At 2pm in the Comet store off Old Kent Road, London, on Thursday, the mood, despite the blaring pop music, was glum.
Less than a dozen customers milled round in the “big box” store, sandwiched between Halfords and B&Q, while even fewer left with purchases, past the signs advertising 30 per cent off.
Two employees talked in subdued tones in the home electricals section. One of them, who declined to give his name, said management had told staff not to speak to journalists. Instead, he pointed out the latest electronic tablets.
“I found out when I was coming to work this morning [while] looking at the news on my iPhone – no one told us anything,” he said. “We don’t know if we’ll be here next week.”
His manager, a middle-aged man in a button-down white shirt in contrast to the cheery turquoise worn by subordinates, declined to comment. “We can’t say anything; it’s business as normal.”
Another colleague said the store, where staff numbers almost equalled patrons, was usually empty in the afternoons in spite of a range of deals – such as “Buy now pay 12 months later” – to tempt budget-conscious shoppers.
Teddy Day, 84, a pensioner was one of the few carrying a Comet plastic bag. He had come up especially from London Bridge after he saw on television that the company was in trouble. He had reported a fault with a stereo he bought in 2011 and, unable to fix it, Comet had sent him £150 in vouchers as compensation.
“I had to spend the vouchers or else they told me they’d be worth nothing,” he said, nodding to the Freeview TV box he gripped beside him. He added that he planned to patronise the Currys store opposite.
Ashley, in her twenties, came away from the Comet shop carrying a TV stand. When asked why she did not buy it online, she said she was not sure what she needed to fix it to her living-room wall. “It was a particular type of screw . . . So I’d rather come and talk to someone about what I need,” she said.