Many brands, including Topshop, Debenhams, and Bonmarché, have announced over the past week that they have entered administration, a bad turn for retail towards the end of a challenging year.
As brands begin the process of liquidating outstanding debt and winding up, several shoppers have raised concerns about the future of any purchases from the brands' websites and stores, which remain functional for the time being. Here, we attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions related to such purchases, including your rights as a shopper.
Can I still purchase items from a store that has entered administration?
In most cases, yes. Stores and websites usually remain open to try and sell off existing stock, frequently offering heavy discounts to try and get rid of it as soon as possible. However, it is best to be cautious about what you buy, since you may have issues returning it later. Complaints website Resolver suggests checking your purchases at the earliest to ensure they are fit for purpose and to raise any issues at the earliest.
Additionally, it may be best to pay by card, rather than cash, cheque, or transfer, since cards offer at least some sort of payment protection. Section 75 protects card payments of greater than £100 in value, and most vendors offer chargeback for purchases worth less than this amount.
Can I return items that I don’t want later?
This can be tricky with stores that have entered administration since they are not legally obligated to refund you if you don't want an item. However, if you can prove that it is faulty, or not fit for purpose, you can make a stronger case for a refund.
It is good to be aware of a store’s return policy to ensure that you make any return or refund requests within the acceptable time window. Items purchases through online retail, however, are less binding – retailers are obligated to offer refunds on items returned within 14 days. Do note that this exception does not necessarily apply to perishable or personalised goods.
Can I use a gift card at the store?
Legally, retailers are not obligated to honour vouchers or gift cards once in administration, but you can check if they will accept them. It's best to use up any gift cards sooner rather than later, since companies usually tend to introduce new terms and conditions that may make them more difficult to use or reduced in value.
Arcadia, for example, has introduced the requirement that gift cards cannot be used for more than 50% of a purchase. So, as an example, you can only redeem a £10 voucher on a purchase of at least £20.
What about purchases made through buy-now-pay-later (BNPL)?
It is important to note that you will still need to make any outstanding payments on an item you purchased through a BNPL scheme like Klarna. Even if the company you bought the item from goes under, you still entered into an agreement with the BNPL provider, which means you may incur late payment fees if you fail to make payments on time.
In case you return any items purchased through BNPL, it is best to inform both the company you bought the items from, as well as your BNPL provider in case there are any problems later on.
Though the impending closure of these stores means great bargains for shoppers, the reality of the situation is much harsher for the stores’ collective 25,000 employees, who are facing mass unemployment in the coming months. Retail trade union Usdaw has said that it will seek meetings with Debenhams' administrators to urge them to "treat staff with fairness and dignity".