It’s been documented by many, but the pandemic of the last year and a half has caused a seismic shift in our retail sector. Up and down the country we have seen shop closures, job losses and empty streets and figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that total sales fell by 0.3% last year - the biggest decline in 25 years. Government lockdowns had demanded the closure of non-essential retail, which has, despite the boom in online consumer spending, meant that today's bricks and mortar retail are up against a very different market to the pre-pandemic landscape.
As a result of the shift in spending habits, brands have begun to rethink consumer experiences and are actively considering how space can be repurposed. This month, sports giant, Nike opened a store by the King's Road. The new London concept store spans just 200 sq m, which when compared to the Niketown flagship at over 6500sq m, is tiny. The Kings Road concept aims to deliver a hyper-focused customer experience that provides consumers with easier access to the products they want offline.
A number of 'big-box stores' within central London have also slimlined their efforts and there are plans underway to revamp Oxford Street - once known as one of Europe's busiest shopping streets, following a £2.9 billion ($3.97 billion) public and private investment. The overhaul plans intend to increase leisure and cultural spaces so as to provide more social offerings with the aim of retaining visitors beyond their normal shopping hours. The plans include a cinema inside Selfridges’ department store, a new sustainable food market and spaces for events. Together with an improvement in transport facilities, the intention is to bring in more people from outside the capital.
Looking beyond London, earlier this month British property development and investment company Hammerson, whose portfolio includes 20 flagship destinations in the UK, France and Ireland, unveiled a strategy to invest in repositioning its urban shopping centres, repurposing vacant units as homes, hotels and offices - leaving them with as little as 50% retail space. This seems to be a common trend amongst the big landlords who no longer see their shopping streets and centres as being solely retail areas. The intention is that they become destination spaces where people can live, work, shop and be entertained.
As I mentioned in my article back in February - this country is well known for innovation. I have no doubt that the Great British high street will emerge, fundamentally different, but hopefully with unique and interesting spaces integrated with and making the most of the best and latest technology.