The UK’s biggest high street retailers are at risk of becoming online “ghost” brands experts have warned, following one of the hardest days for the high street in recent memory.
Yesterday online fast fashion giant Boohoo agreed to acquire Debenhams in a £55 million deal which would see its entire store estate close, but the brand continue to trade as an online-only entity.
Arcadia’s host of stores including Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge look likely to succumb to the same fate as Asos confirmed it was in talks to acquire the stable of brands.
These once prominent high street staples join the increasingly long list of retailers including Oasis and Warehouse, TM Lewin and Hawkins Bazaar which all shuttered their physical estates to trade solely online over the last year.
“As more high street brands succumb to an online-only existence, is anything left that captures their original spirit?” ParcelHero’s head of consumer research David Jinks said.
“The recent fate of several of these retail ghosts does not bode well for the latest crop that have switched to online only.”
Jinks points out that two high street titans Woolworths and BHS failed to survive online following efforts to keep the brands alive as their offerings simply did not translate to ecommerce.
Despite this, retail expert Dr Gordon Fletcher of the University of Salford Business School argued that these deals demonstrate brands are still very important to customers even if they are no longer represented on the high street.
“As the online fashion retailers begin to buy up the pieces of Debenhams and circle the failed Arcadia group’s iconic brands a very clear message is being broadcast,” Dr Fletcher said.
“Brands are still important. Brands have credibility and reputation.
“Consumers have strong emotional connections with brands. However, the importance of the bricks and mortar traditionally associated with retail brands has now fully waned.
“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.
“Bricks and mortar are important but after the lockdown the brands that we will see will be very different. These will be the brands that bring peak experience and engagement – maximising the value of face-to-face contact – and they will not be fashion retailers.”