Despite the reported closure this week of Maplin's last physical store, the CEO of Buy IT Direct has told CRN he remains hopeful of preserving the fallen retailer's online brand.
Buy IT Direct lodged a six-figure bid for Maplin's brand and website at the start of June, as first reported by the Mail on Sunday.
Nick Glynne (pictured), CEO of the £150m-revenue, Huddersfield-based e-tailer, said he understood that Buy IT Direct is one of two bidders in the frame for these assets, but admitted he is yet to hear back from the administrator.
Glynne said the addition of the Maplin brand would help Buy IT Direct move into the high-growth smart home space, and would also lessen the need for it to buy expensive traffic from Google.
However, he warned that Maplin's online brand value is "diminishing by the day".
"Maplin had a strong position in Google's natural search, which would mean we wouldn't have to pay for as much of the traffic," he explained.
"But the administrator let the website disappear and that value diminishes by the day."
Glynne said he is still keen to reach a deal, however.
"It makes sense for us," he said. "We are very strong on big-ticket items - laptops, appliances, drones etc. But where we are not as strong - and where the next wave of growth is going to come from in consumer electronics - is the smart home. Maplin gives a platform there which would be harder to do off the back of our existing website Laptops Direct."
According to the BBC, the last of Maplin's 217 physical stores has now closed after administrator PwC failed to find willing buyers. The retailer, which employed 2,335 staff, was forced into administration in February, citing the current challenging climate for high street retailers.
Glynne suggested that rising competition from Chinese retailers selling their wares on Amazon also played a part in Maplin's demise.
"This is a massive story that is as yet untold," he said.
"It's unsettling every retailer out there, from Poundstretcher right through to Maplin and anyone who sells electrical components online or in stores.
"The Chinese resellers - sitting on the back of eBay, Amazon, and the new electronics websites like Wish and AliExpress - are starting to utterly dominate e-tail. The scale of it is not appreciated: 5.5 million parcels a week are coming directly from Chinese resellers into the UK, and that's everything from server cabinets right through to consumers buying mice, keyboards and mobile phones."
This new breed of Chinese competitor has three "major advantages" over UK retailers, Glynne claimed. Not only do they have a lower cost base, but a recent agreement between the Royal Mail and China Post means they can ship from China "cheaper than we can ship from Huddersfield", and can also fast-track items through customs, Glynne claimed.
"On the vast majority of products we've analysed, a Chinese reseller is 40 per cent better off on a sub-£20 item than a UK reseller," he said.
"I found out that my IT director - and we've got a business of 450 people - regularly buys off AliExpress for this business. Not Insight or C2000 [Tech Data] or anyone else; he is going straight to China, where he can get it cheaper. It's innocuous stuff like cables, but that will be happening all around the country and that's a huge threat collectively as a channel."
Despite this, the addition of Maplin would also give Buy IT Direct the opportunity to appeal to customers who buy on quality rather than price, Glynne said.
"Maplin stands for something Amazon doesn't stand for," he said.
"Amazon stands for cheap product and it doesn't matter where you get it from. With Maplin, we can sell similar products but we've vetted the product and are adding value around returns and product knowledge. The kind of thing Maplin stood for at store level, we would try to transfer to online and play to the typical Maplin customer base that wants a curated shop.
"I know people like to point the finger at Maplin and say it didn't move with the times. But they bloody tried - and their website wasn't bad. It's very easy to blame management in retrospect - although there clearly was a lack of urgency around making the hard decisions and closing those retail stories sooner."
Glynne said whether Buy IT Direct ups its unspecified "six-figure" bid hinges on the administrator's response.
"We were asked to up our bid, but I said no. The fact that it has taken so long means if there is another bidder that is higher, there may have been flaws in their bid," he said.
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