Retail Reflections

We Won’t Miss Debenhams Or Arcadia And Why ASOS And Boohoo Will Eventually Follow In Their Footsteps

We Won’t Miss Debenhams Or Arcadia And Why ASOS And Boohoo Will Eventually Follow In Their Footsteps

With the news today that Boohoo are in talks with Arcadia to purchase the Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton brands, the mopping up of Sir Philip Green’s retail empire is nearly complete. The carcass is being picked clean and the unwanted bones discarded.

On the face of it, it looks like honours are fairly even between the Kamanis and their rivals ASOS who have picked up the jewel in the crown, Topshop; and that’s even with the former having snapped up the Debenhams brand and, crucially, its customer data for £55m.

Of course, none of these deals includes the stores, with the exception potentially of Topshop Oxford Circus which could remain.

It is appalling that 25,000 people stand to lose their jobs, however, the reality is that most of us probably won’t bat an eye at the store closures, much less care. We’ve become inured to retail collapses and the constant evolution of our high streets.

And in the case of Arcadia and Debenhams, once great brands, have, in more recent years, not only been a shadow of their former selves, but they’ve actually become something of an embarrassment.

Starved of investment, their stores limped along for years, held up with sticky tape and run on the back of a spreadsheet, store staff relied upon to administer makeshift running repairs just so the doors could be opened for yet another day.

Years ago they lost their way, lost their purpose and lost their customers. Bereft of excitement or inspiration, and long before Covid, we deserted them in our droves and rushed to the new kids on the block who sated our desire for cheap, fast fashion.

Who cares where or how they’re made or that the workers are exploited, as long as we keep on being fed a diet of £5 tops and squeeze ourselves into whatever Kylie or Kim have been wearing lately?

But such is the pace of change that what is today’s most favoured Insta outfit is destined to become tomorrow’s landfill. Nothing’s forever and just like an addict, as we get more and more used to our fix, so we demand more and more.

Take French Connection and more latterly, Superdry. Both in similar ways, once the darling of what we now refer to as millennials, they’re younger cousins have eschewed both brands. After all, no self respecting sixteen year old is going to be seen dead in the same gear their Dad is wearing.

FCUK, Frankie Says…. were both synonymous with being on trend, hip and in the moment. But that was back then. And although a few years ago, FCUK did experience something of a revival, it was not dissimilar to Kodak Ektachrome film – after all, there’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to get us longing for the good old days.

Because soon, probably sooner than we realise, 2020 will come to represent nostalgia. And all the knock off T-shirts proclaiming, “I Survived The Coronavirus 2020”, suddenly won’t look so very cool. And in case you’re wondering, yes, there really is someone in Canada trying to sell shirts with that on them. And no, he hasn’t sold any yet.

And the bad news for the likes of Boohoo and ASOS is that cycles are being compressed. Debenhams was founded in 1778, Arcadia, rather less so. It’s hard to imagine Boohoo still being around in another 243 years. The current owners won’t be losing any sleep over that, but you get my point.

What will replace them is, frankly, anyone’s guess. Perhaps we’ll all have 3D printers at home and personalisation really will operate at an individual level. It’s been considered in the shoe industry.

But one thing is clear, we are more transient, more demanding, more promiscuous than ever in our shopping habits. And we’ll drop a brand at a moment’s notice. Just ask Arcadia or Debenhams.

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