The news of GAP closing their 81 stores in Britain is just another casualty to add to the growing list… Topshop, Debenhams, Peacocks, M&Co, the list goes on. So what does this mean for the future of our high streets?
Well, since shops have opened it seems punters are ditching the likes of Amazon and heading to the shops… online retail sales have dropped as a percentage of total sales from 36% in January 2021 to 27% in May 2021 for UK retailers. This might be short lived, however, driven by the novelty of being allowed to shop in real life again. If we look at the situation before the pandemic it was also tough with long-established names like Oasis and Warehouse shutting their doors. Perhaps the pandemic has just accelerated the inevitable.
The convenience of online shopping is second to none. How many times have you had last minute guests drop by or run out of essential household items which you forgot to add to the weekly shop? Well, gone are the days of running out to the supermarket. Simply whip out your smartphone and order from Amazon FRESH or deliveroo grocery and, done, problem solved in sometimes as little as 20 minutes! Not only that, but the likes of Amazon are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Order whatever you want, whenever you want…
And we can see that consumers lap up this high level of convenience! Internet sales rose by 21% at the end of 2020, with Amazon being the goliath and main shopping destination. They saw record results, including profits increase by nearly 200% from the start of the pandemic. Research has also shown that ‘17.2m Brits plan to switch to online shopping permanently’ and the number of Amazon Prime member subscriptions has grown by 9 million in a 5 year period, with 10.1 million of UK households now having a Prime account.
Will high streets continue to shrink, offering only essential shops like convenience stores and pharmacies (and the local pub of course!)? Will businesses continue to offer remote working as an option, removing the need for so much office space, leaving housing as the only option left to fill those empty shop windows? Or will the novelty of having a shop where you can touch and feel items hold a special place in people's heart meaning the high street will last?