighteenth century, had hoped to sell some of its 124 stores, whose staff have been paid by the British government's furlough scheme during the pandemic.

It is unclear whether British retail group Frasers, which has been in talks with the administrators, will still snap up some Debenhams stores.

Frasers is headed by Mike Ashley, owner of English Premier League football club Newcastle United and renowned for purchasing major retailers that have fallen from great heights.

- 'Strong brands' -

Boohoo said its acquisition of Debenhams' assets, including customer data, will cost it £55 million ($75 million, 62 million euros).

It plans to relaunch Debenhams' online platform, as Boohoo looks to lead the fashion e-commerce market by entering new areas including beauty, sports and homeware.

"Debenhams is a long-standing and leading UK fashion and beauty retailer with high brand awareness, and an established online platform with approximately 300 million UK website visits per annum," Boohoo said in a statement.

"This makes it a top 10 retail website in the UK by traffic."

With an increasing shift to online, main shopping streets in England's towns and cities could lose another 400,000-plus jobs after coronavirus passes, according to a recent survey by accountants KPMG.

While Covid-19 has ravaged the UK retail sector, with tens of thousands of jobs being lost owing to other big-name bankruptcies, supermarkets have boomed.

Arcadia, one of Britain's biggest clothing retailers, fell into administration ahead of Christmas, putting at risk a further 13,000 roles.

Arcadia, whose brands sold also in Debenhams' stores, blamed its own demise largely on coronavirus fallout.

However like Debenhams, Arcadia also struggled to make the transition into a leading online company.

ASOS on Monday said it was looking at buying the Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands from Arcadia.

"The board believes this would represent a compelling opportunity to acquire strong brands that resonate well with its customer base."

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