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Debenhams: What exactly did Boohoo buy?

Boohoo has purchased the Debenhams brand, not the stores, with a plan to relaunch the brand as an online only offering in the UK later in 2021. But what exactly did Boohoo buy?

Like many high street retailers, Debenhams has been struggling for many years with large and expensive property estates along with a shift in consumer shopping trends away from the high street and towards online. The pandemic has brought this to a head, and it is very sad to read that at least 10,000 jobs will likely be lost.

Boohoo essentially bought the brand name, its customer data, and the right to the develop and license international franchise network for £55m (1). So how do you value something like a name that is by definition, intangible?

It’s a good question, and one that was answered back in 2010 by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). They recognised the need to provide a universal standard for measuring a brand and defined the term brand as an intangible asset (as opposed to a tangible assets like machinery) - a non-financial asset with no physical substance (2) such as logos, symbols, names, values, and so on.

The reason why ISO created a common method for valuing these intangible assets (ISA 10668 as it happens) is that they are worth vast sums of money. For example, according to Forbes, in 2018, the Apple brand was valued at $182.8bn. That’s around 20 percent of the total net worth of the whole company! (3)

So, how does ISO go about valuing something that you can’t get hold of?

First, like all the items it measures, ISO provides a precise definition of what a brand is – it’s very thorough and very long, and if you if want to look it please do, for ease and brevity, in my book I define a brand as:

“a product or a service that delivers a consistent and distinctive benefit to a customer. It will contain a set of characteristics that it will use to differentiate itself from its competitors and ensure it remains relevant to its customers.”

Second, ISO defines what the purpose of the valuation is – it may aid internal planning, be needed for tax and compliance reasons, or in the case of Debenhams, inform a prospective purchase. This is significant as different purposes will give different valuations – what ISO refers to as the Promise of Value.

Third, once that Promise of Value is defined there are three different methods to calculate value:

  • Income, which measures the earnings the brand could generate in the future.

  • Market, which compares the brand to the value of similar brands in the market.

  • Cost, which captures either the cost of building the brand or the cost of replacing it. (4)

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is broadly the process, and once completed, would go into a Valuation Report that details the valuation itself and all the steps taken in the process. This, or something similar would have delivered the value, or at least the starting point to get to a value of £55m for the Debenhams brand.

Boohoo believes in the Debenhams brand, and believes it’s worth the £55m. It will be good to see the brand back to its best, and with the continued changes in shopping habits, perhaps one day it can again be a very tangible asset on our high streets.

Bruce M McKinnon is a Brand Strategist and author of the award-winning book ‘What’s Your Point?’ that can be purchased from Amazon. The book explores how brand strategy can fuel business growth, referencing some of the world’s most successful brands as well as sharing case studies from his own global consulting practice.

1 “Debenhams shops to close permanently after Boohoo deal (Accessed: 9 July 2019)”

2“ISO 10668:2010 - Brand valuation – Requirements for monetary brand valuation”. ISO. Available at: (Accessed: 9 July 2019)”

3“Badenhausen K. “The World’s Most Valuable Brands 2018”. Forbes. 2018. Available at: (Accessed: 9 July 2019)”

4 “Overview of ISO 10668: Brand Valuation, Requirements for Monetary Brand Valuation, 10 August 2011”. Australian Marketing Institute. Available at: (Accessed: 17 July 2019)”

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