Championed by media, starlets and fashion aficionados across the globe, the great British High Street has long been celebrated as one of the best in the world.
But following a turbulent week, which saw Habitat’s UK business and Jane Norman fall into administration, and furniture group Homeform and discount department store TJ Hughes expected to follow, what is the future for UK retailers?
The government has openly admitted it doesn’t have the answer and has appointed TV retail guru Mary Portas to carry out a review aimed at “halting the decline of the High Street” in England.
The review, which will explore the problem that is the rise in empty shops and look at how to prevent the growth of ‘clone towns’ dominated by chainstores, is well underway and will see Ms Portas, the ‘Queen of Shops’, present her findings in the Autumn.
But are chainstores really to blame for the fall of the High Street? I would argue not, or certainly not entirely. Whilst independents have undoubtedly suffered at the hands of the big players and I feel strongly should have a place in town centres, some of the UK’s biggest institutions are themselves now feeling the strain, highlighting the extent of the problems faced by all British retailers.
The rise in e-commerce is most certainly one of them, with the country enjoying the biggest e-commerce market in the world when measured by the amount spent per capita.* High rental costs and limited and quite frankly extortionate town centre parking fees are another. Combine these factors with a drop in consumer spending and an increase in demand for fast, disposable and cheap goods and it’s not difficult to see the root of the problem.
What is difficult however is to know how to tackle it.
No stranger to the battle for High Street survival, independent retailers yesterday joined forces and celebrated Independents’ Day, a Skillsmart Retail and National Skills Academy for Retail initiative, which encouraged consumers to buy at least one item from a local independent retailer.
Chainstores are now joining the fight, backed by The British Retail Consortium, which has urged the Government’s review take into consideration the interests of all retailers, whatever their size.
With consumer spending expected to rise by only 2% a year up to 2020 and UK High Street spending not anticipated to return to pre-recession levels until 2013** one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a long and slow battle.
I’m looking forward to hearing the results of the review.
* Figures as reported by The Boston Consulting Group in a report for Google, October 2010
** Figures as documented in the Ernst & Young Item Club report, May 2011