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Barratts and Blockbuster go into administration: commentators say they fell behind in retail race

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Multichannel retailers Barratts and Blockbuster have both gone into administration once again, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Both continue to trade normally while buyers for the businesses are sought.

Commentators said that both businesses fell behind in the retail race in a fast-changing environment.

Phil Dorrell, of retail consultants Retail Remedy said the failure of shoe business Barratts, which employs about 1,000 people through 75 UK stores and 23 concessions and trades online through, had been on the cards for some time.

“These days, being 110 years old and a recognised high street brand is no guarantee that you will remain on the high street,” said Dorrell. “The consumer is too fickle and the landscape changing too fast.

“Barratts has made the biggest mistake any retailer can make: it has failed to keep up with the changing demands of the consumer.

“Shoe fashion is as strong as it has ever been but Barratts hasn’t moved with the times.

“In many respects, as a brand, it has been stuck in the eighties. Its range and general in-store feel have not been what today’s customers demand and expect.

“And in an economy that is still tough, any problems or oversights are quickly amplified.”

Meanwhile, Blockbuster’s failure came months after it was bought out of administration by Gordon Brothers in March. It tried to turn Blockbuster around through a strategy that included the development of a new digital platform – though adminstrators said a licensing deal for this was not concluded in time, “significant investment” in strategic marketing and renegotiation of retail leases.

However Blockbuster, which employs about 2,000 people and has 264 stores and trades online at, has been overtaken by a move towards streaming and downloading video online likely to have led to what administrators termed, “a period of poor trading performance across both rental and retail sales”.

Mark Collin, head of retail, Europe, at ThoughtWorks, said: “It has been a gloomy end to the year for the high street, as Blockbusters and Barratts have filed for administration within days of each other.

“While some retail propositions will simply not make it because they are too entrenched in the past and have not moved fast enough to align their brand or propositions with changing customer behaviour, others will succeed and take their place.

“The big winners – such as John Lewis, Next and Dixons – have not only focused on the customer experience and fine tuning how they interact, but have profited from the demise of Blockbusters and Barratts, who have been slow to respond.

“So how do big retailers respond? Some of the answers lie in a change of mindset and approach. These can be characterised as ‘lean start up’ principles. If l look at the retailers who are responding well, I see organisations willing to reach out to their customers, asking them what they prefer and what makes a good customer experience.”

Jon Copestake, retail analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “The administrations of Blockbuster and Barratts are nothing new. It is the third time for Barratts and the second time for Blockbuster, whose US equivalent is also in administration. However, it does reflect how fragile the situation on the UK high street remains, despite talk of recovering demand and consumer confidence as well as predictions of a bumper Christmas.

“The fact remains that e-commerce and m-commerce growth is driving much of the recovery in sales. Physical stores are likely to see a much more muted pick up and specialist chains, especially for legacy products such as DVDs, will continue to struggle. The only real surprise about these announcements is the timing given that keeping doors open during the crucial Christmas trading period, coupled with sales in January, might have provided a final boost. However, it seems likely that, having weathered administrations before, some form of business will continue into another incarnation for at least one of the two chains.”

Matt Woodhams, director at brand development firm Added Value, which is part of Kantar, said: “Blockbuster and Barratts entering administration has little to do with the economy and is mostly to do with the world moving on. There isn’t much Blockbuster could have done to save their business – they should have been in the online rentals market 10 years ago – against the likes of Lovefilm, Amazon, Netflix, Sky Box Office the Blockbuster brand no longer seems convincing and hasn’t been for a while.

“Barratts probably could have survived in some form but the business is not offering enough value versus the “hard discount” retailers and the company’s brand is not differentiated enough from more premium brands. I’m not sure that their administration says much about the UK high street at present but its more about the fact that these brands just got left behind by changing consumer expectations and behaviours.”

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