Can The High Street Recover From The Covid-19 Pandemic?

Can The High Street Recover From The Covid-19 Pandemic?

Stephanie Steele Thursday, 10 December 2020

Over the last 10 months, we have followed all of the newsletters on fashion retail, fashion production, ethics in fashion, sustainability initiatives and innovations... quite overwhelming in fact. In this three-part blog series, we collate all of the articles into bitesize chunks of information, giving you - as both consumers and business owners - insight in to the impact the pandemic has had on fashion retail, in line with our Masterclass on Survival Strategies.

Part one explores online shopping. Part two here will look at the high street. And part three is all about wellbeing in business.

Thumbnail image from Paper Mache Tiger shop in Islington, North London.

The High Street

Footfall and vacancies

If the big players online were on the High Street, this is how much space they would take up. [The Industry]

And yet, footfall increased in November with the easing of restrictions and people getting their Christmas shopping in before further restrictions. "There were significant rises in footfall from mid November across all three destination types, up +10.1% in high streets, +14.1% in shopping centres and +18.7% in retail parks. However, footfall across UK retail destinations last week was -57.7% lower than the same week in 2019." [The Industry].

Shop vacancies overall have continued as the crisis has caused more closures, or businesses looking to prioritise online [The Industry].

With the shopping areas losing footfall, landlord British Land, slashed the value of high street properties by 15%. They have been losing profit, and have sold properties to new investors, though say that office rent collection is still high and premium [The Industry]. This could be an indicator that retail rates will stay low for business owners, or temporary spaces in future will be easier to acquire.

With news of Arcadia going in to administration, the considerations for what led to their downfall - other than Covid-19 - highlights the heavy cost of their retail estate in comparison to younger fashion players, along with Philip Green's behaviour coming under scrutiny. Both show that you don't need to be flashy and shouty in order to gain loyal customers and be a sustainable business.

Community and shopping small

Pebble Magazine's '6 reasons why shopping locally helps small businesses' list includes the notion that local is relevant, but it does indicate that you are able to walk or travel by public transport to the shop. It supports those who have attempted to diversify the area, by bringing their own culture, personality and wares. It used to be a day out to go shopping, and now too it can feel a chore to plan in going to a local shop. However, the effort really can make a more resilient economy by offering these small business owners a voice.

Power To Change's working report 'Saving The High Street: The Community Takeover' looks at how community-owned businesses can shape the vision of the high street to support the local area, while being a destination. You can also learn from one of the co-authors, Polly Swann, in our guest lesson with her on 'How Community Businesses Can Save The High Street'.

Every sale, including an art card, can save a business. Which is why the Just A Card campaign has returned. We're past Black Friday now, but still, this article from Catherine Erdly looks at the business reasons why shopping small can benefit.


Respondents of the Drapers' Reset Fashion Retail Campaign said that, "improving the accessibility of high streets would help draw shoppers back from shopping centres, retail parks and online, with 60% in favour of scrapping parking fees and 17.5% backing free weekend parking." These independent retailers mentioned that they receive little financial support from their local authorities, and has led to a fight for reform again business rates across the nation.

US startup Reef is transforming its real estate network of 4500 car garages and parking lots into neighbourhood hubs. They want to create '15 minute cities' where you can get everything you need within a short walk or cycle.

The Post Office apparently gets people visiting other places on the high street, with consumers viewing their Post Office as a cornerstone to any town, without which small businesses perhaps could not efficiently survive [FashionUnited]. With 44% of respondents to a Royal Mail pilot saying they would use a doorstep return service, the British establishment is now rolling out a nationwide collection service for parcels and online retailer returns. This put pains to the link in the first part of this blog that looks at how Royal Mail was one of the more sustainable courier companies due to limiting vehicles. And, will it effect the future of our physical Post Offices?

Retail concepts

Retail Reborn podcast from the Business of Fashion.

A fascinating look at the history of modern retail in The Resilient Retail Club's Podcast Episode 2.

With uncertainty in finding a temporary space for your brand but wanting to continue with a physical presence, there are concepts out there to suit, such as Alhambra Berlin that will offer you the full package, including digital space. Granted, it's more for the luxury market.

We previously calculated retail performance and efficiency by how much a square meter can bring in in sales. That's just not the way we think anymore — we want to have a space that also speaks to the story of a product. So, the value of that particular space is more about its role as a communication platform and showroom. ~ [Alhambra Berlin to Business of Fashion]

The demise of concept stores world renowned throughout the luxury sector, such as 10 Corso Como in New York, and Colette in Paris, has come about due to overheads, lack of footfall and changing consumer appetite for online shopping. [Vogue Business].

Can shopping centres recover?

As seen in statistics above, with footfall declining and landlords selling property, what will happen to shopping centres, such as Manchester's Trafford Centre that has been sold after the owner went into administration. "Last month, for example, Sovereign Housing Association bought a shopping centre and car park in Bristol that it says may have potential for retail and residential use, including affordable homes for those on low incomes." [Financial Times]

Trafford Centre in Manchester

As far as Raconteur is concerned, by 2025 they're expecting a blended retail experience where fashion, food and leisure are integrated. This really just sounds like a shopping mall, yet at the same time they envision of trend of customer personalisation with shopping experiences too.

Tradition and technology

Levis have opened a 'circular' store that acts as a space for customers to come for repairs [Fashion United]. it looks a bit clinical though, in comparison to Blackhorse Lane Ateliers where there is authenticity and a real-life vibe in their Walthamstow factory setting and Coal Drops Yard shop.

Selfridges, known for its campaigns and wider conversations, having been the department store that changed things around in the first place, further iterated when they gave Oxfam the space to host a pop-up, with all funds continuing to go to the NGO. It opened up the possibility of second hand shopping to new customers through showing there are gems within what can be perceived as rags [Fashion Roundtable].

Holition are a digital retail agency that have worked with luxury brands for a decade, enabling the personal connection and story to continue whether you're in a physical space or a digital one. They use AR and other tech to create interesting theatrical environments [and are on WTVOX's list of 15 best startups] but are very adamant that encouraging physical spaces to be a place to add friction - where you slow down the sale - will improve consumer relations and retain engagement. Learn more from founder Holition in our guest interview 'Shaping The Consumer Experience Online And Offline'.

What could a touch-free shop look like? QR codes on everything so you can read into the storytelling via your phone, smart fitting room mirrors, digital information displays, self-service checkouts, the booking economy...

Social issues

Shoplifting and abuse

Though there was an initial drop in shoplifting, because non-essential shops were shut for months, there has been a surge again - like with the 2008 UK recession that saw middle-class folk take to shoplifting to maintain their lifestyle. 

Recent research shows that the UK retail sector faces at least 1000 shoplifting incidents per day, with over half of them remaining unpunished. However, the actual number of shoplifting cases is likely to be 15 to 21 times higher, as shoplifters are not always caught. ~ [Fashion United]

From shoplifting comes abuse, with triggers coming from challenging the shoplifters, enforcing social distancing and enforcing age-restricted sales. Even enforcing regulations on trying on clothes has caused abuse.

So far this year, 85% of shopworkers say they have experienced verbal abuse, 57% have been threatened by a customer and 9% have been assaulted, interim results from Usdaw’s annual survey into retail staff abuse show. ~ [The Industry]


The pandemic has brought to light issues in the supply chain that could make it easier to produce locally. Not only does it have benefits for carbon emissions, it's good for transparency. Yet, will the 'Made In Britain' stamp lose it's charm once 1st January 2021 rolls around? [Drapers]

UK factories could be making up to £4.8bn more goods for British retailers in the next 12 months as the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit prompt businesses to bring home production. ~ [The Guardian]

Along with dwindling tourism from travel restrictions, there will be an end to VAT free shopping, which Rishi Sunak hopes would bring some respite on this year's budget. The ease of online shopping means that you rarely need to go to physical stores, so why would the usual backers of heritage products come to visit and purchase? Or is the role of British manufacturing now to increase employment opportunities, reduce the long production lead times, and ease cost of import duties? Read more on Vogue Business in the article on British retailers brace for the end of tax-free shopping.

Fashion Enter in North London

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