Shoppers have been waiting in virtual queues for over an hour as they rush to snap up deals on the Debenhams website after the chain confirmed its collapse.
The department store chain is being wound down after JD Sports pulled out of talks on a rescue takeover, placing 12,000 jobs at risk in a horror week for UK retail.
Many hoping to get a deal have been left disappointed after customers complained on social media of having to wait for extended periods of time to get onto the website, with some then being “kicked out” of the queue.
“50 minutes to get onto the @Debenhams website then after 5 minutes get kicked off to the end of the queue because my time is up what stupidity is this?!” wrote one person.
Others commented they had seen up to half a million people waiting in the virtual queue ahead of them.
Some people were more sympathetic to the workers at risk of losing their jobs and said the rush to grab deals was “sad” and “embarrassing”.
The chain launched a huge stock clearance sale at 7am on Wednesday as stores – shuttered during England’s second lockdown – re-opened.
Debenhams says it will continue to trade, for now, to clear stock as administrators seek a buyer for all or parts of the UK business.
The announcement was made just 12 hours after 13,000 jobs were placed at risk through the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s Topshop empire.
Debenhams’ statement read: “The sale process has not resulted in a deliverable proposal.
“Given the current trading environment and the likely prolonged effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for a restructured operation is highly uncertain.
“The administrators have therefore regretfully concluded that they should commence a wind-down of Debenhams UK, whilst continuing to seek offers for all or parts of the business.”
Sportswear chain JD Sports was spooked by the demise on Monday night of Debenhams’ biggest supplier, Sir Philip’s Arcadia Group, while there was also unease over a deal among JD’s shareholders.
It was reported in August that the hedge fund owners of Debenhams had drafted advisers from Hilco, a restructuring specialist, to work on a possible liquidation if administrators judged it was unable to trade solvently.
A liquidation of the UK business will take place if no buyer is found, resulting in 124 UK stores closing and the workforce being lost.
Administrators assured suppliers and other creditors, including landlords, that all contractual obligations would be met in full.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs the government “stands ready” to help workers affected by job losses at Arcadia and Debenhams after the “deeply worrying” announcements.
Debenhams’ problems precede the coronavirus crisis that has devastated the high street with a Sky News tracker showing the retail and hospitality sectors taking the biggest hits in terms of employment.
The decision to wind the company down presents an opportunity for rivals to snap up at least some of the stores and Debenhams’ online operation.
House of Fraser and Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley would be a likely candidate to seek a deal – potentially saving some of the threatened jobs.
His Frasers Group was the biggest shareholder in Debenhams when it collapsed in the spring of last year after spurning Mr Ashley’s bid to take control of the business.
His holding was ultimately wiped out.
The billionaire has also expressed an interest in Arcadia.
Sir Ian Cheshire, who was ousted as chairman of Debenhams during a tussle with Mr Ashley in January last year, said this morning that he was sure stores would trade through the Christmas season and it was a “sad day” for the company.
“The whole challenge of Debenhams has been, from the time I was there, is there’s a fantastic business inside it – probably 70 stores and a very good website which I’m sure someone will be buying because I don’t think all these jobs are going – but you can’t have the other… stores with long leases when you can’t make it work and you can’t invest in them,” he said.
The union movement argued that the announcements of the past 24 hours proved the need for more Treasury support.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government must not watch from the side lines as thousands of high street jobs are lost.
“We need urgent and targeted action to save livelihoods in badly-hit industries – like retail- before it’s too late.”