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Businesses braced to make rescue deals with big brands in 2023

Eamonn Holmes pays tribute to retail workers at Christmas

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This year, a number of British retailers have collapsed due to the ongoing cost of living crisis. Businesses such as corner shops like McColls were bought by Morrisons and the clothing store Joules was bought by Next as experts predict more retailers will be bought by big brands in the upcoming year. 

This year, the number of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deals targeting UK retailers have increased by 21 percent, according to law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. 

It comes at a time wholesale and retail industries have seen the second-greatest number of insolvencies of any industry, as they accounted for 14 percent of all insolvencies in the first half of 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Kien Tan, the retail strategy director at PwC, said he expected to see a rise in “opportunistic” deals in which “good brands that are in financial difficulty get saved by strong, well capitalised, UK or international trade buyers who have a strategic intent”.

Mr Tan added: “It’s going to be tumultuous, but for strong, well-capitalised businesses it is a great time to take market share, to secure your supply chain, or to buy brands or skill sets.”

This has already seen the British business Made.com, an online furniture store, collapse, after being valued at £775 million on the London Stock Exchange in 2021.

High street giant Next has said it will buy Made.com’s brand name and intellectual property for £3.4 million, but will not buy any of the remaining stock.

The collapse of the furniture business, which became a rising success during the pandemic, led to the loss of hundreds of jobs as well as complaints from customers who did not know if they would receive their outstanding orders.

At the time of the business collapse, Nicola Thompson, the CEO of Made.com, apologised to everyone affected by the loss and said the company had “fought tooth and nail” to avoid going into administration.

Erin Brookes, managing director and head of retail for Europe at Alvarez & Marsal, has said that businesses came out of the pandemic with “much weaker balance sheets” and are now dealing with a number of issues.

She said: “[Retailers] have now been hit by lower consumer sentiment, alongside any supply disruption and cost inflation.

“These still have something to offer, so some of the larger, more robust groups will definitely see opportunities around.

“That is likely to involve picking up businesses in rescue deals or even just opportunities, from other retailers or investment firms, to buy firms at what they feel is a low price given how much shares have dropped.”

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On Boxing Day, retailers reported that people heading to sales is down 20 percent compared to Boxing Day 2019 before the pandemic hit.

However, the shopper analytics organisation Springboard, reported that sales have risen by 40 percent compared to 2021, and the “key reason” for the bounceback was that last year some Covid restrictions were still in place due to the Omnicron variant.

Springboard said the rise in shoppers “comes in line with the first Christmas without any formal Covid-19 restrictions and in spite of rail strikes.”

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said the rise was “encouraging” for retailers, but the customers drop compared to 2019 may be due to the “cost of living crisis”.

She said: “People are dealing with that, so a lot of people may rail back on going out on Boxing Day and spending money they perhaps don’t need to spend.”

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