Not in the pink anymore

The news this week that Thomas Pink, the quintessential British shirtmaker, will not open its doors again after the end of the current lockdown restrictions is a sobering reminder that 2021 may not be any better than 2020 in terms of good news on the High Street. The company, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, has struggled for some time due to the significant drop in footfall from its traditional customer base, which includes a large number of tourists who have not been able to come to the UK as well as the shift to a work from home culture which has also seen a change in business attire to a less formal approach.

Pink joins a long list of famous brands that have fallen into the hands of administrators and receivers in the last twelve months including Oasis, Monsoon, Jaeger, Arcadia Group and fellow shirtmaker TM Lewin. Whilst some have tried to re-strategise with an online only approach, others have simply vanish from the High Street and the Internet.

Whilst this is bad news for staff, investors and customers, it does represent an opportunity for fraudsters to step into the vacuum created by the brand itself. I would suspect that most of us will not have seen the news about Thomas Pink yet, buried in stories of COVID-19 and the ongoing drama around the US Political landscape. The news of a mid-size UK clothing brand going under unfortunately does not make front page news at the moment. I have been a customer of Pink’s for many years but didn’t notice the story myself until this morning, a number of days after the news broke. So why is this a wider issue than just another High Street casuality?

When businesses collapses the day to day operations in many ways cease. One area that is unlikely to be picked up is that of Intellectual Property monitoring. On a normal day, a brand holder may well be using monitoring tools and solutions that would pick up on any domain registrations that infringe on their trademarks or key terms – such as ‘Thomaspink’, ‘Pinks’ or ‘Pinkshirtmaker’. They could then take action as they saw fit to reduce the opportunity for cybersquatting or online fraud. However, without that resource in place, third parties could use the opportunity to register infringing domain names and create authentic-looking websites that are designed to trick customers into handing over personal and financial details.

This isn’t a new issue – in the wake of Thomas Cook’s collapse in September 2019, there was a spike in domain name registrations using the company’s brand name and trademarks, knowing that nobody would be monitoring registrations and usage for a period of time. We know that reputational damage can take only a few hours after domains have been registered and with no checks and balances in place, the situation can quickly escalate.

For organisations that unfortunately can’t find a way out of bankruptcy protection or restructuring, the domain name portfolio will form part of the potential asset sale to third parties. However, it may be many months before the digital assets move into new ownership hands by which time there could be a big issues around cyber and typo squatting. It is unlikely that any existing brand protection mechanisms in place prior to a brand going into liquidation would continue to run after the fact – those organisations who provide that incur costs that would not be covered anymore.

The warning for consumers is to be alert to any attempts by third parties to assume the identity of brands that are in administration such as Thomas Pink and offer deals that look, and are, too good to be true. If you are concerned about an email or an approach then always err on the side of caution.

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