Comet retailer to go into administration

Dan Wagner, Powa Technologies: "They failed to leverage their physical presence... ten years ago"

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About 6,500 retail jobs are at risk after electrical chain Comet confirmed that it would be put into administration next week.

Private equity firm OpCapita, which owns the 240-store business, has lined up restructuring specialist Deloitte to act as administrator.

OpCapita bought Comet last year for the nominal sum of £2, but the business has struggled in the consumer downturn.

Comet's demise is one of the biggest High Street casualties of recent years.

Two weeks ago, OpCapita said it was examining a number of potential bids for the retailer.

The administrator will run the business as a going concern while it assesses options for sales, closures and liquidation.

Comet said it was "urgently working" on plans to secure the company's future. Customers with outstanding orders are being told it is "business as usual until further notice" and that the group intends to fulfil deliveries of products that have been paid for.

Comet's customer care team is handling customer inquiries on 0844 8009595.

Information for customers

  • Any customers with Comet vouchers or gift cards can use them in stores at present
  • Administrators would decide whether they would be honoured were the business to enter administration
  • Generally, gift card holders are fairly low on a list of creditors when a business folds
  • Extended warranties are overseen by a separate business. If it ceased trading, then a trust fund would be set up to meet obligations to customers who hold extended warranties
  • The Comet website is currently out of action
  • Customer enquiries are being answered by its customer card team on 0844 8009595

Shares of Comet's rivals rose on news of the planned administration, with Dixons Retail, which owns PC World and Currys, jumping 15% as investors speculated that a major competitor could be removed from the market.

OpCapita bought Comet last February from Kesa Electricals, which had itself struggled to turn around the business. Comet is thought to have had operational losses of about £35m last year.

'Market failure'

The economic downturn and pressure on consumer spending has led many people to put off purchases of big-ticket items such as TVs and large appliances. But sales of such items have also moved increasingly online.

Dan Wagner, a technology entrepreneur who has backed several internet businesses, told the BBC that Comet "was an accident waiting to happen" because successive managements had failed to understand the online world.

Retailers must now offer multi-channel options - shops, a website, purchases via mobile phones - to be successful, he said. "Comet failed to understand the importance of this for driving business."

Jon Copestake, retail analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, also felt that Comet's problems "come as little surprise".

He said: "Not only has Comet faced deflationary pressures thanks to stiff competition and cheaper production costs, but core audio visual products are being undermined by combined platforms on smartphones and tablet computers."

Comet is one of the biggest retail casualties since the demise of Woolworths in 2008. Other recent High Street collapses have included JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Blacks Leisure, Game, and Peacocks.

America's Best Buy recently pulled the plug on 11 giant electrical stores after failing to make inroads into the UK market.

Comet was founded in 1933 as a business charging batteries for wireless sets. It opened its first store in 1968, in Hull, and was bought by Kingfisher in 1984, which expanded the Comet brand into one of the most familiar names on the High Street.

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