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Asos suspends website after warehouse fire: Online fashion retailer's vast distribution centre hit Police suspect blaze was started deliberately
[June 22, 2014]

Asos suspends website after warehouse fire: Online fashion retailer's vast distribution centre hit Police suspect blaze was started deliberately

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Online fashion retailer Asos has been forced to suspend its website and stop taking orders, possibly for several days, after a fire at the firm's main warehouse in Barnsley.

The fire, which South Yorkshire police believe was started deliberately on Friday night, ripped through several floors of Asos's vast distribution centre. It took 10 fire engines and more than 60 firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

Around 500 workers were evacuated from the premises. The company now faces a battle to get its operations moving and it is unclear when orders already placed will be delivered.

Yesterday shoppers trying to order clothing were greeted by a brief message from the firm saying: "We have pressed pause on the Asos website this is due to a fire in our Barnsley distribution centre in the early hours of Saturday morning." It added: "We expect to be back to normal for you in the next day or so." The Barnsley warehouse is critical to Asos - every product it sells is checked there before being shipped by air, land or sea to be delivered. Last year the group had sales of pounds 770m.

A spokesman was unable to say when the Asos site might resume taking orders. "Asos are still evaluating the situation," he said. "They are striving to get the website up and running as soon as they can." Asos is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Given the scale of the disruption, the company is likely to make a statement to shareholders before trading resumes this morning.

Loyal Asos customers were quick to offer sympathy on social media networks, creating hashtags such as #poorasos and #asosfire. But others were left fretting that their orders had been lost. Several Twitter users lamented that their clothes would not arrive in time for the Glastonbury festival.

The company is no stranger to drama - in December 2005 its previous warehouse, in Hemel Hempstead, was damaged when explosions ripped through the Buncefield fuel depot.

After that incident - which founder and chief executive Nick Robertson said was the worst fate an online retailer could suffer - the company was forced to suspend its shares, and refund about 19,000 orders. But it fought back rapidly, reopening in mid-January and doubling its profits in the next financial year.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb said: "The best case scenario is that the business is quickly back in action, via temporary facilities nearby, and that the insurance companies settle up to cover the direct costs of the disruption.

"The worst case scenario is that customer confidence is affected for a longer period of time and that the suspicion of arson delays the insurance companies' response." (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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