The collapse of three major chains last week has put 30,000 jobs at risk and sparked fears for the future of urban areas. But the picture is not all bleak, according to experts who were government retail tsar Mary Portas, who said there is too much nostalgia and too little optimism about the future of Britain’s main street.
“The days of piling things up and selling things quickly are completely over,” says Portas, who has been in the retail business for more than 40 years. “The brands that were major did this over the years and didn’t offer anything beyond mediocrity. Does anyone really miss BHS? Does anyone care about Dorothy Perkins? ”
On a humid Thursday afternoon at Oxford Circus, buyers are very thin on the floor. Opposite Topshop’s entry, the DJ store desperately supplies decks with a summary to create a “party atmosphere” for customers. A few doors down from Debenhams, shoppers can take advantage of the seven-story store’s sales. Both went to the administration last week.
“We’re looking at a whole new generation that won’t encourage the likes of Philip Green,” Portas says. “They don’t support people or businesses that don’t prioritize the planet. We’re moving away from that: a new value system is at stake.”
If there were no potential job losses, retail dinosaurs would sing good freedom. Portas focuses on what he calls the “economy of kindness,” which is why he predicts growth for the big streets with a general philosophy that makes some contribution to a better life. But what will this return to?
There are apparently far fewer outlets that actually sell goods, and much more attention to the experiential side of things: everything that comes from escape rooms and nail salons, restaurants, and street performers.
In the village, brick and mortar shops are expected to survive if they are able to offer something beyond a mere transaction – a great service that cannot be repeated online, a place where experts like to meet or meet people. Community centers are often mentioned, while brands such as Patagonia, Glossier and Nike are referred to as models for larger outlets.
Research has routinely shown that sustainability, innovation, and advocating for something are not the buzzwords for marketers, but rather the keys to achieving brand loyalty among young customers who demand social responsibility from the companies they buy from. This goes so far as to stick to the big streets, as the most successful ones will mix retail, entertainment, culture and well-being.
From Stoke Newington to Stoke-on-Trent, pop-ups and local boutique businesses are also expected to grow on large streets with strong local communities. American Express and Google have launched campaigns to help customers make local purchases and support small businesses where experts anticipate the future.
“Covid-19 has crystallized the social and economic movement that has been moving over the last decade,” Portas says. “We have re-examined the massive inspection and how we live and how we want to live. Globally, 77% of people now say they value dignity as much as price and convenience in business. Deeper and more meaningful connections to where you live will be much more important than a day trip to an out-of-town mall or retail park. ”
In downtown Reading, retail expert Mark Pilkington explored Broad Street, a pedestrian path anchored by John Lewis. “That’s not a bad thing as modern streets progress: there aren’t too many tabbed windows and there’s a great mix of services: nail bars, phone repair shops, etc. It’s a common mid-market offering.” In order for retail sales to survive here, however, the store is expected to become a window into online inventories.
“It is useless to use a store as a famous warehouse full of things when the stock can be seen and sold online. The store floor will be shrunk and it will attract customers in a way they can’t experience from the screens, ”says Pilkington.
“Injecting more theater and excitement into traditional old streets increases the attractiveness of customers. If you don’t want skinheads in urban areas where grandmothers move, you need to make them attractive places.
This year, the government has set up a € 95 million fund to revitalize “major historic streets” across England. The scheme, run by Historic England, identified 68 main streets that would be revived as a result of the money injection, but focuses only on conservation areas. The modern streets of all the towns, which have been persecuted by boarding windows, betting shops, and high-discount shops, must also be identified today.
If Pilkington were to make a lower heel, “it would be embellished with some sculptures and flowers. Having shops or services that add service – repair service or electronics. They will have real value to that community, and you can’t repeat that online.”
The high streets are also expected to have more housing: under the new rules that came into force in September, it is now possible for commercial owners (including empty shops) to convert them into housing without permission. The hope is to spark a revival of the new street by allowing commercial properties to be reused quickly.
The relationship between businesses and landlords is also expected to change, making rental systems more flexible. In the short term, several vendors, including All Saints and New Look, are negotiating lease agreements to reflect the takeovers of individual outlets based on “turnover-based rents”. In the long run, Pilkington says, owners “must come to the party” if they are serious about saving the main street.
“Leases are too long, constantly. Owners need to be much more innovative and fast-paced and offer a space where a new business can take on technology and transform its look, ”says Pilkington. one day it may be a pop-up for popular brands and the next it may be a yoga studio.
In his book Retail Therapy: Why the retail industry is broken and what can be done to fix itPilkington argued that the excessive level of business rates was the main reason for the long decline in the main street. For the post-Covid future, online taxation is seen as essential to reform the retail market.
“If local authorities want to save big streets, they would make parking free and available. And if the government cared about saving traders, they would impose an Internet tax. Amazon pays almost no business fees. “
Portas, appointed by David Cameron in 2011 to lead a future review of the big streets, believes the Conservatives have not systematically understood how the business has changed.
“They need to wake up. It’s still embarrassing that Amazon and the giant distributions haven’t readjusted how they should pay the Internet to pay equivalent tax rates. It’s embarrassing to do nothing about it. It’s ridiculous that they have a slowness in understanding, a delay.
“These huge shipments are squeezing the roads, massively increasing CO2 spills, increasing containers, and so little help. No one has really told us what we buy, when we buy it, and how it affects our way of life. “