The End of an Era as High Street Giants Topple
Despite the bad news assailing the retail sector over the last year, and the continuing lockdowns hitting high street brands hard as consumers switched to ordering online, there was always a sense of hope that things would eventually go back to “normal”. There are certain mainstays of the high street that have always seemed untouchable – pillars of the sector which would outlast any crisis. And yet now it seems we are facing a future without Debenhams, a retail giant which has been a constant presence on our high street for over 200 years
There was hope up until last week that talks with JD Sports would reach a purchase deal with the department store which declared insolvency in April, however news of the Arcadia Group (another retail colossus, and Debenham's largest concession holder) declaring administration has dealt the final blow to the last minute rescue talks. Arcadia itself, with brands such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins among others, has been one of the backbones of the high street since the 70's – could we really be facing a future without so many retailers we know and love?
Perhaps this future was inevitable. As online shopping becomes ever easier and more interactive, retailers which concentrate on physical stores over e-commerce are bound to be at a disadvantage. High rents and overheads coupled with the ongoing price war with e-commerce brands has meant that physical stores have long been achieving lower profit margins than they would have previously enjoyed. But whereas we may have expected the high street to evolve slowly over the next couple of decades, with retailers reducing the number of physical stores and expanding their online offering to adapt to consumer trends, 2020 has forced decades of evolution into just a few painful months. Consumers were already getting bored of the cookie cutter town centres and retail destinations, all boasting the same stores and unimaginative product offerings. In recent years there has been a noticeable trend towards retail premises being converted into restaurant chains as consumers look for a more original and interactive shopping experience. Coupled with growing consumer distaste for major corporations and a move to prioritising “slow fashion”, independent stores offering unusual or exclusive products may yet be the high street of the future.
With news of a vaccine roll-out as early as next week, the end of the Coronavirus crisis is finally on the horizon. But the news comes too late for Debenhams, and perhaps even the Arcadia Group, as we look towards a future in retail quite different to that which we were used to. According to a recent Whistl survey, 42% of online consumers say they have no intention of returning to the high street, declaring online shopping as their preferred choice thanks to its speed and variety. If retailers are to entice people to once more visit their brick and mortar stores, the only option is to prioritise the retail experience - consumers are crying out for entertainment, uniqueness, a break from the norm. Perhaps a varied, independent retail sector wouldn't be such a bad thing after all?
Written by Amber Domenech Patey