With fashion chain Republic entering administration it came as no surprise that their website was taken down hours after the announcement.

Ecommerce sales stopped, pages dropped out of the Google index and their branding looked awful on the holding page.

Meanwhile its high street stores continued to trade whilst the Administrators decided what to do next, which begs the question: why?

Republic Closed

It’s even more confusing when you consider what the administrators for Republic had to say.

It has a powerful website offering, owns well-known brand names, and has some very attractive and profitable stores.

Although they’ve acknowledged the strength of the website, it’s still been closed down. Madness. 

In fact, a strong website is one of the most valuable assets a brand can have and yet it feels like administrators are being very quick to shut them down, 302 all the content and focus on other priorities.

Yet with administration often taking months, what’s the harm in allowing online orders to continue? It keeps customers buying from the brand, shows a ‘business as usual’ image which is vital in keeping consumer trust, and most important of all, provides a lifeline for the business in ensuring a steady cash flow.

It’s not like the retail stores all closed their doors at the same time.

HMV Closed

Yet this is the default strategy for almost all of the companies that have entered administration for the last 12 months. HMV, Republic, Jessops and Comet all have 302 redirects that take people to landing pages.

Although a 302 redirect is temporary – in effect it’s telling search engines that pages may be back soon – there’s no denying that it will have an effect at least in the short term if a domain was to be switched back on. 

So why is it done?

Quite frankly it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the situation. When JJB Sports went bankrupt it sold the Sports Direct part of the business. Within hours jjbsports.com redirected to sportsdirect.com.

In itself this is not a totally horrible mistake, but the URLs don’t update so pages exist at both URLs (e.g. http://www.jjbsports.com/accessories). There’s no canonical tags and nothing to differentiate between the two locations. It’s duplicate content on a massive scale.

Yet from an administrators point of view they’ve done their job and can move on, unaware there is a massive issue sitting unresolved (and still not fixed after six months).

GAME handled this a lot better and when it closed its other business, Gamestation. It redirected and rewrote the site URLs. It’s not quite perfect – if a page can’t be found on GAME.co.uk then the user gets taken to the Home page and the URL doesn’t update (such as this URL) but it’s a step forward compared to the JJB Sports ‘solution’.

Jessops Not Closed

Jessops was faced with an interesting challenge when it closed. The retail stores were bankrupt, but the company still had a profitable photo website.

The solution was to 302 the entire Jessops website to a landing page – apart from the photo section which sits at http://photo.jessops.com/. The landing page states very clearly that the photo section remains open and users can sign up to be notified when the new website is launched.

This is a fantastic solution as the site is collecting leads and not sacrificing a successful channel whilst it decides on the next steps. 

Blockbusters Open

If you look at the Blockbuster website then it seems like business as usual. You can still order DVDs from the rental service and can still buy games and movies through stores.

Whilst I’d also like to see a notice on there with some news about the retail stores, this is a fantastic solution for keeping customers shopping online. As Blockbuster’s website is likely part of the core that remains profitable, it’s a fantastic way to ensure it remains that way. 

Based on these solutions it’s easy to see what Republic is missing. The site could be collecting email addresses to notify people if things return to normal. It could potentially take online orders like Blockbuster, and could do a much better job of keeping branding intact than a stretched logo.

Every day that passes by they are losing money and brand equity, as well as wasting one of their strongest assets. For a business in need of recovery, the best thing they could do right now may be to switch the website back on.

Thanks to Pete Handley and Dan Barker and Paul Martin for kick starting this discussion.