High Street shopping crisis to continue into 2021

Posted on 22 January 2021
By Eleanor Dowd
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The dramatic downfall of high street shopping in the UK is no secret. But it’s not just Covid to blame, the collapse of once mighty retail giants shows how much physical shopping has declined in recent years.

Once famous as a bustling seaside shopping scene, Southport, on Merseyside, is now a deserted testament to the household name victims of the slow demise.

Once flagship outlets for Debenhams, Beales and British Home Stores are now empty. The mile-long Lord Street was considered to be one of the most loved shopping streets in the UK.

In 2015 the Discover Britain tourism Guide said: “The historic boulevard has beautiful gardens and fountains on one side and shops under canopies on the other. The mix of high quality shops, cafes and bars is eclectic, and indulgent.”

Now it’s Victorian façade, while still popular with tourists, is definitely a beautiful, but empty gallery of empty stores.

The increasing popularity of online shopping has hammered another nail into high street shopping’s coffin and puts thousands of retail jobs at risk.

With online shopping the only option during lockdown, it seems fast fashion brands such as; Pretty Little Thing, Boohoo and ASOS are taking over the fashion scene.

The shop worker’s union (USDAW) is campaigning for the government to take urgent action to ‘Save Our Shops’.

The key aims of the campaign is; for economic measures to create a more level playing field between high street and online shopping, fair pay and job security for retail workers, and for the government to take action to protect jobs in retail.

But any assistance comes too late for some, as it did for Stephen Crolley, former Debenhams manager of 20 stores across the North West, Wales and Cumbria has been made redundant after the recent closure of their stores and explains how the decline of the high street has affected his life.

“Debenhams has faced many challenged from online retailers, increased rent and rate costs and lately obviously COVID. With these challenges over the last couple of years, the announcement that we are going into liquidation and closing all stores was not a surprise but was still a shock the day it was announced in December 2020.

“The closure of Debenhams has given the family some uncertainty around stability, given I have one daughter at University and one daughter in High School.

“I will definitely continue to stay working in retail because I have 34 years of experience in retail and I’d like to stay on that path and I still think shops have a place on the high street.”

Another person affected by the changing nature of the high street, is a Topshop Liverpool manager, who preferred not to be named.

She said: “The rise and success of online fashion retailers have changed the shape of the high street. People shop at all hours on phones, laptops and tablets, as well as through social media.

“Consumers don’t need to go to stores anymore. I don’t think that COVID was the main reason for Arcadia going into administration, but the current climate is essentially the final nail in the coffin.

“Consumer needs have also changed, they either want something at a lower price or they want a better quality version and are happier to splurge their cash on something high end/designer.

“Many people now prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than fashion, something which many high street stores are capitalising on by introducing in house experiences, like beauty salons and champagne bars.”

All store employees have been put on temporary furlough with no current return date but she remains confident that someone will end up buying Topshop and Topman.

She added: “At the moment there are no direct concerns around my role in store. Liverpool is a profitable flagship, I imagine it will remain open in the future.

“But I am not looking to stay working in retail in the future, not because of the current administration fears, just that my aspirations have changed and I want to achieve a better work/life balance.”

Do you think there’s a future for high street shopping in the UK? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.