Express & Star comment: High streets will never be the same

It’s unlikely that our High Streets will ever be the same again.

High streets will never be the same
High streets will never be the same

Covid-19 has accelerated an era of change that has seen the nation switch to the digital economy.

No longer do we want to go browsing on Saturdays or during lunchtimes, now we do our shopping online.

The changes, however, are going beyond the High Street as out-of-town shopping centres see a fundamental shift in our retail habits. While we might once have been tempted by free parking and the opportunity to visit a raft of large stores during one trip, now that is not so attractive.

The need to social distance has accelerated a structural shift in our habits, as evidenced by a set of new results from key retailers. The Co-Op expects to increase its trading as a result of the pandemic, with underlying profits double its forecast. Such figures are largely due to the increased spending on food, as people stocked up, stopped eating out and spent more time cooking at home. In contrast, Next believes Christmas will be a damp squib as traditional sales volumes fall. England’s rule of six is likely to depress demand as people eschew shopping trips and avoid festive get-togethers. Business leaders believe restrictions are still likely to be in place, which will play havoc with their trading plans.

John Lewis, meanwhile, will not provide a staff bonus for the first time since 1953 as losses have grown. Waitrose is closing stores in Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, and there is less money to spend on luxury purchases.

The mixed picture shows that while some food retailers are doing well, most others are not. They face an era of uncertainty as social distancing prevents trips to shopping centres, as unemployment means the net household spend plummets and as people change their habits and spend more time at home. The rise and rise of internet shopping is having a profound effect. In an era where it is possible to buy an item with the click of a mouse in the morning, then have it delivered later that day, the High Street is struggling to compete. The number of job losses among shopworkers is staggering. As the covid situation worsens, so difficulties for retail will grow.

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