Dick Smith goes into receivership: Refuses to honour vouchers, deposits or deliveries

Did you know Dick Smith founded the Australian Geographic? He also won the Adventurer of the Year award in 2000 for flying a balloon across the Tasman Sea. Given the crisis currently enveloping the electronics company that bears his name, Smith might be wishing he was back on that balloon right now.

The Dick Smith receivership was the biggest retail news of the 2016 summer break. Was it the only news of the summer break? Certainly, it was the only story that chased me all the way to my family bach in Northland. We don’t have wi-fi, but old nature magazines are in plentiful supply.

For those who missed it, here’s a catch-up: Dick Smith and its associated entities was placed into voluntary administration and went into receivership on January 4. The receivers, Ferrier Hodgson, sought expressions of interest in sale of Dick Smith as a going concern and as of this Monday, Radio NZ reported more than 30 buyers had responded.

Founded in 1968, Dick Smith’s journey to this point has beem circuitous. It began as a car radio installation business in Sydney and entered New Zealand in 1981. From 2010 onwards, 73 stores were closed before private equity firm Anchorage Capital bought the troubled company in November 2012 from Woolworths Limited for A$115 million. Anchorage floated Dick Smith on the Australian stock market for A$520 million at the end of 2013, initially retaining 20 percent of the shares but getting out altogether in September 2014.

blog post by an investment company, Forager Funds Management, has shot to the forefront of the public conversation around Dick Smith’s collapse after describing Anchorage Capital’s float as “the greatest private equity heist of all time”. As of today, Dick Smith’s shares were at A$0.355, down from A$2.12 at this time last year.

Back at the bach, the conversation focused not on share prices but Ferrier Hodgson’s announcement that customers’ vouchers, deposits and deliveries will not be honoured. Even though nobody present was affected by the news, the venom was flowing thick and fast – the general tone was of shock and outrage.

Assuming my oddball group of holiday companions is a fair stand-in for the general public, and excusing a bit of extrapolation, we can pull some interesting considerations for retailers from this conversation.

One: Ferrier Hodgson’s decision regarding vouchers, deposits and deliveries may have an effect on consumer perceptions of these ways of purchasing, and others like them, if comments like “I’m never buying vouchers again, you just never know!” are anything to go by. Will electronics stores’ bricks and mortar stores see a bump as consumers avoid the uncertainty of ordering items online?

Two: If Dick Smith does recover, it’ll have to work very hard to win back consumers’ hearts. The company lost PR ground even before it rolled over, inconveniencing other retailers during the pre-Christmas period by waging what the NZ Herald called “an electronics price war” as it sought to unload the excess stock which pushed it into trouble. This act of desperation didn’t go as well with consumers as might be expected as many of the most popular items, such as Apple branded goods, were not significantly discounted. The sense of frustration this elicited now seems to be dovetailing nicely with the outrage caused by failure to honour vouchers, deposits and deliveries.

The latest development, besides chief executive Nick Abboud’s resignation, is Dick Smith’s new online-only sale, which began yesterday. Consumer NZ has issued a warning to consumers about the sale through the NZ Herald, with Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin saying she feels it would be risky for shoppers to buy anything online through Dick Smith given how the receivers plan to deal with gift vouchers and deposits.

"You'd have to have an assurance from Dick Smith that the products you bought you were actually going to get,” Chetwin says.

She recommends customers make their purchases in store and collect the goods immediately. Crane Brothers chief executive Murray Crane was blunt about the likely effect of Dick Smith's behaviour in a blog post:

"I do think it is very poor form not honouring gift cards, laybys and store credits.

"If there is any value to be retrieved from the brand surely it will be more appealing to a buyer if the goodwill is intact, destroying this for some short term pecuniary gain seems shortsighted."