The Demise of Debenhams: Is it Ethical for Shoppers to Profit from their Downfall?

In case you missed it, on Tuesday Debenhams announced the sad news that they would be entering the process of liquidation after nearly eight months in administration, and after potential buyers JD Sports pulled out from a deal. This comes after, not only a tough period for high street retailers in the wake of the domination of online shopping, but a particularly difficult year for retailers due to the lockdowns imposed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite the reduction in shoppers, and consequently sales, being an influential factor in the demise of Debenhams, upon Tuesday’s announcement shoppers keen for a bargain flocked to the Debenhams website. This blog will look at whether this attitude of shoppers is ethical- is it right for consumers to only support a business knowing it is struggling beyond repair?

An update issued by Debenhams on Wednesday 2nd December. Source: Twitter.

This news came just a day after Arcadia (owners of an array of high street brands including Topshop) announced they would be entering administration. Despite this being an incredibly worrying string of events concerning the Great British high street, it seems that many consumers are not as emotionally conscious as they, perhaps, should be. In order to clear stock, Debenhams announced there would be a huge sale starting at 7am Wednesday morning online. Within only a few hours, the site had crashed, and a virtual queuing system had been implemented to control the number of shoppers entering the site (with hundreds of thousands of people in the virtual queue). Although Debenhams do need to clear the stock in preparation for liquidation, to me it seems disheartening, at the very least, that customers are flocking to their website in the search of a bargain, in the wake of such devastating news for employees, owners and the UK high street. It seems that this very support could have saved Debenhams from liquidation- or kept the store afloat long enough for a successful buyer to be found.

A search for ‘Debenhams’ on Twitter produces reems and reems of users complaining about the queues in-store and the virtual queue to their website. There are a very small handful of users reminiscing about the influence this historic retailer has had on not only their own lives, but the lives of generations before them. Debenhams has a rich history within the UK retail sector, with their high street presence dating from 1778, as a drapers store in London’s West End. It does not seem ethical of the many consumers who are suddenly interested in shopping with Debenhams to be getting a good deal in exchange for the closure of such an iconic retailer- how satisfying can a bargain really be, knowing that the person serving you is set to lose their job and the future of the store you are standing in is set to be lost in favour of online competitors?

Debenhams’ iconic store in Oxford Street, London. Source: Building.

Ethical shopping is quite often looked at from an environmental and sustainable point of view, however, the case of Debenhams demonstrates some consumers’ personal morals and ethics go out of the window when it comes to getting a good deal, and it illustrates there are wider issues under the umbrella of ethical shopping. Arguably, this week has been catastrophic for the UK retail industry, which must only fill other high street retailers, who are struggling as a result of reduced footfall and the influences of both online shopping and Covid-19, with dread. This also begs the question, how long will the high street as we know it survive? Will the loss of Debenhams and the stores owned by the Arcadia group further deter shoppers from the high street? It seems as though the UK high street is set to look completely different from how it is currently, with it already being much quieter than how I remember it being only a few years ago, which is a tragedy for both consumers and retailers alike.

Thank you for reading. Will you be sad to see Debenhams go?

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