The collapse of the three main chains last week has jeopardized 30,000 retail jobs and sparked concerns over the future of the city center. But the picture isn’t all bleak, according to experts including the government’s former retail czar, Mary Portas, who said there was too much nostalgia and too little optimism about the future of British highways.
“The days of piling up stuff high and selling them fast are really over,” said Portas, who has worked in retail for more than 40 years. “The dominating brands have been doing it for years and they have failed to offer anything more than mediocre. Does anyone really miss BHS? Does anyone care about Dorothy Perkins? “
On a damp Thursday afternoon at Oxford Circus, very few shoppers shop. At the entrance to Topshop, the shop’s DJ desperately sets the deck to fulfill the task of creating a “party atmosphere” for customers. A few doors down from Debenhams, shoppers take advantage of sales on seven floors of the main store. The two went into administration last week.
“We are seeing a new generation who will not support the likes of Philip Green anymore,” said Portas. “They don’t support businesses that don’t prioritize people or the planet. We’re moving away from that: there’s a new value system at play. “
If it weren’t for the potential for job loss, she would sing well for retail dinosaurs. Portas focuses on what he calls the “economy of goodness”, in which he predicts growth for the roads with an overarching philosophy that involves some kind of contribution to making life better. But what is it translated for?
Far fewer shops sell actual items, and a much stronger focus on the experiential side of things – a versatile one that includes everything from escape halls and nail salons, to restaurants and street performers.
In cities, brick and mortar stores are expected to survive if they are able to provide something beyond purely transactional – extraordinary service that cannot be replicated online, expert knowledge, or spaces where people love to hang out. Community centers are frequently mentioned, while brands such as Patagonia, Glossier, and Nike are cited as role models for larger retailers.
Research regularly shows that sustainability, innovation, and standing up for something are not just keywords for marketers, but keys to building brand loyalty among younger customers who demand that the companies they buy from show social responsibility. This trickles down to what survives on the highways, where the most successful will offer a mix of retail, entertainment, culture and well-being.
From Stoke Newington to Stoke-on-Trent, local pop-up and boutique businesses are also expected to thrive on boulevards with strong local communities. That American Express and Google are both launching campaigns urging customers to shop locally and supporting small businesses underlines where experts predict the future.
“Covid-19 has crystallized the social and economic movements that have been bubbling up in the last decade,” said Portas. “We’ve seen mass introspection and reexamination of how we live and want to live. Globally, 77% of people today say they value decency in business as well as price and convenience. A deeper and more meaningful connection to where you live will be far more important than a day trip to an out-of-town shopping center or retail park. “
In downtown Reading, retail expert Mark Pilkington conducted a survey of Broad Street, the pedestrian thoroughfare moored by John Lewis. “It’s not as bad as the modern high-rise streets: there aren’t too many boarded windows and there’s a strong mix of services – nails, phone workshops and so on. It is a common mid-market offering. “However, for retail to stay here, he predicts the shops will be windows of inventory held online.
“There’s no point in using a shop as a glorified warehouse full of goods when stock can be viewed and sold online. The shop floor will shrink and it will engage customers in a way they can’t experience from their screen, ”said Pilkington. While much of this focus appears to be aimed at serving the habits of millennials, generation Z and younger, Pilkington and Portas argue that the overall restructuring of the highway will benefit everyone.
“Incorporating more theater and excitement into traditional highways increases their appeal to customers around the world. If you don’t want a downtown where skinheads snatch granny, you have to make it an interesting place to hang out. “
This year, the government created a £ 95 million fund to revive “historic highways” across Britain. The scheme, run by Historic England, identified 68 highways that would be revitalized with a cash injection, but focused solely on conservation areas. The modern boulevards that are synonymous with every city ravaged by shabby windows, betting shops, and seedy discount outlets are also worth noting.
If Pilkington had walked the lower path, he would “beautify it with a few statues and flowers. Have a shop that adds services or experiences – change services, or repair electronics. They will be of real value to that community, and you can’t replicate that online. “
Highways are also expected to become more residential: under new rules that came into effect in September, it is now possible to convert commercial property – including vacant shops – into homes without planning permission. The hope is that a revival of the highway can be triggered by allowing commercial property to be reused immediately.
The relationship between business and landlords is also expected to change, with the rental system becoming more flexible. In the short term, a number of retailers, including All Saints and New Look, are renegotiating their rental terms to encourage “turnover-based leases” to reflect individual store picks. In the long run, Pilkington said, landlords “have to come to the party” if they are serious about saving the highway.
“Rent too long, too unyielding. “Landlords need to be far more innovative and agile and offer new businesses the space to use and change the way they look through technology,” said Pilkington. Instead of six months setting up a shop, this way a business will “plug and play”, so that a room can be a pop-up for a famous brand one day and a yoga studio the next.
In his book Retail Therapy: Why The Retail Industry Failed and What Can Be Done To Fix It, Pilkington argues that excessive business tariff rates are a major cause of the reduction in highway length. For the post-Covid future, he considers online taxes important to reform retail.
“If local governments really want to save highways, they’ll make parking free and available. And if the government cares about saving retailers, they will tax the internet. Amazon pays almost no business rates. “
Portas, appointed by David Cameron to lead an overview of the future of UK highways in 2011, believes the Conservative Party has failed systematically to understand how business has changed.
“They need to wake up. It’s a shame that they still haven’t adjusted their thinking on how Amazon and the shipping giant should pay the equivalent tax rate online. It’s a shame they didn’t do anything. Their delay in understanding, their delay, is ridiculous.
“You have these shipping giants clogging the roads, massively increasing CO2 emissions, increase in packaging, and their contribution is very small. Nobody really looks at the implications of what we buy, when we buy, and how they affect the way we live. “