Another One Bytes the Dust: a commercial litigator’s view of Thomas Cook’s collapse
Journalists might have expected to enjoy a slow news day, increasingly rare in the Brexit era, while awaiting the Supreme Court’s judgement on the prorogation of Parliament.
If so they were to be disappointed, as arguably the most newsworthy of all UK business liquidations took place over the weekend with the collapse of the country’s oldest and best-known holiday operator Thomas Cook.
The focus of media coverage has understandably been on the sad consequences for Thomas Cook’s employees and customers, but less so on why it happened. As commercial litigators we recognise that preventing disaster is as important as resolving disputes, and our thoughts have already turned to the lessons we can learn.
Thomas Cook joins a lengthening list of famous brands to have recently disappeared from our high streets. BHS and Toys R Us have shut up shop, while others such as New Look and House of Fraser have all been forced to close large numbers of stores. To indulge in nostalgia briefly, the likes of JJB Sports, Blockbuster and Woolies have also sadly gone.
The reasons these business failed are varied and complicated. However, the rise and prevalence of the internet and new technology played at least some part in all of them.
Woolworths was an early victim of Amazon’s success. Blockbuster crumbled in the face of Netflix – which offered instant access to seemingly unlimited entertainment (at a monthly cost equivalent to that of two VHS rentals). Modern internet-savvy shops such as Boohoo and ASOS increasingly transport fashion-conscious shoppers from the high street to purchase their products via the electronic highway.
The role of the internet and new tech cannot be understated in Thomas Cook’s collapse. The web and smartphones opened the door to the new world of Skyscanner and Air BnB. The UK holidaymaker is no longer as intimidated as they may once have been when booking flights to and accommodation in a foreign country. The ordinary punter is now able to find the best hotel deals online in only a few minutes. The internet-age shopper values the flexibility offered by a DIY holiday compared to a package deal.
In case there are any businesses who haven’t yet learned this lesson: it’s vital to embrace the internet and new technology and tailor your client offerings accordingly. It influences where consumers spend their money. For example, when choosing a place to eat and drink, I value placing orders from the comfort of my table using Wetherspoon’s and Starbucks’ apps. The modern consumer has come to expect such innovation.
“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steam roller, you’re part of the road” – Stewart Brand, writer & entrepreneur
As a law firm, and specifically as litigators, technological advances can post a challenge.
We embrace them and explore how they can benefit our clients - for example investing in more efficient case management systems or using Artificial Intelligence in the analysis of documents. It may even be something as practical as conducting court hearings using state-of-the-art conference call facilities rather than appearing in person to reduce the cost of litigation.
It is important for all businesses to embrace technology, because as the Thomas Cook collapse has shown the internet is a steam roller Journalists might have expected to enjoy a slow news day, increasingly rare in the Brexit era, while awaiting the Supreme Court’s judgement on the prorogation of Parliament.
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