UK retailing shifts further online as Boohoo buys Debenhams

Dawn breaks behind the London Eye ferris wheel a commuters make their way over Westminster Bridge in London, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Dawn breaks behind the London Eye ferris wheel a commuters make their way over Westminster Bridge in London, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LONDON – Around 25,000 U.K. retailing jobs remain under threat even as it emerged Monday that online fashion firm Boohoo has bought Debenhams, one of the country's oldest department store chains, and rival ASOS confirmed it wants to pick up parts of Arcadia Group.

The developments illustrate the huge changes taking place in Britain's retailing scene during the coronavirus pandemic. With shops selling non-essential items closed once again, many retail outlets, big and small, face the prospect of closing for good.

Boohoo's acquisition of the Debenhams brand and website for 55 million pounds ($75 million) will see it turn a traditional retailing outlet into an online-only operation.

The Debenhams name will survive, but the 118 stores will close for good as Boohoo sees little value in them when so much shopping now takes place online, a shift that has been accelerated by the coronavirus restrictions.

Debenhams, which traces its history back to 1778, employs around 12,000 workers so the closure of the stores is likely to see most of those jobs lost. After years of struggle, Debenhams announced in December that it faced the prospect of going bust if it couldn't find a buyer.

Under the terms of the deal, Boohoo will sell Debenhams products from early next year. Boohoo said the deal represents a “fantastic opportunity” to target new customers and launch into beauty, sports and homewares.

“The acquisition of the Debenhams brand is an important development for the group, as we seek to capture incremental growth opportunities arising from the accelerating shift to online retail," Boohoo's CEO, John Lyttle, said.

Investors welcomed the move, with Boohoo's share price up 4.4% in morning trading.